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  • Print publication year: 1994
  • Online publication date: November 2009

24 - Evidence of self-awareness in the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)


Dolphins are big-brained, socially sophisticated mammals, socially and cognitively comparable to monkeys and apes in memory capacity, language comprehension, and other cognitive abilities (Herman, 1980). Their remarkable capacities suggest that dolphins, like apes, may come to recognize themselves in mirrors (e.g., Anderson, 1984; Gallup, 1970, 1982; Lethmate & Dlicker, 1973; Suarez and Gallup, 1981). This chapter reports on the results of a series of studies utilizing a mirror to assess whether dolphins recognize contingent representations of themselves or use the mirror to examine an area of the body not otherwise visible that has been marked with a highly salient substance. We adapted the mirror mark test (Gallup, 1970) for use with the bottlenose dolphin. We employed several control conditions, including mirror without mark, no mirror and no mark, and first encounter between unfamiliar dolphins through a barrier. We also devised and conducted several new tests for self-recognition, tailored for dolphins rather than primates. These tests, which utilize self-view television and video playback, are summarized here. This chapter focuses on interpreting mirror-directed behavior (both marked and unmarked) by comparing it to the control data. We address the central question of whether the dolphins' mirror-directed behavior is social or self-examination. We also discuss the role of environmental, social, and individual influences on the test results.


Subjects and setting

Five dolphins, 6–14 years old, living at Sea Life Park, served as subjects of this study (Table 24.1). The groups of dolphins changed throughout the course of the research.

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Self-Awareness in Animals and Humans
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