What do Dolphins Know?

Dolphins are incredibly intelligent creatures. They are known for their complex social behaviors, curiosity, and friendly interactions with divers and other organisms. However, this might be an instance where some would consider the dolphins are carrying their gregarious personality too far. Pacific White-sided Dolphins in the North Pacific off the coast of Canada have been observed hanging out with Southern resident killer whales. This is significant because another species of killer whale, Bigg’s killer whale, will happily eat the dolphins.  Yet somehow the dolphins can tell the difference. This raises a lot of very interesting scientific questions which are far more in-depth than we can address here. However, we will briefly overview some of the questions this discovery raises, and their implications for the origins debate.

First, let us fill in a few details regarding this incident off the coast of Canada. The two species of killer whale involved are essentially identical, even genetically, with very little that could externally be used to tell the species apart. However, the Southern resident killer whales only eat fish, and do not eat anything with red meat.  This raises the question of, how do the dolphins know the difference? The researchers believe it has to do with the frequencies of the whale’s calls.  Even if that is the case, which it may well be, there is another, bigger question. Why are the dolphins so eager to hang out with the larger, potentially life-threatening killer whales?  According to the researchers cited in the article, the Dolphins would immediately head to the whales as soon as they spotted them, and stay with them for upwards of weeks.  The researchers suspect the answer to this is that the Dolphins are seeking protection from their only predator in those waters, the Bigg’s Killer Whales.  However, since this idea is inferred, not observed, it cannot be held dogmatically.

These questions can be boiled down to a couple of general, broad questions which apply across the entire animal kingdom. Can animals pass learned behavior from one generation to the next? How can animals distinguish one species from another? And how do they know how that species will behave towards them?  These questions are very scientifically interesting, but also have implications for the origins debate.

Consider in the evolutionary model, these questions are cause for some concern.  After all, if species change from one into another, how could such a behavior develop? The first dolphin to try to be friendly with a killer whale would have to know exactly which ones he could be friends with, else he was simply delivering a little take-out meal to the whale.  This introduces a paradox since the two killer whales are undoubtedly the same kind. How did the dolphin know the difference between the two? Was it pure blind luck? Or did the dolphin somehow know that one species was not going to hurt it and the other was dangerous? In a creation worldview, this is somewhat troublesome as well, though there could be a built-in genetic component.

Telling one species from another species is nothing necessarily that difficult. This could be accomplished through anything from visual cues, to scent, to even simple familiarity in sounds, as is speculated in this referenced article. However, again, this would seem to require learned knowledge being passed from parent to offspring.

Going even further, are the dolphins passing learned information from generation to generation? This piece could fit in either worldview. I suspect that learned information, such as migratory routes, and interaction between two species, can be passed from one generation to another, on the condition that the parents actually care for their young.  If they rear their young at least to adolescence, it is possible information could be passed from one generation to the next.   In animals which do not care for their young, this would not be a potential mechanism.  This works well with either worldview and could explain the dolphins. However, the mechanism for passing information must be genetic in animals with poor parental care, which strongly challenges the evolutionary worldview, since there is no reason for these genes to evolve, or be favored in the first place.

This behavior from dolphins, as just one example, is incredibly difficult to explain from an evolutionary worldview. How did such behavior evolve? Why did it evolve? Why was it favored? How is it transmitted from parent to offspring? Such problems are incredibly difficult for a naturalistic worldview to solve. A creation worldview has no such problems since much of the information could have been built into the genome from the beginning.




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