7 Animals with the Best Memory

From planning their next meal to remembering specific locations by heart, animals use their superior intellect for survival. In this guide, we delve into amazing animal memory.

Sep 30, 2023byLisa Szymanski
animals with best memory

Every animal we discuss in the article below has an incredible memory that they use to make sense of their environment and build lasting bonds. They can remember sounds, physical appearances, and locations, but some never forget a negative experience. Dolphins use their recall to maintain close-knit social ties while chimpanzees have a similar working memory to ours to help them resolve complex tasks. We look at seven animals with the best memories in descending order, from man’s best friend to the largest mammal on earth.

7. Working Dogs

face of a yellow labrador retriever
Golden retrievers are popular guide dogs.

Man’s best friend is loyal and affectionate, but some dog breeds have brilliant cognitive skills too. Most dogs have the remarkable ability to learn tricks and commands quickly. They remember the faces of people they’ve met and of those who have treated them poorly, even years later. Working dogs such as German shepherds use their memory to track bombs or substances in the military and police forces. Other dog breeds, like the golden retriever, memorize complex commands as service dogs, from retrieving medication to turning off the lights in a room.

6. Parrots

macaw with outstretched wing
The beautiful macaw is an intelligent bird.

The humble kakapo and the majestic macaw are just two beautiful and bright parrots that make incredible pets. Most parrots can be taught to perform commands or repeat words, but how good is their memory? A parrot has good working and long-term memory because the areas of the brain responsible for cognitive processing are similar to those of humans. Parrots remember significant people and situations throughout their lives, but they don’t typically understand the vocabulary they learn from their handlers. What is impressive is that these birds can figure out puzzles and have the intellectual abilities of a 2- to-3-year-old child.

5. Horses

two brown horses standing next to each other in a pasture
Horses recognize human and equine faces.

Horses can accurately memorize places, experiences, and human faces. A horse can remember good or bad events associated with a particular location. They have a type of photographic memory that allows them to recall places and people they’ve interacted with. Equine memory studies indicate that horses have excellent short-and long-term memory. They can learn commands with positive reinforcement and accurately perform these commands more than 8 years later with no training in between. Scientists believe that horses’ memory dates back to their ancestry when they had to remember where they found food and water over vast distances.

4. Blue Whales

blue whale full body underwater
Blue whales memorize their migration routes.

Whales make our list of animals with the best memory because of their ability to memorize a lifetime of migratory routes. As the largest mammals on the planet, species such as the blue whale can weigh up to 150 tons. A 10-year study involving tagged blue whales found that these enormous mammals rely on their memory to migrate. They remember where they found an abundance of prey and don’t use environmental cues or changes to follow a path. A blue whale can live 70 to 80 years, which means that these mammals use their memory, just short of a century, to find food.

3. Chimpanzees

chimpanzee walking on grass
Chimpanzees have better short-term memory than people.

Chimpanzees have been sent to space, and they are the subject of many movies, but what is most astonishing is their working memory. Research involving the short-term memory of chimps has shown that these primates have better recall than humans. A 2007 study revealed how a young chimpanzee could remember numerical sequences in less than one second, outperforming their human competitors. It’s not surprising that they have such excellent memories considering they share over 98% of their DNA with people. In the wild, chimpanzees need to adapt to their environment quickly, and their high level of intellect certainly helps.

2. Elephants

two elephants standing in a watering hole
The long memory of an elephant is exceptional.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Elephants don’t forget,” it’s because elephants can remember events, places, and people for many years. They easily identify their family members and map where they’ve been due to their spatial and photographic memory. Both Asian and African elephants have massive brains, and the area responsible for memory, the cerebral cortex is the largest of any land animal. Desert elephants rely on their incredible brain power to survive in their habitat by memorizing where water is located, regardless of how much time passes. Amazingly, these giants remember other elephants from their past even when reuniting after a decade.

1. Dolphins

two dolphins with their heads above water
Dolphins have the best memory.

Dolphins earn our top position for animal memory as they are intelligent and have exceptional long-term memory. These family-oriented creatures form strong social bonds for life. They maintain these bonds by memorizing the voices of each family member, even if they have been separated for more than two decades. These voices consist of complex clicking and whistling that are unique to each dolphin. Their memory helps them identify the sounds of other friendly and familiar dolphins to compare to those that may threaten their social structure. Dolphins communicate while hunting, and their cognition helps them protect their pod. Dolphins have such good memories that they surpass those of elephants.

Lisa Szymanski
byLisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the \"queens of the yard,\" Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.