Are Pigs Smarter Than Dolphins? The Answer Explored

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 25th September 2023

Are pigs the ultimate champion of intelligence?
Are pigs the ultimate champion of intelligence? / Jakob Eskildsen via Istock

Humans tend to get cocky about our leading status in the food chain. Humans are the smartest creatures on Earth, but we never stop to wonder what makes us so special.

Is it that we construct intricate social networks, our capacity for long-term planning, our skill with implements, or any combination of these factors?

Some other animal types have certain characteristics, and others have them all.

What other animals demonstrate intelligence? Is it true that pigs are smarter than dolphins?

The answer is no, pigs aren’t smarter than dolphins.

However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t smart at all.

Gage Beasley's In-Demand Plush Toys
Gage Beasley’s In-Demand Plush Toys

Pigs Versus Dolphins: Which Are Smarter?


The Intelligent Dolphin
The Intelligent Dolphin | Jess Bray via Getty Images

Nobody can seriously dispute the intelligence of dolphins.

What’s up in the air is how smart they are. This is a particularly difficult problem.

Humans have a habit of evaluating intellect in terms of how they conceptualize it.

The Encephalization Quotient

Who’s the smartest of the three dolphins? | Talia Cohen via Unsplash

Although this may not have any direct relevance, it is interesting to note that the average bottlenose dolphin brain weighs 1.6 kg, while the average human brain weighs about 1.35 kg.

The average chimpanzee’s brain weighs only 0.4 kg. Brain size relative to the average for the species body size is a better indicator of intelligence.

This is referred to as the “Encephalization Quotient” (EQ), which is the proportion of brain size to body size.

According to this metric, larger-than-average brains have an EQ greater than 1, while smaller-than-average brains have an EQ of less than 1.

Humans have the highest IQ
Humans have the highest IQ | Inside Creative House via iStock

Humans have the highest EQ of any species at 7.4. However, bottlenose dolphins rank second with a score of 5.3.

Environmental factors may also influence this statistic; to sustain body warmth, a dolphin requires significantly more blubber than a person.

This may cause the ratio may be skewed and the dolphin’s EQ practically lower than it would be otherwise.

The dolphin’s EQ would be considerably better if it didn’t need to be heavily insulated against the water.


Dolphins swimming
Dolphins swimming | The Miscellanista via Unsplash

Self-awareness indicates advanced, abstract thinking, and studies reveal that bottlenose dolphins share this trait.

One such sign is that they can mirror self-recognition, formerly observed only in humans and great apes.

Unlike other animals, they enjoy watching TV as much as anyone else.

Dolphins respond effectively to TV visuals from their first exposure, unlike chimpanzees, which require repetitive guidance.

Usage of Tools

Dolphins Playing
Dolphins Playing | slowmotiongli via Getty Images

It’s not uncommon for dolphins to use objects they discover as tools and often use them just for fun.

Bottlenose dolphins shield their closed rostrums by wearing marine sponges they tear off the seafloor.

One line of evidence suggests that they do indeed spread this ability from generation to generation.

Dolphins aren’t just practical. They’re also quite playful, as evidenced by their ability to blow bubble rings in the water.

They either swim in circles and inject air into the resulting helical vortex currents or exhale air into the water.

After that, they usually take time to observe their work visually and sonically.

Evidence of Intelligence

Jump Higher, Dolphins!
Jump Higher, Dolphins! | slowmotiongli via Getty Images

In one study, researchers rewarded two dolphins anytime they exhibited unique behavior, such as doing physical activity they wouldn’t ordinarily do, like a tail slap on the water’s surface.

It took them some time to figure out what was expected of them, but they began offering various innovative behaviors once they did.

Their behavior grew so complicated that the experiment had to be terminated before any further positive reinforcement could have any effect.

It took human volunteers about as long as the dolphins did to figure out what was expected of them in a rerun of the experiment, but they did not go on to produce the same variety of behaviors.

The case of a dolphin named Kelly at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi is another fascinating example that suggests intelligence.

A young curious bottlenose dolphin looks at in the camera and smiles
A young curious bottlenose dolphin looks at in the camera and smiles / Andriy Nekrasov via Istock

The dolphins are taught to pick up and bring trash that may accidentally end up in their enclosures.

After that, they get a fish as a reward. Kelly determined that there was no correlation between the size of the trash item and the payout.

So when researchers ask her for some rubbish, she won’t just hand it over whole. She’ll hide it under a rock in the tank, smash it up, and hand you back the pieces one by one. 

This plan indicates that Kelly is forward-thinking and capable of putting off immediate gratification.

She has also flipped the script by teaching humans to do her bidding.

Pigs are considered to be the fifth most intelligent animal in the world.

Among the indicators of pigs’ intellectual abilities is how they interact with each other and members of other species, their ability to display emotional contagion, their natural desire to maintain a clean living space, and their ability to feel pain and suffer. 


What are you looking at, pig? | taxzi via Getty Images

Cognitive Abilities

Differentiating between similar and different objects is a fundamental cognitive skill.

Behavioral scientists examined this skill by exposing pigs to both familiar and unfamiliar objects and observing how they behaved to each. 

Scientists repeatedly showed a pig a cereal box. After the pig had been accustomed to seeing the cereal box, they gave it to him along with a wooden spoon.

Pig research
Pig research | RGtimeline via iStock

This new thing was more interesting to the pig than the cereal box, which he ignored in favor of investigating further.

Other research has discovered that pig cognition extends beyond the ability to distinguish between objects.

In one study, pigs spent four hours in a crate and 30 minutes in another. When given the option, most pigs returned to the 30-minute crate rather than the 4-hour crate.

Researchers made two crucial conclusions from this: pigs can sense the passage of time and make judgments according to what they’ve understood from prior experience.


Dirty Piglet
Dirty Piglet | Tim Starke via Getty Images

You may recall the cereal box and wooden spoon experiment.

The experiment proved that pigs could tell one object from another, but it also demonstrated that pigs have very good long-term memories.

Five or more days after a pig became acquainted with the cereal box, the pig would still recall the box and choose to play with new objects introduced to them.

Even more intriguing is that pigs can organize memories in order of importance.

When pigs were exposed to two food sources, one with an ample supply and one with a diminished one, they quickly learned to distinguish between the two and repeatedly returned to the source with the greater abundance.

Tool Usage

Adorable pink pig
Adorable pink pig | DejaVu Designs via Getty Images

Some of the most intelligent creatures on the earth, such as dolphins, chimps, octopuses, and elephants, have been observed wielding tools.

Now, pigs are included.

In 2015, an environmentalist by the name of Meredith Root-Bernstein watched as Visayan warty pigs constructed nests in anticipation of the arrival of their offspring.

One smart sow was observed by Root-Bernstein carrying a piece of bark in her mouth as she began to use it to dig and transfer soil for the nest.

Root-Bernstein and his team of researchers kept an eye on this group; sure enough, some warty pigs routinely used bark from the area to construct nests.

Priscilla, the group’s matriarch, exhibited the most finesse with her crude shovel.

Ecologists theorized that Priscilla was the one who initially picked up the method and that she then taught it to her partner and progeny.

Are pigs smarter than canines?

A little black piggy and puppy chihuahua
A little black piggy and puppy chihuahua | cynoclub via Getty Images

Scientists think pigs are just as intelligent as dogs, although canines are more well-recognized for their intelligence.

They’re just as intelligent, if not more so, in certain respects.

Neuroscientist Dr. Lori Marino and Emory University professor Christina M. Colvin dove headfirst into swine cognition in 2015.

According to their study, released in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, pigs share “complex ethological traits” with canines and even primates like chimps.

The pig and the dog have certain common behavioral characteristics, and Marino and Colvin also identified some areas where the pigs excelled.

A pig catching an apple
A pig catching an apple | Elmar Gubisch via iStock

A pig, for instance, can be taught to “go get the frisbee” or “go fetch the ball” on demand.

Several recent studies compared the responsiveness of untrained pigs to human stimuli to that of untrained puppies.

They discovered that, unlike the piglets, pups naturally responded to people’s nonverbal cues, such as pointing to a reward.

This wasn’t taken as evidence that pigs lacked intelligence, though.

The researchers speculate that this is because pigs have historically been grown for food rather than as the emotionally expressive pets they could be, while dogs have been reared to stand alongside humans for millennia.


In the grand tapestry of Earth’s diverse and remarkable creatures, intelligence manifests in myriad ways.

As we delved into the intriguing realms of animal cognition, we pondered the age-old question: Are pigs truly smarter than dolphins?

The answer, resounding yet surprising, is a clear no.

Pigs, while impressively intelligent, do not surpass the cognitive prowess of these marine marvels.

Our journey through the intricacies of animal intelligence revealed the enigma that is the dolphin’s mind.

Their exceptional brain-to-body ratio, quantified by the Encephalization Quotient, places them second only to humans in the realm of intellect.

Dolphins’ self-awareness, tool usage, and capacity for innovative behaviors further solidify their status as intelligent beings.

On the other hand, pigs, often hailed for their cognitive abilities, indeed display remarkable traits.

Their aptitude for distinguishing objects, long-term memory, and even rudimentary tool usage demonstrate their mental acumen.

However, they share these attributes with other intelligent species like dogs, who have been bred for millennia to collaborate with humans.

In the end, while pigs undoubtedly exhibit cognitive prowess, the complex intelligence of dolphins remains unparalleled.

Our exploration not only highlights the astonishing capabilities of both species but also reminds us that intelligence in the animal kingdom is a diverse tapestry, with each thread contributing to the wondrous tapestry of life on Earth.

The debate continues, but in the realm of sheer intellect, the dolphins hold their well-deserved place among Earth’s most brilliant inhabitants.

Have a different opinion let’s hear it in the comments section!


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