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Man and Dolphin, a disinterested friendship

Everybody wants to know how smart dolphins really are. Do they think like we do? Do they talk to each other? What do they talk about? It seems, with our modern biological talents we can discover and describe just about everything if we put our minds to it. But dolphin intelligence is one of those unknown areas where everyone can speculate endlessly on delightful dolphin stories. We just don't know.

This suits me fine. It is a noble challenge to mankind and one we won't resolve until we learn to think objectively about mind and consciousness. Maybe this is why scientists are interested in dolphin brains, but it is not what makes most people enthusiastic about dolphins. People like dolphins for some deep, emotional, non-objective (possibly instinctive) reason.

"Why do you like dolphins?" I asked one ardent dolphin fan.

At first she could not believe I was serious. Doesn't everyone like dolphins? Why should one have a reason to like dolphins? Finally, after some careful thought she said, "Because they are so friendly, so wonderful, so beautiful." Others I interviewed added to this list, "free, graceful, happy, non-aggressive, leaderless."

There also happens to be a group of people who don't like dolphins at all. Fishermen have described dolphins as, "diabolical and cunning" and irrationally added the words, "stupid, dumb beasts." They feel dolphins compete with them for fish.

Not surprisingly there are pro and con scientists, too. The con scientists think dolphins are not very bright beasts. These scientists are the ones who debate over maximum sustainable yields for dolphins (how many can be killed each year without harming the "stocks."). It was 250,000 last year. Behavioral scientists and those interested in dolphin language have happily kept dolphins in tiny holding tanks, some too small for the dolphin to turn around, until they died.

Pro scientists insist dolphins are remarkably intelligent creatures and the only way to discover what dolphins are really like is to watch them in the ocean, where they behave normally.

Despite our human divisions, dolphins themselves are quite sure about us. They are pro humans. Dolphins have a clear policy about humans, maybe decided upon thousands of years ago when we were a young species and they a much older one (they have been around at least 10 million years longer than we have). Each and every dolphin, no matter its age or species, treat humans with special honor. We humans are not to be killed or torn apart or otherwise harmed.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau tells a story about his chief diver Falco and a baby dolphin. Falco was hunting dolphins for the aquarium at Monaco. He saw a baby dolphin in the bow wave of his boat. Delighted with the opportunity to capture a baby to train he snared it with the tail catching device he had invented. To avoid harm to the baby's delicate skin, Falco dove into the sea and grabbed the baby dolphin in his arms.

"As soon as I had a grip on the dolphin, I saw its mother streaking toward me. My first thought was that she was going to attack. Instead, she began swimming around us, making a series of little cries as she swam, sometimes brushing against me. She was a handsome specimen, probably weighing between 200 and 250 pounds. I confess that I was more than a little frightened at first. She wanted her child back but she also wanted to avoid harming me." Falco released the baby. But what a remarkable thing! Why didn't the mother attack him?

Captain Cousteau lists many tortures humans inflict on dolphins; spearing them, catching and injuring them, cutting them open, injecting them, hammering electrodes through their skulls, and the dolphins never do anything aggressive in return.

The first killer whale captured alive (a killer whale is a big dolphin) was speared and then held in a net. They named her Moby Doll. Within days, the two-ton voracious predator that snap the heads off sea lions and swallows dolphins whole allowed a human diver to hand feed it. It died in 3 months, without ever harming a single person. Within weeks of capture killer whales will allow a trainer to ride on its back, brush its teeth and stick his or her head in the powerful jaws. The average life span of a killer whale in captivity is 6 months yet they cooperate with the circus acts until the day of their death.

The dolphin lovers I spoke to, who described dolphins as non-aggressive, were only thinking of the delphinic policy towards humans. Dolphins are very aggressive creatures toward other animals and even toward each other from time to time. They kill their prey with gusto, even toying with them before gobbling them up. When a shark threatens an old, or a baby dolphin, others slam into the sharks with their bony beaks, rupturing the shark's liver and killing them. Killer whales sometimes gang up on huge baleen whales, smash through the baleen plates and tear out the whales' tongues for munchies. How come we are exempt?

Dolphins have even rescued drowning humans. One young man was surfing off Bondi Beach and a shark attacked - biting his surf board. A dolphin appeared and rammed the shark, chasing it away. Dolphins have guided ships through channels, given human children free rides at selected beaches. Many dolphins have become good friends to local communities. Opo, in New Zealand, Donald in Great Britain, Charlie and friends in Western Australia. These are wild dolphins who ignore their ocean mates to play with human swimmers for no more reward than laughter and caresses. There are stories of wild dolphins working side by side with Aborigines catching fish.

All this sets my head spinning. I am flattered that dolphins hold us in such high regard until I wonder about the biological implications of such behavior from "wild animals." Such behavior could hardly be instinctive since dolphins evolved some 10 million years before we did. For awhile I imagined maybe dolphins were very smart. The knew that to cross the mean monkey meant extinction (the fate of other animals - like saber-tooth tigers and various wolf populations - that had the bad fortune to attack humans). But then I remembered that dolphins have been nice to people long before we had the ability to murder them all. And how would they know what we did to all those big land mammals? So, the only hypothesis I have is that they know we are intelligent and want to share their intelligence with us.

If it seems lonely for us humans, without other intelligent species to talk to, imagine how the dolphins must feel knowing that we are intelligent but unwilling to communicate with them. Or perhaps they take our actions for our communications (Japanese fishermen shooting them, American fishermen drowning them in tuna nets, Australia fishermen shooting them, people everywhere capturing them and putting them in small tanks to die). Perhaps they are sentient and feel rather badly about this state of affairs, mollifying themselves with the knowledge that we kill off ourselves in a similar way for equally obscure reasons.

Could it be that's why they perform for us in circus-like dolphinaria? At least we interact with them there, even if such interaction is not considerate enough to allow them the freedom to come and go. Even if such interaction costs them their lives.

The first dolphins ever put on display were taken from a dolphin fishery in North Carolina. Fishermen used dolphin skins for leather, the meat for pet food, the body oil for lamps, and head oil was the one and only lubricant for watches. Dr. Charles H. Townsend, Curator of the N.Y. Aquarium tried many times to get the dolphins from the fishermen to survive in his aquarium. Twenty Seven dolphins died before they finally got one to live for 15 months. That was in 1913.

In 1938 Marine Studios opened in Florida. It closed during the war and reopened as Marineland of Florida. It was here that we began to rediscover what marvelous creatures dolphins are. Modern western technological civilization relearned what the ancient Greeks knew and - like everything we rediscover, it was a big show. A circus. And it was not just the public who came to applaud the amazing dolphins. Scientists came and as they watched people riding on the backs of friendly dolphins they realized, "the old fables are true."

The average life expectancy of a dolphin in captivity varies according to the species and the particular individual. Tursiops truncatus, the common large coastal species, lives longest. Sprey was born in 1946 in Marineland of Florida and lived - it is said - 22 years, giving birth to 5 young. I added "it is said" because there have been many well known and documented attempts to gloss over high mortality rates in dolphinaria by simply giving the same name to new dolphins.

A town in Italy named Cresenatico once trapped a dolphin in a long canal. They named her Lalla and everyone came to see her. She was the joy of the whole town. Springtime awoke the amorous feelings of the people of Cresenatico and President Dante Matassoni wrote to the Miami Seaquarium, "Now our dolphin, who happened to be a female-dolphin, feels very lonely and, though she's still looking well, she's visibly suffering of nostalgia by lack of companionship. We can't get here, nowhere, a dolphin-man, nor can we afford to buy one. Yet we are afraid our Lalla may die! That's why we do apply to you, sir! Somebody told us you have some dolphins up there. Would you, and could you, be so kind as to send us a dolphin-man?"

Captain W.B. Gray, in his book Friendly Porpoises, wrote, "No American could remain indifferent to Lalla's predicament, and we wrote immediately to Mr. Matassoni asking him Lalla's species and size." He replied, "I wish to know something, Sir about keeping alive dolphins! I mean: which is supposed to be the west way to keep them healthy and well-up? Even in captivity? The best food? Our dolphin is living in the Vena Mazzarini, a side-canal where several sewers drops in."

Captain Gray of the Miami Seaquarium saw no problems keeping a dolphin in a sewer. He determined, from snapshots, that Lalla was a Tursiops. How any of them knew it was a female remains a mystery. But that didn't matter because after arrangements were made to ship a male dolphin to Italy by airplane to New York, ship to Italy and truck to the town, Mr. Matassoni wrote, "Students from the neighboring town did steal Lalla, they were somehow jealous. I won't describe to you what happened here in Cresenatico! In short; on the way back, they must have injured her somehow because the day after Lalla died. You can't perhaps imagine how people felt the loss of Lalla. Our Lalla! Lalla was already part of the life in Cresenatico and people came from everywhere just to see Lalla spring and splash up and down the Vena Mazzarini and all the people was a speaking about Lalla's promised husband from Miami/Rickenbacker Causeway. Well, you believe it or not, in a couple of days our fishermen came back with 4 dolphins! That was a day; everybody was on the street and the nicest dolphin was given at once the name LALLA!"

Lalla one or Lalla two didn't matter to the Seaquarium. They were into the project for the news value. They named the husband Palooza. Lalla and Palooza. After 7500 miles of tense drama the whole town turned out for the arrival of Palooza. "The spectators were wild with emotion." A few months later they captured another female for their canal and Palooza became an international philanderer.

In 1963 the canal froze over. The townspeople tried to keep one small section of the ice open. The dolphins watched the men toil into the night, breaking the ice with sticks. The ice gradually closed until the men were forced to stand back and watch it form slush with black dolphin heads and frightened eyes. The dolphins drowned under the ice that night.

A friend of mine, told me another bizarre story of renaming to cover up mortalities of captive dolphins. On June 23, 1965, almost a year to the day that Mody Doll was harpooned, a young Canadian fisherman named William Lechkobit snagged an 8000 pound Killer whale, more properly called orca, in his salmon net. He named it Namu.

Ted Griffin of the Seattle Public Aquarium offered $8,000 for it. Mr. Lechkobit agreed. Moving a 20 foot long whale was a problem. Ted build a floating pen 40 by 60 by 16 feet using salmon netting. They towed the pen from Fitzhugh Sound to Seattle, Washington. Namu swam peacefully into the pen and swam along with it as they towed the pen through the furious seas of Queen Charlotte Sound, through the narrow Johnstone Strait, and the Seymour Narrows where tidal rips create huge whirlpools.

During the voyage pods of 30 to 40 orcas came to observe the procession. But they didn't do anything. A female and two young orcas, thought to be Namu's family, came close and shistled and shrieked. Namu responded by whistling and smacking his tail flukes - a signal believed to be a warning to flee. On the 13th of July a group of people, termed, "fanatics" tried to free Namu. They were driven off. Several other attempts failed. On 27 July, Namu arrived at his new Seattle home. On the 9th of July the following year he was dead.

An Australian scientist visited an American Icthyologist, Carl Hubbs, in California. The two went to Marineland of the Pacific and while there watched Shamu the Killer Whale do his act. Shamu barely cleared the rope stretched over his tank. The trainer said, "Shamu is just learning this trick, folks." The Aussie turned to Carl and said, "But that's what he said four years ago! It can't take that long to teach him how to jump over a rope." Carl quietly answered, "Yes, but that's Shamu number 8."

Shamu 8, Flipper 45, Lalla 2, these are imaginary ghost images we primates project upon captive dolphins. It is similar to our projection of a smile on the hydrodynamically shaped mouth of the dolphin. It is a far different reality for the dolphins. Cousteau wrote, "Some animals bear captivity better than others. Some adapt readily, while others never adapt." Captain Cousteau had hard evidence.

"Falco captured a dolphin, a felale, which seemed unusually large and heavy. He brought her back to Monaco and we put her into the tank with Kiki. Almost immediately the dolphin broke free of Falco's grasp and crashed into the wall of the tank. Falco succeeded in grasping her in his arms. He raised her from the bottom, spoke to her, tried to calm her. But she wrenched herself free again and once more smashed her skull against the wall with a terrible noise. At one thirty in the afternoon, the dolphin was dead. She had killed herself by swimming at full speed from one side of the tank to the other and crashing into the walls. Her agony was horrifying. She lay on her side at the bottom of the tank, her body quivering. Then she began to stiffen and her lungs filled with water and she was dead."

When they cut open the dolphin, a perfectly formed baby dolphin was found. It was also dead. Shortly after, a male was captured. "We called him Beps. He died as the pregnant female had died, by smashing his head as hard as he could against the walls of the tank. Kiki died in her 6th month of captivity."

The U.S. Navy had similar problems. F.G. Wood, head of the Naval Facility at Point Magu, told about the capture of a Dall Dolphin. "This dolphin lived for 26 days then failed rapidly in the course of an afternoon and died. Death was caused by a massive internal hemorrhaging, probably due to the stress of captivity." Others had disease problems, "Normally the sloughing of the skin would have been helped along by the animal's rapid movement through the water, something that is not possible in the confines of captivity." The build-up of dead skin cells causes skin and eye infections.

They captured two more, a male and a female. The female died in 26 days, "apparently of an infection aggravated by the stress of captivity." The male lived 21 months and died with lung abscesses, numerous ulcers, and heart disease, "perhaps a consequence of stress."

What must it be like to be hunted by humans in the open sea? Captain Gray of the Miami Seaquarium gives us a good idea in his description of the hunt for Carolina Snowball, a white dolphin. A white dolphin was like Moby Dick to Captain Gray, it had to be captured.

The Miami Seaquarium boat went to South Carolina where the white dolphin had been known by the local people for 13 years. Captain Gray is not Melville, but his account of the capture of the Carolina Snowball is gripping enough with just the facts.

"The next day we cruised out into the sound with six pairs of eyes scanning the waters in search of Snowball and we located her about noon. Our excited photographers fell all over themselves in their efforts to snap photos. The water was smooth and we had no trouble following this gleaming mammal and they snapped some closeups. We had seen a lot of Snowball by now and from observation had discovered she was a female. Our conclusion was based on the fact that there was a half-grown baby close to her side every time she rose for air."

Now Carolina Snowball was no ordinary dolphin. Being white, she was a target for predators when she was small and the target for pleasure boaters who saw her. She knew she was being followed and quickly tested the pursuit by leaving the other dolphins of her pod and, with her baby, streaking off in one direction, then changing course after a mile or two. The boat followed. They followed her everywhere, and she learned to fear the sound of its motor and screw, approaching every day in the early morning.

One day her pod chased a school of fish over a shallow sandbar where the water was only a couple of fathoms deep. The boat stopped and two outboards began to deploy a huge net. Fortunately, the outboard failed to start at the right time and she, her friends, and her baby escaped.

Several days later their school moved into a shallow area and the boats quickly deployed their net. Suddenly, Snowball, baby, and five large gray dolphins were enclosed by the net. They huddled close together in the center of the net's circle and watched as the men hauled it in. One of the men shouted, "It's in the bag!" and another asked Captain Gray what tank he would put her in. Then the two largest males swam right at the float line only a few feet from Captain Gray's hands. They wrenched the line from him and Carolina Snowball sailed out of the circle over her friend's backs. The two males also got away and the frustrated hunters let the others free.

"This time I was close enough to notice her pink eyes, but that was small consolation," Captain Gray wrote.

Again and again they tried to capture her and she evaded them every time. Twenty two days of constant terror. Then the hunters were gone. Winter was closing in. "She usually gave us the slip after we had followed in her wake for only a few minutes," Gray wrote. "She vanished into the white-caps of the bay, surfing beneath the foaming waves where she blended in."

The following July, when the Seaquarium vessel returned, they discovered that the South Carolina legislature had made it illegal to capture dolphins in Beaufort County, where Carolina Snowball lived. The people of the area were dead set against anybody capturing her. So the hunters could only follow the white dolphin until she ventured outside the county line. The chase was on again. Day after day she avoided them. Again and again she slipped through the net at the last moment. Accidents sometimes saved her; a line caught on a cleat, a lucky branch snagged the net. Then on the 4th of August, after three weeks of running, they caught her in the Edisto River. At the last minute more than a dozen dolphins sped into the confines of the net and the Seaquarium people had to leave the net open or risk drowning the whole group. A dolphin can only survive a few minutes entanglement in a net before it drowns.

On the next set, as she tried to escape to the open sea, she struck the net and they had her. And her baby boy. Captain Gray's book has a photograph of her in the bottom of their skiff. There is another photo of her in Miami, "Carolina Snowball, the only known white bottle nosed porpoise ever captured in her new home at the Miami Seaquarium." The next photo shows Captain Hanson and Captain Gray, Carolina's captors, standing with Al Pfleuger, the taxidermist who stuffed her. She looks great mounted. She survived three years in a small tank all by herself.

I saw her. I walked through the darkened passage next to the glass side of her tank and looked in at the white specter slowly moving one way then the other. The water was not very clear. The vision haunts me still. Her eyes clouded over, the white skin with mottled infections. Carolina Snowball was a victim of our entertainment and finally a stuffed trophy to our love for dolphins.

Captain Gray, who captured untold numbers of dolphins from the sea introduces his book with a chapter "My friend Bottlenose." He wrote, "The porpoise is a fleet and beautiful animal that breathes air through a hole in the top of its head, bears its young alive, and has a built in grin, a playful disposition, and a high degree of intelligence."

Plutarch, the ancient philosopher, said, "Of all land animals, some avoid man, and some of those who approach him, like the dog, the horse, or the elephant, are loving to him because he feeds them. But on the dolphin, alone among all others, nature has bestowed this gift which the greatest philosophers long for; disinterested friendship. The dolphin has no need of any man, yet is the friend of all men and has often given them great aid."

Certainly, it is our responsibility, with our superior technological strength and our intelligence, to repay the dolphin friendship in like currency. It's not as if we don't know how.

It is always easy, using 20/20 hindsight, to poke holes in our former behavior. Looking back over the past Century, we can shuffle our feet and mutter about how we have mistreated aborigines, negroes, each other and dolphins. Humans always seem to have lots to forget about and an endless panorama of things to learn. When Captain Gray captured Carolina Snowball and when the Navy watched its Dall dolphins split their heads open in the 50 foot tank, they were acting as innocent adventurers. They didn't know any better. Neither Gray nor Wood thought John Lilly's findings on the intelligence of dolphins was anything more than crazy speculation.

But there is now a choice to make, and it should not be made by a few men whose commercial interests are at stake. It is a moral and practical issue, and it must be made by the people who reward the few men who display dolphins.

Let's compare our relationship with dolphins in captivity to dolphins in the wild. The point I want to make is that the present group of trainers, veterinarians, scientists and entrepreneurs can work with dolphins in the sea even more effectively than in small circus tanks. And the scientific rewards are much greater.

The first time people intentionally worked with dolphins in the wild is lost in antiquity. The people living along the Ganges River in India have had family dolphins for a very long time. These dolphins help the fishermen catch fish. There are laws against other people using another family's dolphin for their own fishing efforts. The dolphins live free in the river.

Other human/dolphin interactions go back into antiquity. Aborigines from Groote Island have been dolphin callers for - according to Burnam Burnam - 40,000 years. They call the dolphins, and work with them, using special whistle signals. One whistle means to come. Another whistle means the dolphins should chase a particular kind of fish towards the fishermen. The Aborigines also used trained orcas to help them round up and kill whales off Two Fold Bay down near the Victoria border. Later, after Europeans arrived, the orcas became an active and useful part of the Australian whaling industry, driving whales into the harbor for the waiting whalers.

The Imragen fishermen of Mauritania have fished mullet with delphinic help for many generations and Cousteau made a film of this remarkable interspecies activity.

It might be interesting to tell you how such trust is lost. According to an eye witness, in 1945 an inland village of Aborigines was moved to the sea coast on Mornington Island where dolphins had, for untold years, helped the fishermen. In the excitement of a hunt, one of the new men sunk his spear into a dolphin, killing it. That was the last time the dolphins came to help and was the cause of a serious battle between the two tribes of humans. The dolphin people also said it caused a huge storm that destroyed their village - but naturally I would not expect you to believe that.

We Europeans have much more accurate written accounts of our own experiences with dolphins in the wild. The first two released from captivity were let go within days of each other. It was in 1964, 66 years after dolphin shows started. F.G. Wood, the first director of the Florida Marineland and Ken Norris, the first curator of the San Diego Marineland, were responsible for the releases. Wood released his first, a dolphin named Peg that had been held at the U.S. Navy's facility at Point Magu, California. Dr. Norris let Keiki go from its pen in Hawaii. Both teams were interested for the same reasons. They felt the next step in learning about dolphins and working with them was to take them to sea. The Navy wanted to train dolphins to assist in search and recovery of hardware and to work with Navy divers.

On August 13th, after five months of special training, Peg was released into the open sea. She wore a harness with a leash attached to a small float.

On August 24th, Keiki - who had been captured only 6 months before - followed Ken Norris' boat out of a lagoon and into the open sea to do some speed trials. It was the first attempt to answer the simple question, "How fast can a dolphin swim?" Trials in canals and shallow penned lagoons left room for doubt. Reports from ships at sea of dolphins swimming at 40 knots were not believed. For a dolphin to swim 40 knots, it would have to have muscular strength far exceeding any other mammal. Dr. Norris found Keiki could hit 15 knots for short distances and could cruise easily at 5 to 6 knots. The accounts of dolphins speeding through the waves at 40 knots were, however, not wrong. It turns out they ride the bow pressure wave of ships with hardly any physical effort at all. So, if a Navy ship is cruising at 30 knots, dolphins can and do intercept the vessel from the side and glide on the water shoved ahead of the ship, hardly moving except to maintain their position. Keiki regularly surfed the wake of Dr. Norris' boat, something water skiers know all about.

Keiki's next project was to act as support and safety diver for Tap Prior's Oceanic I underwater habitat. The habitat was put into the open sea off Rabbit Island and Keiki lived topside in a floating pen. He accumulated two months of open sea working time, helping divers as a gopher. You know, when a diver needed something, Keiki would go for it. Tools, messages, fresh air tanks and supplies were included in his work. There was a problem, however. Keiki was always rewarded whenever he did something. It was a nuisance for the divers to always carry bits of fish with them and slightly hazardous because sharks sometimes came by looking for a reward, too.

Ken Norris describes their solution to the problem this way. "Karen began an ingenious bit of training. She asked Keiki to work for Porpoise money; big circular plastic disks. Before long, Keiki would carry out his assigned duty, take a token in reward for it and swim to the surface, where an inverted wire cage floated. This cage, the "Porpoise National Bank" as it came to be called - was the depository for porpoise money, so Keiki dutifully deposited the disk by floating it up to the cage. Periodically, a sound signal was played into the water that told Keiki the Porpoise national Bank was open and that he could cash in his chips for fish. He rushed over, sculling expectantly as the trainer reached in, trading a disk for a fish until the bank was empty."

The U.S. Navy didn't have dolphin money. They solved the same problem by having their star dolphin, Tuffy, deliver a sac of fish to the divers at the start of each day. Tuffy had a very important job on Sealab II. The habitat was in 250 feet of water and the divers were saturated with helium and oxygen at that depth. That means that if a diver got lost form the habitat and tried to surface, his blood would foam and he would surely die. Getting lost in the darkness of 250 feet is quite easy, especially with the low water visibility off San Diego. Tuffy was to listen for the diver's sonic signal and, if he heard it, he had to dive to the habitat, take a rescue line from another diver, and then swim the line to the lost diver. He learned to do this with ease, but wanted a fish at the completion of each step. When this became a problem, they tried just rewarding him on the surface. Tuffy refused to go along with this idea. So they gave him a bag of fish to take down at the start of each day. Conda, one of the Navy divers, was waiting on the first day, near the corner of the habitat. He turned on his buzzer and within seconds, there was Tuffy, the bag of fish in his mouth. Conda took the bag of fish but couldn't get the damn thing open. His hands fumbled with it in the cold water while Tuffy (holding his breath) waited in 250 feet of water. Conda fumbled and fumbled. Finally, Tuffy snatched the rescue line and turned to answer the "lost" diver's signal. But before he left he batted Conda over the head with his tail fluke.

In five years, the U.S. Navy had 1600 open ocean exercises with dolphins. They only lost one, a female Pacific bottlenosed dolphin that had been captured in the same area. One day she surfaced, looked out to sea, and swam off, never to return. Other dolphins were lost, too. Peg took a two week holiday and when they found her the first time, she refused to answer the recall buzzer. The second time she followed a pleasure boat into a harbor and when the Navy came to get her she came to the Navy boat the instant the buzzer sounded, returned to the sea pen and behaved normally. At first she was reluctant to eat dead fish offered her, but then she gobbled them up. During the two week vacation, Peg maintained her full body weight and appeared to be in excellent health.

Rascal was named for his ability to escape from the Navy's sea pens. He got loose after only preliminary training yet stayed close to the pens and allowed the Navy to recapture him. He escaped several times and once absolutely refused to go back in the pen, preferring to stay free. He still came when he was called. Finally they convinced Rascal to stay in the pen, but he and another dolphin called Rounder, turned out to be of very little use as they spent all of their time in the open sea catching and eating fish. Rascal would surface form a dive with a fish wiggling in his mouth, show it to his trainer and gulp it down - as if commenting on the Navy's dead fish food.

Ken Norris lost a Steno dolphin named Pono. Pono was trained for deep diving experiments and was one of the smartest dolphins Dr. Norris worked with. Pono seemed totally aware of what was going on from the time he was captured. On the first trip into the open ocean after months of training, Pono went along with the program, making deeper and deeper dives as Dr. Norris lowered the call buzzer into the clear Pacific. Then, just before they were going to quit for the day, Pono began swimming in a spiral, going further and further from the boat. Norris pushed the recall button. Pono stopped swimming but would not approach. Then they noticed a group of sharks. Dr. Norris realized that the constant activity, and especially the buzzer, had attracted sharks to the site. Pono, being alone, was not about to swim into a school of sharks. The pulled up the cable and started the engines, moving towards Pono. But Pono had evidently decided these human experiments were dangerous. He might have figured out that if sharks came in large numbers the humans would not even know about it in time to save him from destruction. Unlike his normal family of dolphins, who would defend him even if he was sick, the humans were on a boat while he was alone in the sea with the sharks that the humans had called! Pono took off. More than a month later Dr. Norris was at sea watching a large group of Steno dolphins. He turned on the recall buzzer and Pono separated from the school and swam to the buzzer, paid his respects, and returned to the school.

Bill Evans works for the U.S. Navy studying wild dolphin behavior. He helped design a special, streamlined radio tag with a depth sensor to find out more about dolphin movements. They tagged a dolphin and followed it as it rejoined its school. They discovered two important things. First, they learned that dolphins regularly dive up to 480 feet down to feed on the deep scattering layer in the open ocean. The deep scattering layer is a population of mid-water fish and invertebrates that migrates vertically; up at night to feed on diatoms and down during the day to stay in darkness. Dolphins feed in the evening, as the deep scattering layer moves up to feed. The second discovery was that dolphins congregated over sea mounts. Sea mounts are sunken mountains and the one Bill Evans located though his dolphin studies was deeply submerged and had never been found before. Because the sea mount was very deep, the question arose of how the dolphins found it in the first place. The implication was that the dolphins could somehow distinguish characteristics of the bottom a mile below them and masked by the sound-scattering effect of the deep scattering layer (named because of its effect on acoustic depth finders).

Dr. Evans decided that the dolphins hear the bottom of the sea. I think he is right. The bottom of the sea, everywhere, is strewn with living creatures and many of them make noises. Life is especially abundant near any change in the bottom; a ledge, a canyon, a sea mount, or a reef. Open mud bottoms are much quieter than these places of congregation of so many sea creatures. So each feature gives off its own symphony of sounds. We know dolphins have exquisite hearing and can detect these community sounds, even if they can't swim that deep to see what is causing them.

So there is plenty of evidence of people working with dolphins in the open sea. So what? Diving is a problem for us humans. First, because we get cold. Even with wet suits, the heat loss is exhausting after a few hours in the sea. Without a wet suit a diver can maintain a speed of two knots for very short distances. With the drag of a wet suit we swim even slower. Most divers get hopelessly lost before they get tired, because navigating underwater is hard. It is almost impossible for a diver to navigate in the sea at night unless equipped with instruments or very familiar with the particular location. About the only direction a diver can be sure of is up and down and in zero visibility, a neutrally buoyant diver can get confused over that, too. To do any work in depths over 150 feet is hazardous because of nitrogen narcosis and decompression sickness. Not to mention our vulnerability to sharks, venomous jellyfish, and a large array of sharp spines and unknown nasties like fear.

These limitations, combined with our inability to seeing more than a few fathoms in any direction, makes working in deep water a major ordeal.

Dolphins can cruise all day, all night, at an easy six knots and, if in a hurry, move out at 15 knots. Their sonar system lets them see well for perhaps half a kilometer or more under water, define shapes at a kilometer, and hear things for perhaps thousands of miles. They have no heat loss problems, no nitrogen narcosis or decompression hassles, they navigate with what seems to us as pure magic, and are perfectly at home in the sea.

Humans are marginally easier to communicate with and train but require much higher pay. Dolphins work for fish or dolphin money. What this means is that dolphins can be a big help to us in learning about the sea. Think of the spectrum of scientific studies dolphins could do easily, cheaply, and much better than we can. After the work with radio tagged dolphins, Bill Evans suggested dolphins could be linked by satellite and carry sensitive instruments to provide oceanographic and fishery data. Dolphins have been trained to carry cameras. Just think how valuable they could be as undersea camera operators, think what they might be able to film in the way of behavior of sharks, other dolphins, whales, you name it. Professor Taylor in South Africa has trained two dolphins to do patrol duty off popular swimming beaches to scare off sharks. They could easily be trained to help swimmers in trouble and would make fantastic life savers.

All this being said, and rational reasons given for why we should stop subjecting dolphins to physical and mental torture, there is something else I'd like to say. It is an emotional thing, not at all objective or scientific or even rational. But I need to be honest about my own participation in this effort.

When I think, tonight, right now, of the intelligent, beautiful, loving, free, powerful, remarkable dolphins floating alone in a 40 foot diameter cement swimming pool at the Warragamba African Wildlife Safari, I feel horrible. I feel personally responsible for their being out there, far from their families and their unknowable wealth of experience in the open sea. I am ashamed and furious that we human beings should return their disinterested friendship with imprisonment at death. I am afraid because I know they will die and people will capture more to put out there in the scientifically calculated artificial sea water. So I urge every one of you here that shares my horror, my responsibility, my shame and fury and fear to write to the director of the Parks and Wildlife Service and tell him what you think. I ask you all to stay away from any and all institutions where dolphins or whales are held captive and to persuade your friends and all children everywhere to stay away. To visit these facilities is to finance the capture and murder of wild dolphins as a form of human amusement.

Return to the dolphin saga.Return to the thread.