August 17, 2004  ·  Tim Wu


“A lot of people would like to think of whales as philosopher-poets swimming around the oceans thinking deep thoughts, and that is not true,” said Dr. Roger Payne. “But for some reason, people are deeply, deeply impressed by these animals. It may be their size, and grace has something to do with it. But there really is an air of mystery about them.”

  • Anonymous

    redwoods also. but not suvs

  • Sam Greenfield

    I enjoyed reading the NY Times article when I picked up the paper yesterday. I’m curious if you feel that your use of the photo and text of the article is an example of copyright infringement. There is no indication that either the photo or the text is taken from the New York Times other than a single hidden link reference.

    Would you consider the posting of the excerpt fair use? Is quoting an excerpt without providing any additional commentary inherently commentary? In the case of the photo, how is its usage in this instance anything but blatant copyright infringement?

    The presence of the whale excerpt is fairly ironic considering the primary author of this blog.

  • Tim Wu

    Photo, yes.

    Quote, no.

  • The Lonewacko Blog


    I wanted to see the rest of what Payne had to say, but that was all they had. I’m pretty sure whales/dolphins are much smarter than dogs.

  • David Noha

    Here’s an old but interesting article on Dolphin Consciousness.

    I have seen numerous statistics on whale and dolphin brains; unfortunately these are the kinds of statistics that people get emotional about and hence tend to exaggerate. Several smart science authors I trust have repeated this general point: neuron counts in the neocortex are about ten times higher in humans than chimps, about the same in humans and bottlenosed dolphins, and some whales have up to ten times as many as humans. Of course neurons have synapses, around 5000 per in humans (increasing with age) and I haven’t seen numbers on cetacean or sirenian synapse counts.

    What “consciousness” is, of course, is not a question we have one solid answer to. Symbolic reasoning may be a better characteristic to consider. Those who argue against animal reasoning typically cite primate research and ignore dolphin research. Dolphins have certainly been shown to have the capability of understanding sentence structure and prepositional relations.

    For me, the deeper moral issue is decided by the principle of parsimony (akin to Occam’s Razor). If the preponderance of evidence suggests that whales and dolphins may be conscious, we shouldn’t be murdering them. Since we can identify the neocortex as the seat of consciousness, or at least symbolic reasoning, and we can observe a rough correlation between cortical complexity and behavioral complexity, I think it’s rather obvious that we should look before we leap/kill for the two classes of animals with neocortices similar in complexity to humans: dolphins and whales.