By A Rishi
Perhaps the only species that compares well with Homo Sapiens in intelligence, dolphins possess an innate gentleness and a mysterious power to trigger the healing process in humans
Sometimes, things go wrong for the right reasons. That’s what happened when I went on a dolphin watch cruise at Jervis Bay, Australia.
An overcast sky, with intermittent showers, is not the best of time if you are looking out for wild dolphins. And the guides on our cruise had all but given up hope of encountering any of these friendly cetaceans. So, there we were. In the midst of the ocean. Dark gloomy clouds hovering above. Suddenly, a snout peeked out of the grey water. Then another, and yet another. In a matter of minutes, there were dolphins frolicking all around us, jumping in gay abandon, chasing fish, dancing with the waves. It was as though nature’s fury had imbued them with a reaffirmation of life. The raindrops didn’t matter anymore. Nor did the freezing cold. As we crowded on the deck, watching in sheer exhilaration, we knew that something of the spirit of these ocean wonders had rubbed off on us, renewing our inherent belief in the beauty and the ecstasy of being alive.
Perhaps this applies to almost all wild creatures. But there is something about dolphins that not only brings out the best in you, it is known to have healing qualities to cure autism, psychosomatic diseases and, in rare cases, even cancer.
For instance, when Marie-Amandine della Faille, from Belgium, went to the Human-Dolphin Institute in Florida, she was suffering from leukemia. She had only a few months to live. ‘The dolphins behaved in a special way with her,’ says a spokesperson of the Institute. ‘They seemed to realize her fragile state. Although they were all over her, they seemed to take special precaution in their approach.’ This happened in 1995. And Marie-Amandine is still alive and enjoying a complete remission of her symptoms today.
Or take Norma Graham, an eight-year-old girl from Adelaide. She hadn’t spoken a word since her birth, although there was nothing clinically wrong with her vocal chords. ‘She came to us,’ says Rene Calvet, a dolphin encounter teacher based in California, ‘with a countenance that shut her off from the rest of the world.’ Norma was put through a therapy that included playing with dolphins for an hour a day. In three months, Norma was cooing with the dolphins, and had even begun to utter her first sentences.
In 1978, Dr David Nathanson started a dolphin-human therapy at Ocean World in Florida. He worked on developing language experiments for children with Down’s Syndrome. The concept was simple: if a child makes a correct response, reward him with a dolphin swim. The results were startling. Children retained more and learnt four times faster.
‘What makes dolphins exceptional in therapeutical fields,’ explains Rene, ‘is the use of their sonar with which they echolocate their prey. There is evidence that dolphins trigger the healing process in humans by boosting the production of T-cells and endorphins. After patient and dolphin interactions, scientists have measured a far greater harmony between the left and right sides of the brain.’ He informs that dolphins produce an intense amount of echolocation energy, which resonates in the bones, such as the skull and the sternum, and then travels up the spine.
‘Many therapists believe,’ says Amanda Green, a marine biologist, ‘that a dolphin’s sonar causes a phenomenon called cavitation inside the soft body tissue of the human body. It precipitates a ripping apart of the molecules.’ So, if sonar does that with cellular membranes, it could completely change the biomolecular structure. She adds, ‘many hospitals already use a lithotripsy machine that uses low frequency sound waves to break up kidney stones and gall stones. The physics of that machine are not different from a dolphin’s sonar.’
Science apart, there is a deeper meaning to dolphin therapy. Plutarch, the Greek moralist and biographer, said: ‘To the dolphin alone, beyond all other, nature has granted what the best philosophers seek: friendship for no advantage.’
When you encounter a wild dolphin in open waters, something breaks open the conditioned seals of your heart. ‘Dolphins make you feel accepted as you are, with unconditional love,’ explains Amanda. This, she feels, leads to a profound inner peace that reaches out to embrace the universe. In scientific terms, this is biophillia, the transformative power that links you to nature, and, going by recent research, dolphins could be the most powerful carriers of this emotion.
Human-dolphin interaction is not new to history. According to Plutarch’s book On the Cleverness of Animals, Odysseus’s son Telemachus fell into the sea and was saved by a dolphin. As requital, his father had dolphins engraved on his ring and emblazoned on his shield. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Arion, a rich poet and musician, jumps overboard when threatened by pirates. But he does not drown. A dolphin carries him about 200 miles to shore.
Dolphins interaction is much like that of humans. In 1965, anthropologist Gregory Bateson discovered that dolphins live in social groups dominated by a leader. This tie is so strong that dolphins kept in total isolation will suffer ill health and possibly die. It has also been observed that dolphins frequently stroke each other with their flippers, indicating that they require physical contact as much as humans.
In 1962, researchers aboard the vessel Sea Quest, 300 miles south of San Diego, strung vertical aluminum poles and microphones inside the lagoon, erecting a type of barrier. They spotted five Pacific Bottle-nosed dolphins about 500 yards from the barrier. Soon, a scout was sent from the cetacean group. Microphones picked up his sonar soundings as he closely surveyed the poles. When he returned to the pod, an explosion of whistles, chirps and Bronx cheer-like noises were recorded. This strongly indicates a communication system among the dolphins that closely resembles human interaction.
The brain size of a bottle-nosed dolphin is comparable to ours at birth and, during their lifetime, develops close to the maximum size for man—about 1700 gm. A dolphin’s brain size increases rapidly during youth and seems to slow down at nine years of age. In fact, dolphins come closest to humans in the matters of their brain size.
According to DR John Lilly, neurologist, neurophysiologist and psychoanalyst, who has done pioneering research in dolphin behavior and communication, says: ‘I suspect that whales and dolphins quite naturally go in the directions we call spiritual—in that they get into meditative states quite easily.’
Dolphins also have strong connotations in many pagan religions. In Australian aboriginal tribes, a dolphin is considered sacred. They believe that when an aborigine dies, his spirit reincarnates as a dolphin. According to their philosophy, dolphins span both the physical and spirit worlds, guiding humans in their journey through life. In fact, the deepest aboriginal meditation is known as Dolphin Dreamtime.
Presently, New Agers believe that dolphins are a higher life form, who will lead humanity towards a better future. ‘Dolphins have no prehensile extremities,’ explains dolphin researcher, Daniel McCulloch. ‘Hence their intelligence has never gone in the manipulation of their environment. Their thoughts developed inward. So, their culture would be totally different from ours. But I do think that there is a large possibility that dolphins have an intelligence at least equal to ours even if it is in another direction.’
Is it time for us to prepare for a close encounter with the only other species that might have evolved (or perhaps has evolved) an intelligence comparable to ours? May be! And so far, they haven’t disappeared with a ‘…so long and thanks for all the fish’. Not for the time being at least. Which is why, even if Douglas Adams could think of nothing better, we can say this for him: perhaps he was on the right track.
Simplistic? Sure! But, hey, isn’t that what life is all about?
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