The Blob

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Day of the Dolphin

Reuters is carrying an amazing story of a group of swimmers off New Zealand who were protected by a pod of dolphins from an attack by a Great White Shark. It's required reading.

This is not the first time I've read of such heroic acts by dolphins toward humans. I have two cousins who were saved by dolphins when they were children. Swimming along the shore of Daytona Beach, Florida one day, they found themselves carried offshore by a strong undertow. They were only 6 and 8 years old, and started to panic at the realization that the undertow was stronger than their ability to fight it. Apparently, nobody saw them get carried away.

Suddenly, they found themselves surrounded by a pod of dolphins, who gently nudged them back to shore with their noses. Terrified, overwhelmed and amazed at what happened, it took some years for the two boys to talk about it. But the link was clear: dolphins understand that humans are mammals like them. And their intelligence is such that they knew the boys were in danger.

We have yet to understand the full intelligence of dolphins. They have greater cerebral capacity than humans. Dolphins can stun schools of fish with intense and complex noises they project from their brains as a means of catching their meals. But scientists suspect their highly complex sound waves are more than mere sound. In fact, some scientists believe that dolphins don't merely communicate with sound, but can also communicate - get ready - video. You read that right. Video. The closest equivalent that they can find to the highly complex wave activity between dolphins is a video transmission. Go figure.

Yet, dolphins are taken for granted. The Japanese hunt them down ruthlessly with boats projecting sonar waves, driving them to shore where hunters cut them open alive with knives. The US Navy continues ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) communications and high-power sonar experiments that continue to cause dolphin beachings, apparently because the deafening underwater noise created by the experiments bursts their ear drums. But hey, they're only fish, right?

Call me an animal rights activist, but I maintain that our arrogance to think of ourselves as the surpreme creatures on this Earth is the ultimate conceit. We are only fooling ourselves. While we think nothing of destroying our planet, a more intelligent species lives in peace, and often helps save lives.

It's the story like that which I read today that reminds me of how little we know.