One of the most special things about humans compared to other animals is our industriousness. We have intelligence and we are able to make use of it.

I was wondering if Dolphins, widely considered to be one of the "smartest" animals on Earth, were given more dexterity (2-3 tentacles): what developments and innovations would we see in them?

Could this new species of dolphin develop a civilization?

If you don't believe dolphins are intelligent enough or have the environmental drive to build a civilization, what could be their motivation for developing a society and civilization?

What would be their capabilities & requirements vs humans?

Would an animal of this type thrive well under conditions of, say, Europa? Obviously, they wouldn't use blowholes to breathe when living under miles of ice.

For the purposes of worldbuilding, I was assuming this kind of event was going to take place tens of thousands of years ago and that they developed alongside humanity's first steps beyond hunter-gatherer status.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ One question at a time, please... Also, why would you assume dolphins aren't already civilised? $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 7:52
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry for the overload on questions. I guess I got overexcited. I suppose that what I am asking is what sorts of tools could a developing underwater species build? Would they be able to realistically farm and group together into cities? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 8:19
  • $\begingroup$ First explain why they would need to. Apart from humans, they don't really face major existential threats. They also have a social structure and basic communication, which appears to suffice their needs. As regards tools, the three human basics, i.e., sticks, stones and knives don't translate well without long forearms and opposable thumbs. $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site. Please note that we strongly encourage each question post to be limited to one, specific question. I would suggest editing your question to reduce it to its core question, then asking the other parts as separate, follow-up questions. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ I really don't like voting to close but I will here simply to see if you can use the opportunity to narrow down your question better or create a series of different posts with different questions. This looks like it could be an interesting topic here. $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 18:11

3 Answers 3


I'm gonna break some hearts here but a dolphin society would be a nightmare come true. We can examine it through their behavior now we can see how their society would work. So what do dolphin do that's so nightmarish, well I'm glad you asked... dolphin practice necrophilia by masturbating with dead fish and they take each other in large gangs. They also have prhencile penis is so just endow the dolphin with the gift of the kangaroo and you got arms(I know dolphins are disgusting). For the less horrifying parts you will see long lasting mother child bonds in this society and separation between the males and female. One thing to remember about dolphins is that they may be one of the smartest animals, but that's not saying much, manipulators are only as good as the brain you give them and dolphins are still way behind human like the rest of the animal kingdom. But that's still nothing a little handwaving can fix so break a leg.


If I'm not mistaken, the main difference between dolphins of today and the speculative species is the fact that they have tentacles. Now, when I think of tentacles, two things come to mind, the second being octopuses.

Octopuses are highly intelligent invertebrates that posses the capability to use tools. Unlike dolphins, however, they are mostly solitary animals and only ever interact with each other to fight or mate. The Pacific Striped Octopus, however, does exhibit different social behaviour, and can be seen forming flocks (herds? schools?). Unfortunately, this species is particularly cannibalistic, and due to that, (and a variety of other reasons, including the fact that they lack the intellect for anything beyond their current lives) have not formed any sort of society.

That being said, octopuses are not dolphins. The latter exhibits significantly less cannibalism, and their social interactions are more refined. One could say that dolphins are already hunter gatherers.

a member of a nomadic [species] who live chiefly by hunting, fishing, and harvesting wild food.

Dolphins are nomads, they migrate yearly. They hunt, and have shown some quite advanced hunting techniques, and don't have any use of harvesting since they are solely carnivores. They won't make it past this stage of sentience partially due to that fact. The next step in development of civilization is the understanding and implementation of agriculture. Without a dolphin needing to raise plants for its own food, it is highly unlikely it would ever conscientiously be able to raise food for its livestock. Even so, assuming the could get aforementioned livestock, they would have no way to contain it. Octopuses have had tentacles for millions of years, and their use of tools is primary, meaning they've never used a tool to create a secondary too, as any sort of fish-containment apparatus would require. Hunting is the only way of life that makes sense for an animal so developed for it, and with such a rich supply of available food they will never be driven to stay in one place or attempt to produce a readily available food source on their own.

Short answer: No. Not without cognitive ability to skip the step of sustenance agriculture (meaning greater cognitive ability than a human). Tentacles won't help either without the cognitive ability to make secondary, tertiary, or any tools beyond that. Dolphins simply aren't smart enough to make advances towards society, no matter what physical capabilities you give them. Make them smarter? Sure. A sentient dolphin species with appendages could go very far.

If you don't believe dolphins are intelligent enough or have the environmental drive to build a civilization, what could be their motivation for developing a society and civilization?

If there was a reason proto-dolphins had to stay in one spot? Food availability. Maybe some sort of resource that causes fish to only be a viable food source in one area. After that its up to the geography of the area, and how the proto-dolphins utilize it. Here is a good resource of how a culture develops based on their geographical advantages. You can search all the episodes on youtube. According to Dr. Jared Diamonds theories, if their environment didn't have the proper stimulus, the culture either dies off or doesn't advance. The biggest need obviously, as I’ve already said, is food.

What would be their capabilities & requirements vs humans?

They don't eat anything that isn't meat. Any physical requirements beyond that are either brutally obvious (they swim better than us) or surmountable with little effort.

Would an animal of this type thrive well under conditions of, say, Europa? Obviously, they wouldn't use blowholes to breathe when living under miles of ice.

A warm-blooded animal, or any animal really, simply cannot survive in a place that cold. Heating Europa to a survivable temperature would either require some sort of fire (generally requires oxygen. i.e. not gonna work underwater) or electrics. Unfortunately for the dolphins, unless they had labs that had weren't filled with water (entirely possible, we have vacuum labs and such) they would be inhibited by the fact that electrons travel freely in water. They probably wouldn't develop electrical technologies till much further down the tech ladder than humans did.

All in all, it's not a terrible idea, but it seems like if you're willing to change their mental capabilities to give them civilization then you're just nulling their greatest attribute. You could just as easily give intelligence to meerkats or some other animal possibly more capable of applying their other gifts.


A) No metalworking. Any metal under that much water would quickly corrode and be destroyed. So your dolphins will have to discover another way to build machines and stuff.

B) They would be probably be a very isolated civilization, since they lack both the physical and mental faculties for speech and thus cannot develop a language.

C) Assuming the tentacles are strong enough to act as graspers, coral tools might be made, although finding a wood-like material for handles might be difficult under water, so their tools will be predominantly flexible, maybe with sea-kelp ropes or something.

D) There is no reason why they couldn't learn to farm underwater plants and rear marine animals. But it will all have to be manual labour, since they can't build machines.

Long story short, they would be able to start a civilization if they stretch their intelligence a bit, but they would not be able to progress beyond the Medieval Ages without coming onto land.

  • $\begingroup$ A) Metals can last underwater, e.g. bronze. A bigger problem is heating the metal underwater, but it can be done (stone enclosure over a volcano vent). B) Dolphins do have speech C) They can salvage driftwood, use plans or skins D) You can use animals to work the earth. But dolphins will farm fish, since that's what they eat. $\endgroup$
    – Bald Bear
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ A) Even bronze can corrode. And, putting that aside, bronze is an alloy. Metal extraction can be done in only two ways underwater: Either by digging the seabed (which will require tools) or by extracting them from seawater (complicated machinery). B) I don't think other races can understand chittering. C) Very inefficient tactic, since driftwood is not found very often when far from shore. D) That is what you call manual labour. And they do need to provide a food-rich environment for fish rearing. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry - my downvote as well. While you may have a point with A, the rest are way off. For B - I don't think other races can understand English/Mandarin/whatever; C - this is relatively easy to manage; D - this already exists, dolphins may not even need to corral the fish. $\endgroup$
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 19:31

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