© Innerspace Visions / James D. Watt

Well, this may have profound implications for the future of whales - some of them may be smarter than we had previously thought!

Humpback whales have a type of brain cell seen only in humans, the great apes, and other cetaceans such as dolphins, US researchers reported on Monday. This might mean such whales are more intelligent than they have been given credit for, and suggests the basis for complex brains either evolved more than once, or has gone unused by most species of animals, the researchers said.

Patrick Hof and Estel Van der Gucht of the Department of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York studied the brains of humpback whales and discovered a type of cell called a spindle neuron in the cortex, in areas comparable to where they are seen in humans and great apes. Planet Ark: Humpback Whales Have 'Human' Brain Cells – Study » (Reuters)

Also, in New Scientist:

“We must be careful about anthropomorphic interpretation of intelligence in whales,” says Hof. “But their potential for high-level brain function, clearly demonstrated already at the behavioural level, is confirmed by the existence of neuronal types once thought unique to humans and our closest relatives,” he says.

“They communicate through huge song repertoires, recognise their own songs and make up new ones. They also form coalitions to plan hunting strategies, teach these to younger individuals, and have evolved social networks similar to those of apes and humans,” Hof says.

Very interesting, this bit:

As with humans, the spindle cells were found in whales in the anterior cingulate cortex and frontoinsular cortex – two brain regions vital for “visceral” reactions. Such reactions require fast but emotionally-sensitive judgments, such as deciding whether another animal is suffering pain, and the general feel of whether an experience is pleasant or unpleasant.

Whales boast the brain cells that 'make us human' »