In recent years, the interpretation of our observations of animal behaviour, in particular that of cetaceans, has captured a substantial amount of attention in the scientific community. The traditional view that supports a special intellectual status for this mammalian order has fallen under significant scrutiny, in large part due to problems of how to define and test the cognitive performance of animals. This paper presents evidence supporting complex cognition in cetaceans obtained using the recently developed intelligence and embodiment hypothesis. This hypothesis is based on evolutionary neuroscience and postulates the existence of a common information-processing principle associated with nervous systems that evolved naturally and serves as the foundation from which intelligence can emerge. This theoretical framework explaining animal intelligence in neural computational terms is supported using a new mathematical model. Two pathways leading to higher levels of intelligence in animals are identified, each reflecting a trade-off either in energetic requirements or the number of neurons used. A description of the evolutionary pathway that led to increased cognitive capacities in cetacean brains is detailed and evidence supporting complex cognition in cetaceans is presented. This paper also provides an interpretation of the adaptive function of cetacean neuronal traits.
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