From Iceland — Whales Not As Smart As They Look

Whales Not As Smart As They Look

Published November 11, 2013

Whales have close to no memory at all, a new research on whales’ brains indicates.

Scientists who studied brain activity in whales went from one science magazine to another before finding one that would publish their findings.

Part of the international research was carried out by a team of scientists at the Reykjavík University. The findings indicate that whales are not as clever as they seem to be, RÚV reports.

Brains from whales were compared to the brains of other mammals, with focus on an area called hippocampus; the part of the brain that stores memories and brings them forth.

“It turns out that this area is very small in the brains of minke whales, porpoises and dolphins,” Karl Ægir Karlsson, reader of healthcare engineering at RU told RÚV.

The reason could be that whales get very little sleep and don’t regenerate new nerve cells in that area, unlike other mammals where new nerve cells in the hippocampus can always be clearly seen.

“The most obvious interpretation of these findings is that a mammal with this feature would have much trouble, very much trouble memorizing new events and bringing them back in their mind; it would have difficulties creating memories. It would struggle with intelligence, which obviously goes against people’s ideas of whales being incredibly smart,” Karl Ægir added.

The findings were recently published in science journal Brain Structure and Function but before that several other editorships had refused to publish them.

“I suppose editors might think it morally wrong to publish such an article in case it would be used to justify whaling,” Karl Ægir concluded.

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