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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."

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 phlebotinum, or human-level intelligence and the skills to prove it may just be natural traits of cetaceans in the setting.

For dolphins in particular, this may sometimes overlap with Friendly Playful Dolphin, or Heroic Dolphin, or both, but not always. Compare Uplifted Animal, which often includes (and may artificially induce) this trope.

Examples of Sapient Cetaceans include:

Anime and Manga

  • Damekko_Dōbutsu has a sentient orca that cannot swim and uses a life preserver.
  • In the 1960 Astro Boy 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.
  • The main heroes of Cyborg 009 named their ship 'The Dolphin'; in the manga, genetically and cybernetically enhanced dolphins were a pretty common enemy, used by Black Ghost as underwater scouts, soldiers, and assassins.
  • 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.
  • The final episode of Gunbuster shows an Orca amongst a ship's crew.
  • Digimon - Dolphmon possesses advanced intelligence, but its form of thought is too complex for a normal person to understand.
  • The Five-Tails from Naruto
  • The recently released manga, "Seiketsu no Haguruma" had a literal blue-blooded Gadgeteer Genius prince (whose inventions were, unkwowing to him, being used by his father to eradicate the remaining red-blooded refugees)possess a dolphin that was not only intelligent (if crabby) but could also fly in the air.

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.
  • Fifty Two has a sapient space dolphin in Lobo's entourage.
  • "The Forty Year Old Hippie" made an apparatus to talk with whales and used it on a Greenpeace-style mission...but only ended up antagonizing a whale with a 'survival of the fittest' attitude who resented the hippie's patronizing.


  • In Johnny Mnemonic, the protagonist spends most of the movie trying to find a way to get a whole lot of computer data out of his mind before the stress of having all that stuff in there fries his brain. Other people seem to only be able to come up with crude methods leading to his likely death, but he eventually does find someone who saves him - a genetically modified super-smart dolphin, originally created by the military for submarine warfare.


  • In Sounding by Hank Searls, whales from different species hold philosophical 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. At the end of So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, it's all but stated outright that the Dolphins were responsible for restoring Earth.
    • The Movie even gave the dolphins a musical number as an opener, complete with a beautiful view of them shooting into the skies like rockets.
  • 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 Star Trek: The Next Generation 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. Because dolphins evolved in a truly 3D environment they're crackerjack spaceship pilots.
    • They were already rather intelligent before uplift, they and the larger whales sharing a unique way of thinking referred to as the "Whale Dream". And whale songs are treasured by many alien races.
  • Larry Niven's Known Space 'verse establishes that dolphins were recognized as sapient beings in the late 20th century. Not long after they sue us for our whaling practices in a suit that literally takes hundreds of years to get through the court system (the dolphins enjoy it too much to let it resolve).
  • 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 Mieville 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. Unfortunately 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.
    • His Humanx Commonwealth series plays this one straight, with Earth's cetaceans being given their own ocean-covered world to inhabit as reparations for centuries of hunting and pollution. The baleen whales are more slow-witted, the dolphins more involved with humans, and the sperm whales are aloof but brilliant with Psychic Powers.
  • 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.
  • In Piers Anthony's stories about a human dentist abducted by aliens to serve as their on-ship oral hygiene practitioner (Prosthro Plus), the intrepid orthodontist is called upon to do some filings for a life-form on a wholly aquatic planet, who turns out to be the son of a whale-like species who are planetary rulers and who can therefore pay the fabulous costs of tons of gold used to restore the cavity-laden rotten teeth. After several days of work with JCB's to excavate the rot and a portable blast furnace to melt the gold for the fillings - all done inside the creature's mouth as it really is that large - the dentist asks what caused catastrophic rot in the first place, learning that over-indulgent parents had allowed too many sweeties and not imposed a good enough teeth-cleaning regime...
  • John Ringo's Council Wars series has Delphinos: Humans who have used advanced genetic engineering to turn themselves into dolphins and have lost all sense of their own humanity as a result.
  • Arthur C. Clarke once penned a short novel about the discovery of cetacean intelligence.
  • In Sergey Volnov's Army of the Sun, someone thought it was a good idea to uplift not only whales but also sharks (despite the latter being a fish and not a mammal). Oh yeah, and they also have incredible Psychic Powers. Interestingly, the only intelligent shark in the novel is pretty peaceful and bears humans no ill will and is a mentor to a young intelligent orca. For reference, orca's kill sharks for sport.
  • In The Dresden Files novel Small Favor, dolphins turn out to not only be intelligent, but smart enough to recognize that Harry is a good guy and the squad of Fallen Angels lurking nearby are the bad guys and thus warn Harry that he's walking into an ambush.
  • In the Hell's Gate series the Cetaceans of Sharona have been established as having intelligence at or near human levels. Some humans are able to telepathically talk to them and they act as ambassadors trading human services (such as medical treatment) for the Cetaceans' help with things like fishing and finding oyster beds.
  • Betty Ballantine's The Secret Oceans features intelligent dolphin-like creatures which are dubbed Cetasapiens.
  • Subverted in one Science Fiction novel where it is revealed that dolphins were about as smart as a cow. The actual sentient species were a species of wasps.

Live Action Television

  • In SeaQuest DSV, Ensign Darwin is a dolphin crew member of the titular submarine. He can speak passable english thanks to a translator device hooked to the ships computer, and is considered an honorary ensign in the Navy.
    • A few episodes involve them telling Darwin what to do, such as "playing" with automated submarine drones, causing them to crash into each other.
  • In Star Trek the Next Generation it's suggested that there are cetaceans aboard the Enterprise-D. In some expanded universe material, the cetatians are aboard as navigation experts.
    • In Star Trek IV the Voyage Home, an alien probe is sent to Earth to re-establish relations between an alien race and humpback whales. Seems they didn't know that in the meantime human civilization had risen and caused the extinction of humpbacks sometime before 2286.
    • One of the Xindi races in Star Trek Enterprise was a cetacean species that spoke in song.
  • Parodied during a skit in the MST3K episode "Devilfish". Mike and the bots make the mistake of talking disparagingly about dolphins--only to have a "Dolphin Mothership" show up and start attacking them. It takes some serious kissing up in order to get them to leave. (Later on Mike and the bots start talking smack about electricians, only to discover that they have a mutual protection pact with the dolphins. Whoops.)
  • In the candid camera show The Jamie Kennedy Experiment one victim is actually convinced that a dolphin can speak using a robotic-sounding translator. The dolphin asks to make a cellphone call to his girlfriend in another tank. It's really well-done, enough so that the mark actually accepts this, until the dolphin starts talking about their secret plans to overthrow the world, losing much of its credibility.

New Media

  • The Onion parodied this with the article "Dolphins Evolve Opposable Thumbs: 'Oh, Shit,' Says Humanity". 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 Orions Arm. They are quite common, living on water worlds and habitats all over the terragen sphere.
    • There are also several genetically recreated and provolved whales on Old Earth, known as "Gaian whales".

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...").


  • Season two of Old Harrys Game reveals that dolphins are the only non-human species that have sufficient understanding of their actions to be damned. Episode 2 features the most evil dolphin who ever lived, Chuckles.

Tabletop Games

  • 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. There are also the Pneuma-Biforms, Cetaceans mutated by an Eldritch Abomination to be slaves, and have the ability to switch between Human and Cetacean forms. This allows a player to be a Dolphin or Whale, but also participate in land-based adventures as well (as long as they keep a large water tank handy).
  • 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 A Is 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.
  • 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 and 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

  • Ecco the Dolphin: Aside from Ecco discussing subjects like alien invasions and lost families with other creatures, including those of other species, the series also involves solving notoriously challenging puzzles when playing as Ecco.
  • In Aero Fighters 2, Spanky is a dolphin who pilots a frickin' YF-23 fighter jet. He fries over jungles.
    • He's back as a semi-hidden character in Aero Fighters Assault, this time flying an X-29 armed with Frickin' Laser Beams.
  • Sword of the Stars does this; the Liir are a race of starfaring telepathic cetaceans.
    • The young Liir look more like dolphins, while the Elders look like whales (only much bigger). The Liir keep growing as they age and have a, theoretically, unlimited lifespan. However, at a certain age, the Square-Cube Law goes into effect, and the Elder is crushed by its own weight. Unless, of course, they enslave the Liir race and force them to build a massive spacesuit that it can use to survive indefinitely.
  • Critical Depth - The Cephalopod race had intended for dolphins to rule the earth. In one ending they are dismayed to find humans have taken over after millions of years, and vow to fix the situation.
  • A dolphin is one of the crew members in Halloween Harry 2. He wears a suit of power armor to get around on land, push buttons, and wield assault rifles.
  • EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus features a number of ocean creatures that are able to communicate with the human protagonist. The first one he meets is an injured dolphin named Delphineus.
  • Jett Rocket has Rudolpho, an old friend of Jett's. He's a be-helmeted space dolphin. He just is. But he's cool.
  • 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.

Web Comics

  • Whaleocalypse stars a sapient whale.
  • In UNA Frontiers, one of the main characters is Cyberna, an AI built in a (mostly) dolphin shape to act as a human/dolphin interface. Having spent time with them in their own element, she has few illusions about their actual nature, but she is capable of teaching them "civilized manners" just the same.
  • Dolphins in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja are not only intelligent, they also remember. And can apparently use firearms.

Western Animation


 Snorky: [in high pitched voice] Snorky ... talk ... man ... [clears throat and reverts to deep male voice] I'm sorry, let me start over. Eons ago, dolphins lived on the land. Then your ancestors drove us into the sea, where we suffered for millions of years. I, King Snorky, hereby banish all humans to the sea!

  • 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.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures had occasional appearances by Orson Whales, who had the same voice as Brain.
  • Mr. Krabs daughter Pearl from SpongeBob SquarePants 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.
  • Mister Smarty Smarts from Spliced is an evil Dolphin/Chimpanzee mutant.
  • Dr. Blowhole, archenemy of The Penguins of Madagascar, is an Evil Genius bent on having his revenge on humanity for the humiliation he has suffered jumping through flaming hoops on Coney Island. Definitely not Friendly Playful Dolphin or Heroic Dolphin.
  • The final segment of Make Mine Music, "The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At the Met", is about a whale who was able to sing opera - in three different voices! - and whose big wish is to perform on the New York Metropolitan Opera. Unfortunately, he is killed by a misguided opera empresario who thought he was rescuing opera singers in the whale's belly.
  • "The Tick vs Nevada" featured a dolphin who, like Blowhole, wanted to conquer mankind rather than amuse it.
  • The number of Talking Animals that have appeared on Family Guy increases with Billy Finn (voiced by Ricky Gervais), the dolphin that lives with the Griffins in "Be Careful What You Fish For".

Real Life

  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) apparently believes this trope to be Truth in Television, given that they sued Sea World for allegedly enslaving orcas by making them do animal shows without pay.
    • On a less lunatic note, many marine biologists believe the bottle nose dolphin may well be sapient. The difficulty of establishing communications between our species has made the testing of this hypothesis difficult.
    • Different orca pods are known to have different comunicative and behavioural patters; pretty much what is called "culture" when talking about human populations.
  • Scientists have discovered dolphins use lower-pitched, slower sounds when interacting with humans. This appears to be very purposeful on their part, which suggests dolphins have realized we cannot hear the kinds of sounds they normally use to interact with each other. That's right: dolphins speak very slowly and purposefully when dealing with us, because they've figured out we're stupid.
  • As mentioned above, dolphins may well be sapient, though due to fundamental limitations of their body and their environment, it's unlikely that they can ever form a civilization as humanity would recognize it, let alone develop technology.