Playful, intelligent

After feeding on the carcass of a whale, the shark can go an entire year without feeding. 

My first response to David Attenborough’s description of the predator’s dietary trials was quiet astonishment. But that was quickly followed by a question: “If it doesn’t eat for a year, what does it do?” David had the answer to that: it rides currents, traversing the oceans in search of its next meal. Days, weeks, months, swimming the deep, dark expanses of the world’s water. Sharks were scary before; now, they’re damn eerie.

Later, in the same episode of Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, there’s footage of dolphins on the way to a feeding. As they travel, they leap from the water, some high, some low, a few chucking themselves up and spinning before splashing back amongst their companions. Such a gorgeous spectacle.

The shark travels silently, expending as little energy as possible. The dolphin travels gleefully, revelling in its environment and physical capacity. Why the difference? Perhaps it has to do with intelligence. 

Consider our own species. We are, by our own admission, intelligent. Intelligent enough to know boredom, and as an antidote, to seek novelty. Perhaps this incessant pursuit of novelty is a sure indicator of intelligence? Dolphins are intelligent and they are known to play. Certain species of monkeys are intelligent and they goof around. As we move up the scale of intelligence, from amoeba to adult human, doesn’t the presence of playfulness also increase?