Nova (1974–…): Season 41, Episode 10 - Inside Animal Minds: Who's the Smartest? - full transcript

From PBS - What makes an animal smart? Many scientists believe the secret lies in relationships. Throughout the animal kingdom, some of the cleverest creatures -- including humans -- seem to be those who live in complex social groups, like dolphins, elephants and apes. Could the skills required to keep track of friend and foe make animals smarter? To find out, NOVA goes inside the social lives of some of the smartest animals on the planet.

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What are they thinking?

Oh, look at that face!

Is there any way to get inside
the animal mind?

What I really want to know is
what is it like to be an animal,

what are the problems
they have to solve,

and how do they think,
and are they like us

or are they like something
totally different?

They have some amazing abilities

Is it instinct, training
or something else?

Cutting-edge animal science
reveals new answers

We put different species
to the test

in search of the roots
of animal intelligence

Who are the best
problem solvers?

Who wins the battle
of the super senses?

In this episode,
what makes an animal smart?

Up until a million years ago,

the brainiest species
were dolphins and whales

What can we learn from their
language, relationships,

even emotions?

If you start giving
one of them grapes,

then the one who gets cucumber
becomes very upset

Are they more like us
than we ever thought possible?

We're not the only species
that has soap operas going on

every day in their lives

"Inside Animal Minds:
Who's the Smartest?"

Right now on NOVA.

Which animals are the smartest?

And how did they get this way?

Dolphins have long been hailed

as the cleverest creatures
in the sea

There's no doubt
they're quick learners

And in captivity,

they can be trained
to perform stunning tricks

Not only can they follow
hand signals

but they can even learn
the meaning of written symbols

Why would a mammal that spends
most of its time underwater

and has flippers
instead of hands

have these kinds of skills?

Throughout the animal kingdom,
you can find creatures

with extraordinary talents:

elephants with impressive

birds that solve
complicated puzzles

and tool-making chimpanzees

They inhabit
utterly different worlds

and come in a wide variety
of shapes and sizes

But is it possible
that these animals

could all get their smarts
in similar ways?

Because whether they walk,
swim or fly,

the cleverest animals on earth,
including us humans,

seem to have one thing
in common:

we live in groups

So could social living
be the key

to creating the most
powerful minds?

Around the world,

animal researchers
are trying to find out

And this is one
of their favorite subjects

Everyone knows that dolphins
can put on incredible shows

But their greatest performances
take place far from the crowds

because here in the wild,

these animals execute
the most amazing tricks

when they work as a team

In these shallow waters
off the coast of Florida,

dolphins band together to get
the better of fast-moving fish

Here's how their trickery works

One dolphin swims in a circle

It whips up a wall
of muddy water,

corralling any fish inside

Three other dolphins wait
just outside the ring of mud

As the fish try to leap out
of the muddy ring and escape,

they jump right into the open
mouths of the waiting dolphins

Soon, a dolphin swings around
again to create another corral

They seem in perfect synch,

as if they've planned
every move together

But what's really going on?

Are they strategizing and
communicating with each other

the way we would?

Or are they simply
drawn together on the hunt

by pure instinct?

One big reason to suspect

that something more complex
is going on is this:

the dolphin brain

When you look at the size
of most animal brains,

there's usually
a pretty direct link

to the size of their bodies

The bigger the body,
the bigger the brain

But some animals
defy expectations

Humans have much more
gray matter

than other animals our size

So do chimps and whales

And so do dolphins

So how did their brains get big?

The $6 million question

has always been,

why do dolphins and whales
have such large brains?

Neuroscientist Lori Marino is
trying to answer that question

by hunting down
some very ancient clues

She travels
all over the country,

studying fossils to trace the
evolution of the dolphin brain

One of the things that we wanted
to find out

with this research

was exactly when they got
their large brains

Here at the Smithsonian

she and her colleague Mark Uhen
are examining fossil skulls

of the dolphin's
ancient ancestors:

early whales called archaeocetes

Some archaeocetes were huge,
ferocious predators

with gigantic teeth

Compared to modern dolphins,
their bodies were massive

Growing up to 55 feet long,

in their day,
nearly 40 million years ago,

they were the biggest animals
on Earth

Today, examining fossil skulls
of early whales,

Lori is trying to estimate
the size of the brains

that once sat inside

In ancient fossils, the space
where the brain was housed

is often filled with sediment

But a CT scan can see
through the sediment

and reveal the exact dimensions

We were absolutely thrilled

to see the results of the study

because it gave us information
no one had before

When Lori examines the CT scans
of this giant killer's skull,

she discovers
not everything was big

This animal had a very big body
and a very small brain

But a few million years later,
things started to change

Something happened,

and what we see is a shift

When Lori looks at more recent
dolphin ancestors,

dating to about
30 million years ago,

she discovers, in evolutionary
terms, a fairly sudden shift

Bodies and teeth shrank,

but at the same time,
brains got bigger

The brain of the early dolphins
and whales increased in size,

sometimes manyfold

The dolphin brain got big
and stayed that way

In fact, for millions of years,
until early humans came along,

the dolphin had the most
powerful brain on the planet

Up until about
a million years ago,

the brainiest species
on the planet were not primates;

they were dolphins and whales

And we are just a very recent
kid on the block

The question is,
why did the brain change?

Everyone would like to know
why there was this shift

in relative brain size
with dolphins

It really is a mystery

It suggests that they embarked

on a very different evolutionary
path than their ancestors

Lori thinks that path
was a social one

No longer giant, toothy beasts,

individuals could increase
their chances for survival

by joining forces

Perhaps they needed
to hunt together,

to band together
against predators,

so these new animals were
smaller and not as formidable

They kind of needed each other

Today, more than 30 different
kinds of dolphins swim the seas,

the bottlenose dolphin,

the spotted dolphin

and the orca, or killer whale,
the largest of all dolphins

Most live in groups, or pods,

usually of a few dozen

Sometimes, pods will come
together, forming a mega-pod

numbering in the hundreds
or thousands

It seems clear that today's
dolphins need each other,

but why would they need
big brains, too?

To find out, we need to dive
deep into the dolphin world

Here, in the Caribbean waters
near the island of Bimini

Okay, Al, we're ready
when you are!

Researchers Kathleen Dudzinski
and Kelly Melillo Sweeting

have spent years tracking
wild spotted dolphins,

carefully observing and
recording their interactions,

trying to decipher the secrets
of dolphin society

Today, the scientists encounter

a gathering of dolphins
swimming together

There are about 16,
of mixed sexes and ages

What we definitely saw was a
socializing group of dolphins

They were interacting, playing,

they were affectionate
with one another

By observing these dolphins
year after year,

researchers are beginning
to get a clearer picture

of what dolphin society
is really like

Compared to many land mammals,

dolphin society is extremely
complex and dynamic,

and many of the relationships
they form might surprise you

The only connection that follows
a predictable pattern

is the one between a mother
and her calf

Among spotted dolphins,

the two will stay together
for about three years,

until the youngster is weaned

After that, almost anything goes

Males and females who mate don't
form long-term relationships

But sometimes adult females do

and help each other out
with babysitting duties

"White Blotch"
was one adult female

that we saw very consistently
for ten years,

and she was notorious

as what appeared to be
a babysitter

She'd come to the boat
with her own calf

and she'd have two or three
extras in tow

And we know they only have
one calf at a time,

so it was a very clear example

of that babysitting
and taking turns

And it's not just the females
who form close relationships

and collaborate
to make life easier

Male dolphins compete
with one another to find mates,

but sometimes two or three males
will form an alliance

to work together, to hunt
and to attract females

Often these relationships
last for many years,

even entire lifetimes

I do believe that dolphins

have friendships and favorites

and that their social

are developing the friendships
that they might have

that might last a lifetime

Those in close relationships
keep in touch... literally...

By tapping each other's
pectoral fins

But even if they're in some kind
of alliance or friendship,

dolphins like these will
regularly mingle with others

This flexible social structure

is known as
a "fission-fusion" society

Human society
is also fission-fusion

During an average day,

we will move
from small family groups

to larger groups of colleagues

to mid-size gatherings
of friends

Dolphins form
all sorts of relationships,

just like we do

And they change over time

It's a complicated
and bustling social world

And it's this social complexity
that some scientists think

could hold the key to the
evolution of bigger brains

When you're a social animal,

there's a lot that you need
to keep track of

There's all kinds
of relationships,

all kinds of interactions,

collaborations that may occur

There's a very nice relationship
between social complexity

that you observe
in a species organization

and the size of their brain

So how do dolphins
use their big brains

to navigate their social lives?

Is it possible
that some of that brain

is powering a complex system
of communication?

After all, whenever
dolphins get together,

the water can get very noisy

Dolphins make
all kinds of sounds:

fast-paced clicks
that sound like a creaky door

Loud outbursts that resemble
squawking birds

And high-pitched whistles

For decades, researchers
have been trying to figure out

what it all means

But in the 1960s,
one controversial scientist

took an alternative approach

Neuroscientist John Lilly
was convinced that dolphins

were much more intelligent than
people had previously thought

John Lilly was
a neurophysiologist

who was the first
to really suggest

that dolphins might be
highly intelligent

He was the first to really
sort of light the fire

and get a lot of us interested

He talked about them
as humans of the sea

And I just want to talk
to such ancient characters

and find out, you know,
if they have any wisdom for us

Rather than deciphering
their language,

Lilly decided the quickest route
to communicating with dolphins

would be to teach one of them
how to speak English

And he set out to do just that,

with one of the strangest
animal experiments ever devised

John Lilly did an experiment

that involved building
a dolphin house

And what he did was

he bought property
and he flooded the first floor

so the dolphin could actually
live in this first floor area

With the dolphin, named Peter,

living in less than
four feet of water,

it wasn't a very humane approach

But the idea was to keep Peter
in close contact

with his teacher

He actually had a woman
living there with the dolphin

in a very intense time,

where she tried to teach
this dolphin English

The young woman
was Margaret Howe,

and she lived, ate and slept
here for two and a half months,

trying to teach Peter every day

This is a sound recording

of Margaret counting while
Peter attempts to imitate her

One, two, three, four, five.

One, two, three,
four, five, six.

It's safe to say
the dolphin house experiment

was both unethical
and a complete failure

What the dolphins did
was not English

They could imitate the numbers
of syllables they were hearing,

but they couldn't
formulate English

They don't have the same kind of
articulatory system we have

In spite of its shortcomings,

Lilly's work
got a lot of attention

and inspired the Hollywood film
The Day of the Dolphin.

What do you know
about linguistics?

The fictional scientist,
played by George C Scott,

seemed to have better luck
teaching his dolphin

to count "one, two, three"
in English

than John Lilly ever did




For real-life scientists,

Lilly's work
showed that any idea

of teaching dolphins human
language was probably a fantasy

Today, researchers are focused
intently on trying to decipher

the dolphin's own system
of communication,

and they've been using
underwater microphones

to record all those clicks,
squawks and whistles,

hoping to find patterns

and discover
what they actually mean

But there's a problem

Dolphins make sounds underwater

by vibrating tissues
in their nasal cavities,

a bit like the way we humans
vibrate our vocal cords

They usually don't
open their mouths

or make any visible signs

Dolphins are essentially

They produce sound
and you can't see anything

Nothing changes
on their facial expression,

or even their blowholes

So they can be making sounds
without moving,

and you have no idea
who made the sound

But now researchers have come up
with a pioneering new technique

to listen in
on dolphin conversations

We're going out today
to try to find wild dolphins

and attach tags to them

Biologist Vincent Janik
is on a quest

to eavesdrop on wild dolphins

and try to decipher
the dolphin communication code

They are little recording tags
that can give us information

about their sounds
that they're making

and also give us information
about their behavior

as they're in the bay,
their own wild environment

Today, a bottlenose dolphin's
been captured in shallow water

Are you going to put
the acoustic on?

The researchers work rapidly to
minimize distress to the animal

To solve the problem

of capturing the exact sounds
made by a particular dolphin,

Vincent's team uses suction cups

to attach a recording device
directly to the animal's head

It's small enough
for a dolphin to ignore

Nicholas, Nicholas, get signal?

Roger that


If it were uncomfortable,

the dolphin could easily use
the seabed to knock it off

It will now record all the
sounds that the dolphin makes

and, using GPS, will keep track
of its movements

The dolphin's released

and soon joins some other
tagged dolphins

The scientists will
constantly observe them

so later they'll be able
to match their behavior

to the sounds they're making

What's going on over there?

There's lots of splashing

I think that's a dorsal fin

Yeah, they're two dolphins

What we can look at is
what the animal's doing...

Whether it's traveling,
whether it's foraging,

whether it's socializing
with others

Those kinds of things
we can observe from the surface

After a few hours, the devices
fall off on their own

and float to the surface
so the team can retrieve them

and begin analyzing
the dolphin's sounds

At first hearing,
it's a cacophony:

a whole range of dolphin clicks,
whistles and pulses

Today, we know that
the creaky-door clicks

are the sounds dolphins use
for echolocation

They work like sonar pings

Dolphins listen for the echoes
of the clicks

as they bounce off objects
in their environment

This plays a crucial role in
helping them locate their prey

and navigate in murky water

But Vincent is interested in
other kinds of dolphin sounds:

the ones they use
for communication

Sometimes, there are patterns:
certain sounds consistently made

when a dolphin is doing
a particular action,

like this one

One sound that we've found
is the so-called bray sound,

which dolphins produce
when they find fish

And it's a sound that brings in
other dolphins as well

And when dolphins are
aggressive, playful or not,

they often produce
lower frequency sounds

known as burst pulses

These kinds of calls are common
in the animal kingdom

But there is one kind of sound
dolphins make

that is much more unusual

It's called
the signature whistle

Every dolphin
has its own signature whistle

that's different from all others

So within a population,

you have very,
very different whistles

for every animal

The function of the whistle

really is to broadcast
its identity

and also to stay in touch
with other group members

The closest
in our language perhaps

is really if I would say,
"I'm Vincent and I'm over here"

Dolphins have good vision,

but if the water is murky
or individuals get separated,

Vincent believes they use
signature whistles

to help keep a group together

If an animal gets lost,

it will also produce
that whistle

to try to make contact again,
and that's something

that we often see
between mothers and calves

When the calf wanders off
and is far away

and eventually wants to get back
to the mother,

what it does is it starts to
produce its signature whistle

It is rare for animals
to have unique calls

that correspond
to particular individuals,

but dolphins aren't
the only animals

to use vocal calls as a way
of identifying each other

One other animal
known to do this

inhabits a world
completely different

from the dolphins'
underwater domain

The Amboseli National Park
in Kenya

is home to some of the most
social animals on the planet:


The thing about this park

that's outstanding is the
visibility of the elephants,

a population of more than
a thousand elephants,

which we know individually

Karen McComb has been observing
elephants here for decades,

trying to unlock the secrets

of elephant society
and communication

It's being able
to get inside animal minds,

get into a social world

that's actually
rather different from ours

that will tell us what elephants
are really thinking

Elephant society is a family
affair, especially for females

They stay with their mothers,
sisters, aunts and cousins

for their entire lives

The oldest female,
known as the matriarch,

is the leader

Young males stick
with their mothers

until they're
about ten years old,

and then they leave the social
group to live independently

And elephants
are always on the move

Elephants have
this really unusual

and complex social system

So instead of just staying put

and communicating
with their immediate neighbors,

they sort of move
in relation to one another

in a very fluid,
fission-fusion way

Females and young males spend
time with lots of elephants

in groups of different sizes

And they communicate with dozens
of different kinds of calls

Some rumbles
are such low frequency

they're out of range
of human hearing,

but elephants can detect them
from miles away

Karen believes that their calls
are crucial

for the elephants to keep track
of friend and foe

They'll come into contact
with many, many other families

as they move and feed,

and they will be
making decisions

about which families
it's safe to feed next to

and which they should avoid

To find out how elephants
make those decisions,

Karen designed an experiment

It involves years
of painstaking research

and some very powerful speakers

Karen has made a library
of elephant contact calls

and is going to play some

to a group of elephants
who are on the move

and see how they react

First, she plays a call
from an elephant

from a different group,
but a friendly one

The elephants
just keep on walking

and their behavior
doesn't change

But when Karen plays a call

from an elephant
they don't know well,

their behavior is very different

The elephants abruptly
stop their march

They turn toward
the unfamiliar voice,

gather closer together and move
directly toward the sound

in what Karen says
is a defensive show of force

Karen tested 21 families
and found that the elephants

consistently distinguished
between friend and stranger,

up to 100 different voices

She believes that a lot
of their brain power and memory

is going into keeping track
of other elephants:

the ones they do and do not know

Who is safe to be around
and who might pose a threat?

And it could be the same with us

We have these relationships

that we need to maintain
throughout our lives

with friends and enemies

You have to remember
who owes you a favor

And that sort of complexity
seems to go hand in hand

with the evolution
of larger brains

It's not enough
to be simply social

The animal world
is full of social creatures,

and plenty of them have some
of the tiniest brains around

There's lots of different
kinds of social behavior

of social animals

Insects, for example,

termites and ants
are extremely social,

and they can't live
by themselves

They need each other
for everything that they do

Ants live in colonies, sometimes
with millions of members,

and divide labor
between workers and soldiers

The collective might of termites

can result in the construction
of huge, elaborate mounds

And social living,

along with an intricate
communication system,

is crucial to bees,

with tens of thousands
of individuals working together

to find food
and raise their young

All these animals
are highly social,

and together,
they can accomplish wonders

But each individual
has a miniscule brain

Ants are always essentially
working together

toward one goal:

to help each other out
to make the colony a success

Now, dolphins are on the other
end of the spectrum

Sometimes they cooperate,

sometimes they are competing
with each other

So when you enter this element

of both cooperating
and competing at the same time

in order to survive,

this new kind
of social complexity

and intelligence blossoms

Cooperation and competition,
side by side

This is the recipe for a really
complicated social life

And animals who live this way
often have big brains

But whether one leads
to the other is still unclear

Part of the challenge
for scientists is figuring out

how much animals like dolphins
might understand

about their social lives

Dolphin cognition expert
Diana Reiss

has spent years
trying to find out

She works with dolphins at the
National Aquarium in Baltimore

Keeping dolphins in captivity
is controversial,

and aquariums in the U S
haven't captured wild dolphins

for two decades

Diana believes

it's only in the controlled
environment of aquariums

that you can unlock some of the
secrets of the dolphin mind

Here, she can
carry out experiments

not possible in the wild

The aquarium has
an observation chamber,

nicknamed "The Pit"

It's cramped

But from here,
Diana has an excellent view

of the dolphins'
underwater behavior

This dolphin is making
bubble rings,

a behavior observed both
in captivity and in the wild

A dolphin blows out
an air bubble from its blowhole,

then flicks it with its tail
to create a ring shape

Bubble rings appear
to have no practical purpose,

except for entertainment

It's another dolphin behavior
we can relate to:

the ability to play

Diana wants to find out
what else we share

on an even more
fundamental level

She's investigating
whether dolphins

recognize themselves
as individuals

Do they each have
a sense of self?

Diana places a one-way mirror
inside the observation window

So now we're looking
through a window

and they'll be seeing a mirror

The dolphins can't see people
inside The Pit

All they see
are their own reflections

Dolphins don't behave like this,

staying in one place
and staring,

if they simply meet
another dolphin

Another extremely unusual action
is this curious fin wiggling

This looks nothing like
what they do

when they're socially
interacting with another

They also look inside their
mouths or closely at their eyes

They perform all sorts
of odd behaviors

much like we might do
in front of a mirror

to see what we look like
when we do that new dance step

or when we just want to see
how we look in a new outfit

They seem to be using the mirror
like a tool

to see parts of their bodies
that are usually out of view

This all supports the idea
that dolphins must be aware

they're looking at themselves

Dolphins share this ability to
recognize themselves in a mirror

with just a few other animals

Elephants do it

So do chimpanzees

But the vast majority,
including dogs, don't

And interestingly,
neither do young humans

Before they're 18 months old,
most children fail to point out

a red dot painted on their cheek

This boy assumes
he's looking at another child

Only when they're about two
does a child first realize

that the mark
is on her own cheek

and she knows the reflection
is of herself

Eventually, a human child's

will go far beyond recognizing
her own body in a mirror

She'll be aware
of her own thoughts

and be able to contemplate
the thoughts of others

But is the same true for other
animals, like dolphins?

Diana thinks it might be

Having a sense of self
would go hand in hand,

I could say flipper to flipper,

with complex understanding
of others

So if animals like dolphins

recognize themselves
as individuals,

how much do they understand

about the other creatures
around them?

It's a question debated
by animal researchers

The big question is not,
"Do animals think?"

The big question is, "Do they
think about others thinking?"

"Thinking about others thinking"

is something we humans do
all the time

As humans, we are remarkable

because we can imagine
what it's like,

in some context,
to be someone else

That's an amazing ability
that we see in humans

This ability we have

to imagine what it's like
to be another person

is known as "theory of mind"

The theory of mind is the idea

that all humans normally develop
an understanding

that other people have
different minds than our own:

that what I know is different
than what you know

and that what I want
is different than what you want

And that's a big question
for animal researchers:

whether any non-human animal
also eventually, or at all,

develops a theory of mind

It's extremely difficult

to prove that an animal "thinks"
about other animals' "thoughts,"

but some of the most interesting
research has been done

with our closest relatives:
the chimpanzees

Primatologist Frans de Waal
works with chimpanzees

at the Yerkes Primate Center
in Atlanta

When an animal like a chimp
is aware that another chimp

has a different perspective
on the world,

it could give it an advantage

Chimpanzee groups have a strict
ranking system

At the very top
is the most powerful chimp:

the alpha male

He's in charge of the group,

and every other chimp has
a position of rank below him,

from the most dominant
to the most subordinate

Frans has set up
an interesting experiment

to find out how
a low-ranking animal behaves

when it gets
valuable information

that a more dominant member
does not know

Could one chimp
actively deceive another?

Most studies that are
on deception

are observational,
anecdotal studies

But nowadays,
we do experiments also on it,

and so you can,
for example, hide food

One chimp knows where it is,

the other one doesn't know
where it is,

and then you can see if
deception goes on between them

The experiment involves
two chimps: Rita and Missy

Rita is the more dominant

At the start of the experiment,

the chimps are
in their sleeping quarters

One of the keepers goes
into the outdoor enclosure

and hides a banana
under the red tube

Missy is allowed to watch
through a window,

so she sees the keeper
hide the banana

Rita can see Missy watching
through the window,

but she can't see
what's going on outside

Then they let the chimps out

Rita, the dominant chimp,
comes out first

If she knew where
the banana was hidden,

she'd simply help herself

But only Missy, the subordinate,

saw the banana being placed
under the red tube

Rita just saw Missy watching

So the two have very
different perspectives

on the same situation

Missy notices Rita
close to the food

and sits on top of the tube

She seems to be playing it cool

Rita now wanders off

When she's far enough away,
Missy goes for the banana

Frans believes that Missy
has successfully deceived Rita

He's observed
this kind of behavior in chimps,

but it's rare in other animals

So if animals
can deceive others,

what would that say
about their minds?

When we think about deception,

you have to sort of understand
the rules of the game

Deception is manipulating
the rules of the game,

so a highly social animal

who understands
the rules of the game

and then changes it somehow
for its own benefit

or to make a joke, perhaps,
or to achieve something

shows a level of sophistication

We humans are very good at it

So, are the most successful
animals natural born liars?

If you live in a complex
social group,

you're competing against others
who eat the same thing you do,

who mate
with the same individuals

that you might
want to mate with,

so if you can somehow manipulate
the behavior of others,

then you're going
to have potentially

a competitive advantage

But social living is not
just about lies and deceit

Deception can only get you
so far

There's a big disadvantage
to deception

and that's why it is not
so often used,

is that if I do that too often
to you, you may catch on

and at some point,
you don't trust me anymore

Frans believes that primates,

as they negotiate
their social lives,

are very aware
of the competition

And so he's come up
with another experiment,

this one to test
their sense of justice

Do they realize if they're
being treated fairly or not,

compared to others?

Normally, you would think

the only thing an animal
should care about is,

"What do I get for my task?

I work, I get rewards"

But no, they're comparing with
what the other one is getting

Frans begins the fairness test
with the capuchin monkey

These small, clever animals
are kept in large enclosures,

but for the short duration
of the test,

they're in a lab area

Each monkey carries out
a simple task:

they have to give a small stone
to the experimenter

in exchange for a reward

When both get a reward
of cucumber, everyone's happy

But watch what happens

when the one on the right
receives a grape reward instead

If you start giving
one of them grapes,

which are far better
than cucumber,

then the one who gets cucumber
becomes very upset

and becomes agitated...
Emotionally agitated

It turns out
quite a few creatures,

including ravens and dogs,

will protest if they get
the short end of the stick,

as if they know that they're
being treated unfairly

But what about a concern
for injustice for the other guy?

Research with one
of our closest relatives,

a highly social chimp
called a bonobo,

is revealing some surprises

At the Lola ya Bonobo orphanage
in the Congo,

animals spend most of their days
in the forest,

but come inside
for short periods of time

for experiments like this

One bonobo is inside
an enclosure

The door is locked and can only
be opened from the other side

Here, another bonobo...
A stranger...

Is given a delicious
pile of fruit

So what will she do?

We recently discovered

that bonobos can share
with strangers...

That they actually
will sacrifice their own food

for the opportunity to interact

with another bonobo
they've never met before

That's not something
that we thought

another species would do

When we think about nature
as red in tooth and claw,

that you would share
with somebody

you don't share any genes with,
that's not in your family,

they're not even in your group?

I thought that was something
that humans did

So the fact that a bonobo
does that is remarkable

It's the closest thing
that you can think of

to doing charity in animals

Among the most social animals,
there's growing evidence

for active concern
for the well-being of others

Recently, it was reported
that elephants

will console an animal
in distress

by gently touching it
with their trunks

And elephants do something else
which might demonstrate

powerful feelings of connection
to others of their species

through observational evidence,

seem to have a really
unusual interest

in the dead
of their own species,

either fresh carcasses or skulls

The very interesting thing
is actually

the interest seems to persist
after death

Karen McComb has devised
an experiment to find out more

She takes the skulls
of elephants killed by poachers

to make a miniature graveyard

in the path
of an approaching herd

Now she just observes

Yep, I think
we've definitely got

the beginnings
of a reaction here

Some of the younger females
starting to respond

They've picked up a whiff
of the skulls

The male is swinging his trunk

towards the skulls
and the jawbones as well

A few animals, including chimps,

will be curious about the corpse
of a companion,

touching and investigating
the body

But only elephants
take an interest

in the skulls and bones
of their own kind

long after death

We've got the females
clustering around the skull,

touching the jawbones

You see the way the ends
of the trunks are moist there?

That's enhancing the scent
that they're getting

You wouldn't see that
in any other species,

except for humans

To test whether
this intense response

was specific to elephant skulls

and not just a reaction
to a new object,

Karen has done
exactly the same thing

with skulls from other animals

If you present elephants

with the skulls
of other large herbivores,

the biggest herbivores
you can get...

Rhino, buffalo skulls...

You do not get
that level of interest

Given the choice
between the three,

they make a beeline
for the elephant skull

And they're particularly
interested actually

in elephant ivory

That, they will spend a massive
amount of time investigating,

picking it up, carrying it off,
touching it

They are definitely able
to recognize,

distinguish the skulls
and other remains of elephants

from other species

This kind of behavior seems
very familiar to us humans

Obviously, we are intensely
involved and interested in death

in the sense

that our relationships continue
beyond that,

and it's very interesting
that this highly social animal

seems to also have
a social interest

that extends beyond death

As we watch these elephants

gently touch the remains
of their dead,

it's impossible to know exactly
what is driving their curiosity

Or whether these animals
might be experiencing

emotions similar to what
we would feel, like grief

What scientists
like Karen do know

is that for highly
social creatures,

relationships are essential
for survival

So, with so much time
and brain power spent

reading social situations,

could these animals
be better prepared

to gauge an interaction
with another species?

One such interaction
was reported not long ago

in the waters near Hawaii,

where a group of divers
was swimming at night,

photographing manta rays

Unexpectedly, a lone dolphin
swims close to the divers

They notice that the dolphin is
tangled in a thin fishing line

and has a hook stuck in its fin

Without help,
he will probably perish

And it approaches this diver
as if it knows

that the diver can possibly
help out

And that's in fact
what the diver does:

very gently cuts away
the fishing line

It takes quite awhile

The dolphin actually
has to go up for air

and then come back down again

The entire process
takes about seven minutes

So the question is,

what was the dolphin thinking?

My guess is the dolphin
was just approaching the diver

and then probably figured out
that the diver

was intending to help
at that stage

So did it come
swimming out of the deep

to solicit a diver's help?

Probably not, but it certainly
was smart enough

to figure out that
the diver could help

once the diver started helping

When the fishing line has been
removed, he swims away

It is a remarkable encounter
between two species

Witnessing the behavior
of all these social animals,

it's hard not to connect...

To see some parallels
with our own complicated lives

Part of the experience
of being human as a species

is a bit lonely

And I think one
of the really fun things

about studying other animals
is over time,

we learn that actually,

we're not the only
really social species

We're not the only species
that has literally

soap operas going on
every day in their lives,

and we're not the only species

that has many of the same
problems we experience

Whether it's that,

"Oh, my gosh, I have to deal
with my family member

"who is driving me crazy,

but they're my family
so I have to support them,"

or, you know,

"Gosh, I have this friend
that I like to hang out with

but they keep taking
advantage of me,"

or the fact that,

"Oh, this guy who thinks
he's so much bigger than me

"and he can do
whatever he wants,

"I have to get
my friends together

and be nice to them
so they'll help me"

These are all things
that we experience together

with lots of other
social animals on the planet,

so I think it's not just trying
to understand

what the life
of animals are like

I think part of it is that
it makes us feel part of nature

and that we're not here alone

There are other animals
that experience things

that we also experience

And it could be that
these kinds of experiences,

these challenges we face
every day as social animals,

have played a key role
in the evolution

of bigger and smarter brains

Because in certain situations,

the creature who can
cleverly negotiate,

who can lend or extend
a helping hand,

is often the one with the best
chance of survival

I think we often
think about evolution

as always the biggest,

most competitive individual

is the one that's going
to survive and reproduce

But I think we see
again and again

and again and again in evolution

that that's not the case at all

Other times,
what's going to be favored

is things that lead
to better cooperation

so that you can work together
to solve problems

you otherwise couldn't solve
on your own

And that requires tolerance

That requires actually
not dominance,

but sometimes
a lack of dominance

So when we study
a wide variety of species,

you see things beyond just "it's
always the big guy that wins"