Sapient Cetaceans YKTTW Discussion

Sapient Cetaceans
Dolphins and whales portrayed as intelligent in a very humanlike way.
(permanent link) added: 2011-11-28 16:16:07 sponsor: HiddenFacedMatt edited by: matsuiny2004 (last reply: 2011-12-02 10:40:10)

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[On Earth], man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much--the wheel, New York, wars, and so on--while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man--for precisely the same reasons.

Created based on this thread. (Credit goes to Arcades Sabboth for the actual text of the description.)

Many scientists, writers, and laypeople consider cetaceans (dolphins and whales) to be very intelligent — almost, or even equally, as intelligent and self-aware as human beings. But we can't talk to them, so we can't be sure.

This trope is for dolphins and whales that quite clearly demonstrate their human-level intelligence by talking to non-cetaceans, communicating via telepathy, using magic or technology, piloting spaceships, or other activities generally beyond merely-clever animals.

Sapient cetaceans may demonstrate obvious sentience because of genetic engineering or magical phlebotium, or human-level intelligence and the skills to prove it may just be natural traits of cetaceans in the setting.


Anime and Manga
  • Damekko_Dōbutsu has a sentient orca that can not swim and uses a life preserver.
  • In Astro Boy 1960 a sentient race of dolphin people threaten war on humanity if they keep developing on their land.
  • A well-known arc of Gundam X has the Mysterious Waif actually talk to dolphins, presumably with her Psychic Powers. The arc also includes a white dolphin, which seems to be psychic itself.
  • Although not quite everywhere, Jaden's Neo-Spacian Aqua Dolphin of Yu-Gi-Oh GX gets all the perks. It's the first to be introduced (also alongside its Chrysalis form), the first to contact fuse with Neos, the first to be extended by the card NEX and the first (and so far only) to contact fuse with Neos in its extended form.
  • The main heroes of Cyborg 009 named their ship 'The Dolphin'; in the manga, genetically and cybernectically enhanced dolphins were a pretty common enemy, used by Black Ghost as underwater scouts, soldiers and assassins.
  • Shadow Star Narutaru briefly depicts a dolphin "Virgin Princess", that is, one whose mind has been taken over by a dragon. This would imply that in-universe, dolphins are intelligent enough to control dragons.
  • The anime Mars Daybreak showcases Poipoider, a dolphin who spends much of his time in a suit of power armor wielding heavy weapons.
  • Zettai Karen Children has the appearance of Lieutenant Ikyuugo, a dolphin with precognitive powers, whom The Children affectionately call "old man".
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima!, dolphin-men are one of the many denizens found in the Magic World. One of them works as a trucker who pilots an airship.

Comic Books:
  • The comic books based on the Ecco The Dolphin series explicitly portray Ecco as a very clever and resourceful dolphin, even to the point of tricking a jellyfish and a polar bear into attacking each other instead of him, and of course involve him discussing subjects like alien invasions with other creatures and even talking crystals. See also the Ecco entry in the video game section.
  • Alan Moore's The Ballad of Halo Jones has sapient Dolphins.
  • 52 has sapient space dolphin in Lobo's entourage.

  • In Sounding by Hank Searls, whales from different species hold philisophical discussions on what humans might be thinking. They conclude we only make sense to ourselves.
  • The Dragonriders of Pern features sentient dolphins, who were genetically uplifted by the ancestors of the Pernese humans.
  • In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, humans are actually only the third most intelligent creatures on Earth. The first is mice. But then, they are hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who are actually running the Earth, which is a giant computer program, and the second is explicitly stated to be dolphins (who aren't in disguise and are still ahead of humans), and who knew about the impending destruction of Earth long before the humans themselves knew about it. The dolphins tried to warn them, but when the humans didn't understand, they left the planet quietly by their own means. Their last message is "so long and thanks for all the fish", and this all becomes important in the book So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.
  • Dinotopia - Although every creature in and around the island of Dinotopia is at least intelligent enough to communicate with humans, dolphins were the first to interact with humans.
  • The Diane Duane Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Dark Mirror involves an alien race that's essentially dolphins IN SPACE! (They're not related to the whales IN SPACE from Star Trek IV.)
  • The Star Trek The Next Generation: Technical Manual notes that the Cetacean tanks on board contain the dolphin and whale navigational specialists. This is pretty much shout out to Gunbuster, where cybernetically enhanced dolphins form the main navigational computer of the Eltreum.
  • In Probe, a sort-of sequel novel to Star Trek IV, the Cetacean probe is traced back to its homeworld-- inhabited by a race of super-dolphins. They had telekinetic powers, what the internal dialog of the Probe calls 'The Voice'. It is stated that they had range and power enough to protect their planet from invasion by a civilization strongly implied to be the Borg. They were not, however, able to prevent these would-be invaders from rendering their star unable to sustain life on their world, so they built ships and, like the humanoids that had dwelt on the land, fled from the known universe. (These humanoids are also implied to have fled from the Borg, but while there are indications they fled a threat and deliberately left false clues to their destination(s) as part of a system of prepared traps, there are no specific descriptions of what the threat was.)
    • One Next Gen novel had a dolphin as a supporting character, which held the rank of commander in Starfleet. At one point, Riker whistles a specific sequence of notes to get its attention, implying he can speak (or at least swear) in Dolphin.
  • Duane's Young Wizards book series also features Cetacean wizards (the Trek novel contains a Shout-Out to them). Of course, pretty much everyone and everything with more brains than a sponge has Wizarding potential in this setting.
  • In David Brin's Uplift series, dolphins and chimpanzees were uplifted to human-level sapience, and have colonized other planets alongside their human patrons.
  • Larry Niven's Known Space 'verse establishes that dolphins were recognized as sapient beings in the late 20th century.
  • The 1986 computer novel Portal: A Dataspace Retrieval gets downright philosophical:
    Man does not take time to think things over, to sing about them completely. Too much like a monkey, they say. That's the problem with having hands, they say. Always trying to put them on things, move them around, turn them over.

    I could build them a ship, I tell them, and they chitter and click but do not assent. I tell them man has left behind vast tubes of air, filled with the plants and life of earth, floating in space. They find this interesting, but silly. They will think about it, they tell me. Perhaps in a hundred years or so they will have an answer. They've been around for thirty million years, and are in no hurry. They tell me they haven't finished exploring the oceans yet.
  • In the Illuminatus!! trilogy, dolphins aid the Discordians in their underwater expeditions.
  • In The Probability Broach novel and its sequels' Backstory, several animals were discovered sapient and intelligent but devoid of speech, dolphins among them. The problem was easily solved with a special artifact. We even see a Dolphin scientist working in his tank.
  • The Scar by China Miéville has sapient dolphins aiding the security forces of the floating pirate settlement of Armada, as well as a small mention of sapient whales. Inverting typical presentations the main dolphin character is a sadist named Bastard John, while the whales are all extremely stupid dupes of the book's primary antagonists.
  • In Animorphs, Cassie has a minor crisis because she's not sure if it's right to take a dolphin's DNA or control its mind; one of their rules is that the Animorphs never morph a sapient creature without its permission, or unless it's an urgent emergency. Whether or not they're truly sapient is never quite settled (although whales just barely are, according to the Drode), but they are capable of a kind of telepathic communication with whales ("great ones;" the dolphins are the "little ones."), and Cassie firmly believes they have souls. Everyone loves the dolphin morph, because they're so happy and carefree.
    • Also in Animorphs, at least one whale is confirmed to be sentient: the Drode must spare its life for this reason.
  • One story in Tales from Innsmouth (Cthulhu Mythos compilation) has the Dolphins as allies of the Deep Ones.
  • In Hyperion there is mention of intelligent telepathic dolphins. Unfortuantly they were hunted nearly to extinction because it was discovered they were sentient.
  • Subverted in Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger series: in a world where every species of mammal or bird is intelligent, dolphins are essentially a bunch of slackers, whose only interest in land-goers is the chance to swap dirty jokes.
  • In the Greatwinter Trilogy by Sean McMullen, scientists reconstruct ancient cetacean DNA and create three members of the species who turn out to be telepathic/smarter than humans.
  • This concept gets a Take That in The Polity Series novel The Skinner. The narrator notes that eventually people were able to accurately measure the intelligence of animals, and found that despite longstanding stereotype, dolphins and whales were actually pretty dumb. Instead, the novel has a swarm of wasps who form a Hive Mind / living computer of equal or greater than human intelligence.
  • In the 1981 book Megalodon by Robin Brown, the protagonist scientist has developed the Janus device, a computer/vocoder/translator which enables him to teach two dolphins (nicknamed Doris and Macho) and a killer whale (Morgan) a rudimentary language (their own language is sophisticated enough to communicate three-dimensional sonar images -- it's converting that into a language simple enough to be translated that's the problem).
  • The 1967 novel A Sentient Animal by Robert Merle is about a scientist who successfully teaches human languages to dolphins, resulting (to his dismay) in the latter being used as living weapons by the US military.

Live-Action Television

New Media
  • The Onion parodied this with the article "Dolphins Evolve Opposable Thumbs: 'Oh, Shit,' Says Humanity". (Source of the image above.) The article is then filled with stories of the Dolphins' incredibly rapid technology development, and marine biologists committing suicide or preparing to serve the Dolphin overlords.
  • Dolphins were one the earliest animal species to be uplifted, or 'provolved' to sentience in Orion's Arm. They are quite common, living on water worlds and habitats all over the terragen sphere.
Newspaper Comics
  • The Far Side takes a few jabs at dolphins; the ones that immediately spring to mind is the dolphin whose husband is missing (dolphin cop: "We're going to let you go back to your canning in a minute...") and the dolphins who are trying to communicate with scientists (on blackboard: Komo-esstass; say hablah es-pan-yoll).
  • One comic by Don Martin had a scientist making a device that translated dolphin speech, and tested it on the dolphin present in the lab. Only he hears what the dolphin says, but immediately turns around and embarrassedly zips his fly.
  • One series of Dilbert strips had him trapped miles from shore while dolphins taunted him for hours ("Let's ask the humming fish to do the Jaws theme song...").

Tabletop Games
  • The RPG Blue Planet has uplifted dolphins and whales. Given that the planet the game is set on is almost completely covered in water, it's pretty much a given that they'd be there.
  • Classic Traveller. Issue 6 of the Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society had an article on dolphins genetically engineered to have higher intelligence, up to 13 (with the human average being 7). Some of them can learn human languages.
  • The seventh Rifts World Book Rifts Underseas actually allows you to have a Dolphin, Orca, or even a Humpback Whale as a player character. They even have Powered Armor designed for Dolphins and Orcas to use.
  • The Transhuman Space setting for GURPS plays with this, as described in the deep-sea sourcebook Under Pressure. On the one hand there are "Cetanists"; "Ghosts" and AIs who believe in the intelligence and spirituality of whales and dolphins, and express this by wearing dolphin bioshells (biological bodies that can run an AI or Ghost) and joining a pod. On the other hand, there are actual dolphins; who are certainly bright enough that translator software works, but are also bullies, mildly sociopathic and, in short, wild animals. And on the third hand there are Doolittles and Delphi; dolphins who've been uplifted, but who often have the same "personality disorders" (by human standards) as their wild kin. They also find Cetanists a bit disturbing. And then there's Coak, a Delphi who wishes he was a normal dolphin to the extent that he now runs an anti-uplift terrorist organisation.
    • And then, of course, there's the GURPS adaptation of the Uplift setting, where Fins (Uplifted Dolphins) are also a playable species, complete with the tech from the books that lets them operate out of water.
  • In Blue Rose, you can play a sapient, telepathic dolphin PC, or play a human who has one as a Bond Creature.
  • The RPG Blue Planet has uplifted dolphins and whales. Given that the planet the game is set on is almost completely covered in water, it's pretty much a given that they'd be there.
  • One early RPG inspired by Niven's Known Space novels had omitted rules for dolphin characters, but an article in Dragon corrected that, introducing such necessities as water-filled space suits and strap-on robotic arms.
  • Some editions of Dungeons & Dragons have depicted dolphins as sentient Good-aligned creatures with their own patron goddess.

  • Paul Zindel's play Let Me Hear You Whisper features a dolphin in a lab that learns to talk out of its blowhole. However, at first it only talks to the cleaning lady.

Video Games:

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • In Rankin/Bass Productions' Rudolph's Shiny New Year Rudolph enlists the help of a friendly, talking whale to help him go from place to place looking for the Baby New Year.
  • TinyToonAdventures had occasional appearances by Orson Whales, who had the same voice as Brain.
  • Mr. Krabs daughter Pearl from SpongeBob is a talking whale and she lives the life of a human teenager. The dolphin king in spongebob is a sentient dolphin that warns bikini bottom about the threat of volcanoes.
  • American Dad! had a program that both trained dolphins to help on missions and taught humans to speak dolphin, but it turns out all they want to do is talk about fish. Even after the titular CIA agent's son is rescued by them at the end of the episode he just ends up getting pissed off because the dolphins won't shut up about mackerel.
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