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The Ocean's Smartest Animals

Updated on May 31, 2017

A lot of us have the preconceived notion that humans are the smarter species to inhabit this earth. We can walk, we can talk, we play sports, we build robots, we cure diseases; the list goes on and on. However, there are several other animals out there that could surely give us a run for our money. Some of them living in the deep blue sea. Here are a few animals of the ocean that are just as intelligent as they are fascinating.


Bottlenose Dolphins

The intelligence of dolphins has been on display for human entertainment in movies and zoos for many years. So, it should be no surprise that they hold a place on this prestigious list. Dolphins have one of the largest brains of all animals on our planet. Their brains are even slightly larger than the human brain, weighing in at 1,500 grams compared to our 1,200 grams. Large and complex, the brain of a dolphin provides the mammal with the ability to perform several tasks and even tricks.

Through many years of study, scientists have been able to conclude that bottlenose dolphins have multiple similarities to humans. They have proven to be self aware; not only having the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror, but they also have been seen purposely checking themselves out. Another similarity would be their "language". You may be familiar with the cackling-like sounds they make when interacting with humans but underwater they communicate with other dolphins by emitting a high-pitched whistling sound. Recent studies have shown that this communication is far more than meets the eye. It turns out that dolphins actually have a unique whistle for each of their fellow dolphins. This indicates that dolphins, like us, have names for each other.


A few other observations have revealed that dolphins mimic the movements of other animals and humans, place sea sponges on their snouts to protect them when scavenging for food on the sea floor, and have excellent memory and cognitive abilities.



Octopuses are considered to be the most intelligent of all invertebrates. Not only do they have the largest brain of them all but more than half of an octopus' neurons are also located in it's tentacles. Which pretty much gives each one a brain of it's very own. In a study, a tentacle that was cut from an octopus' body not only crawled away but also captured a food item all on it's own. Needless to say, the octopus is a very impressive species.

One thing they are notorious for is camoflauge. An octopus can change the color and pattern of it's skin instantly to match it's surroundings. But this camoflauge isn't just limited to the skin, it also involves it's entire structure. The octopus has been observed morphing itself into the shapes of other sea creatures, coral, and even moving rocks. The latter it does by changing the shape of it's body and moving across the ocean floor at the pace and motion of the reflecting light. This allows the octopus to move in plain view of a predator without being attacked.

Speaking of protecting itself from predators, the octopus also uses "tools" to hide. For example, an octopus will carry around a stray coconut and when it feels itself in danger, will crack it open with it's strong grip and quickly crawl inside.

However, the octopus is as bold as it is stealth. They have been known by fisherman to board onto their boats, open the crab holds, and eat the feast inside; further proving their intelligence.


Scientific experiments have also revealed that octopuses have great short-term and long-term memory; being able to distinguish between different shapes and patterns, navigate mazes, and problem solve.

Sea Lion

Like dolphins, sea lions are heavily used to perform tricks for our entertainment. They are easily trained; some people affectionately calling them "the dogs of the sea". However, humans have also used their smarts for more important things, such as helping the U.S. military. The United States Navy has trained sea lions for many years to guard ships, sweep mines, and detain scuba divers in restricted areas. It is even reported that they have been trained to attach restraints on swimmers.


In the laboratory, studies have shown that sea lions have the ability to solve IQ test problems, identify letters and numbers, and think logically. They also have amazing long-term memory, being able to recall what they've learned years later.

Sea lions also have the remarkable ability to learn sign language.


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