Wednesday, 4 April 2007
ON DOLPHIN TIME
Revered in ancient cultures because of their awesome grace and power, the dolphins inspired so much respect and admiration that the Sumerians and Egyptians thought they had direct connections to the gods. Classical Greek writers, on the other hand, believed the dolphins to be the King of Fishes, with the power to guide the souls of the dead into the Underworld. Dolphins came to symbolize powers, speed and freedom, and they were often called upon to lend their magick to the Celtic warriors and even the coastal Native Americans.
Those were the days when Nature ruled the Earth. Humans evolved to become masters of the land while the dolphins became masters of the sea. Because of the conditions on the land, man developed his sense of sight and smell. But since these senses count for naught in murky waters, the dolphins evolved into sonar or echolocating beings whose low- and high-frequency sound emissions allow them to locate and identify objects out of visual range, up to a distance of 1,000 meters away.
While man hunted, built bridges and cities, the dolphins also hunted as well as swam, frolicked, mated and defended themselves from predators. But unlike men who multiplied rapidly and colonized other lands to satisfy their needs for space and more food, dolphins multiplied at a slower pace and therefore never felt the need to colonize. Besides, their domain, the oceans, occupy 2/3 the Earth's surface area.
But the free-roaming dolphins are not so free anymore. Man has taken it upon himself not only to invade dolphin territory but to plunder and destroy it as well. Man's technological advances have made sure of this. Commercial and military ships have raised the noise pollution level in the high seas. Since water is a very good conductor of sound, this noise pollution has jammed echolocation signals exchanged by dolphin pods, whales and other sea creatures as well. Oil spills, nuclear experiments and the indiscriminate throwing of garbage into the sea has affected their social behavior and even endangered their lives. Dolphins are now hunted and slaughtered for food, fertilizer and pig feed. Thousands drown when caught in purse seine nets used by tuna-fishing boats. Those not killed could end up as disposable soldiers trained to hunt mines, sabotage nuclear submarines or ram enemy frogmen with explosive devices tied to their bodies.
To top it all, many are turned into reluctant and unhappy pets, seaquarium prisoners or show dolphin clowns. They are confined to tanks where many succumb to stress-related diseases and depression. Since they communicate by sonar, many become neurotic in a steel tank where every sound ricochets back. Add to this the stress of travel. In the sea, they are weightless. When transported by land or air, gravity pulls the weight of their 500-lb. bodies down on their lungs. They become confused and helpless. But they cannot be tranquilized because if they lose consciousness, they die.
Yet despite all the abuse humans subject them to, dolphins never harm people. Their 96 sharp cone-shaped teeth and powerful flukes could easily kill, but dolphins have been known more to save drowning or marooned people.
Richard O'Barry, former trainer of all dolphins used in the hit FLIPPER series, turned activist when he could no longer stand to see the dolphins suffer. He realized that dolphins in captivity are at odds with their true nature. "Dolphins who are full of human impressions are virtually cripples. They need de-programming, and they would also have to re-learn how to hunt live fish," he said in one of his books.
Scientists, like neurophysiologist Dr. John Lilly, discovered that dolphin memory is equal to human memory and they do better in many tests than the chimpanzee. They can also mimic us, even our laughter, at a rate 8 times faster than human speech. Lilly had to use a computer to keep pace with them. Not surprising, if we consider that they have a brain mass / body mass ratio equal to humans’. According to scientific studies, one of the foremost criteria for intelligence is the brain mass / body mass ratio.
Non-scientists have been conducting their own "experiments" in interspecies communication. But this time, they realize the importance of interacting with the dolphins in their natural habitats, in order to observe their natural behavior and learn from them. Musician Jim Nollman has made many dolphin friends by playing classical and ethnic music in the high seas. Like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, they have followed his music to specially-designated coves where adults and children wait to play with them. Is this the making of a human-dolphin community? Why not? Pregnant women claim they felt blasts of energies directed at their stomachs while interacting with the dolphins, while manic-depressive people say they had never been happier than
when they were in contact with the dolphins.
For such interspecies projects to work, Nollman and others like him first had to gain the trust of the dolphins, who had by now learned to be wary of most humans. Communication between species can only work if we do not force the other to learn English or undergo intelligence tests. It will only work if we go out of our way to harmonize with them like the people of Mauritania who called on the dolphins to bring them fish, as documented by French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. Peaceful interaction between man and species either in the wild or the high seas can be re-learned, and it will surely help to re-establish our lost link with the natural world.
Published in The Philippine Post, July 3, 1999