17 April 2008
Apes and dolphins: primates and cetaceans. Could any creatures appear to be more different?
Maddalena Bearzi (dolphin biologist) and Craigh Stanford (primatologist), who have spent their careers studying these animals in the wild, combine their insights into a delightful and intriguing book: “Beautiful minds: the parallel lives of great apes and dolphins".
Beautiful Minds explains how and why great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos gorillas and orangutans) and cetaceans (dolphins and whales) are so distantly related yet so cognitively alike and what this teaches us about another large-brained mammal: Homo sapiens. Noting that apes and cetaceans have had no common ancestor in nearly 100 million years, Bearzi and Stanford describe the parallel evolution that gave rise to their intelligence.
Both large-brained mammals are second only to humans in intelligence. They form complex social networks, are capable of deception and manipulation, have sophisticated means of communication and cooperation, solve problems innovatively, transmit cultural traditions to the next generation and are able to imitate others, etc. To explain all of these extraordinary capabilities, authors cite many examples.
In conclusion, Bearzi and Stanford survey the factors making dolphins and apes endangered species. They make a plea for conserving the ecosystems in which they live, because the beautiful minds of these creatures are "a terrible thing to waste."
Bearzi, Maddalena & Craig Stanford (2008). Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins. Harvard University Press. 300 pp.
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