Brain, Behavior and Evolution (2016)

DOI: 10.1159/000454797


We compared mature dolphins with 4 other groupings of mature cetaceans. With a large data set, we found great brain diversity among 5 different taxonomic groupings. The dolphins in our data set ranged in body mass from about 40 to 6,750 kg and in brain mass from 0.4 to 9.3 kg. Dolphin body length ranged from 1.3 to 7.6 m. In our combined data set from the 4 other groups of cetaceans, body mass ranged from about 20 to 120,000 kg and brain mass from about 0.2 to 9.2 kg, while body length varied from 1.21 to 26.8 m. Not all cetaceans have large brains relative to their body size. A few dolphins near human body size have human-sized brains. On the other hand, the absolute brain mass of some other cetaceans is only one-sixth as large. We found that brain volume relative to body mass decreases from Delphinidae to a group of Phocoenidae and Monodontidae, to a group of other odontocetes, to Balaenopteroidea, and finally to Balaenidae. We also found the same general trend when we compared brain volume relative to body length, except that the Delphinidae and Phocoenidae-Monodontidae groups do not differ significantly. The Balaenidae have the smallest relative brain mass and the lowest cerebral cortex surface area. Brain parts also vary. Relative to body mass and to body length, dolphins also have the largest cerebellums. Cortex surface area is isometric with brain size when we exclude the Balaenidae. Our data show that the brains of Balaenidae are less convoluted than those of the other cetaceans measured. Large vascular networks inside the cranial vault may help to maintain brain temperature, and these nonbrain tissues increase in volume with body mass and with body length ranging from 8 to 65% of the endocranial volume. Because endocranial vascular networks and other adnexa, such as the tentorium cerebelli, vary so much in different species, brain size measures from endocasts of some extinct cetaceans may be overestimates. Our regression of body length on endocranial adnexa might be used for better estimates of brain volume from endocasts or from endocranial volume of living species or extinct cetaceans.