I'm a scientist and I know what constitutes proof. The reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see. See first, think later, then test. Always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting. Most scientists forget that. ... the other reason I call myself Wonko the Sane is so that people will think I am a fool. That allows me to say what I see when I see it. You can only be a scientist if you stop minding that people think you're a fool. - Douglas Adams inSo Long and Thanks for All the Fish Now we come to the crux of the matter of dolphin assisted therapy. Most reports show at least some improvement of autistics. Some hug their parents for the first time; some say their first words soon after dolphin contact. These cases and others show that dolphins are capable of profoundly benefiting even severe conditions for which we have little to offer from extant medical systems. Dolphins are complex creatures and our knowledge of them far from complete.
The mystery is - What are the dolphins doing to effect these changes? In what follows, I offer models of how dolphins affect our wellbeing and who the Cetacea, the dolphins and whales, are on our planet.
Most people like dolphins. Most dolphins like people. Many people experience great love from them. As a boy of 14, I found the dolphins accepted me as I was, with all my warts, yet loved me and were very friendly. They knew and sensed many things about me instantly. They knew my level of courage, my breath holding time, and my endurance levels. We swam together and touched a lot. My main impression was one of love, play, happiness and joy. The dolphins were the first sane beings I had ever met. The summer I lived with them was a joyous time for me. We became great friends.
At a fundamental level, please recognize the extreme gentleness and restraint the dolphins use in their approach to us. They have always, in my experience, been supremely gentle with children. Lilly concluded that the single most important conclusion from his work with the dolphins was that they had clear and consistent ethical behavior toward humans. Humans were always helped and treated with respect. I have found this to be true with (only 1-3 exceptions out of many reports for the last 2500 years or so).
Over time with the dolphins, and later the whales, I came to feel they are beings from a race far older and wiser than ours. Here is my personal summary regarding the dolphins and the other Cetacea.
The sperm whale has the largest brain we know of, some 9600 grams vs. our 1350 or so. They hunt giant squids in abyssal depths of at least 9,000 perhaps 12,000 feet for about an hour’s dive. The dolphins are their human-scale relatives, with brain sizes of 1600 grams or so, with 40% more association (thinking) areas than in our brain. They have larger short-term memories than we do.17 The Cetacea are always awake. They are conscious breathers – this means that every breath is a conscious act. Should a dolphin be knocked out, they will stop breathing and must be artificially respirated. We, on the other hand, can be knocked out and breathe under autonomic control. So the dolphins are always awake, either with one hemisphere of the brain, while the other naps, or with both hemispheres. The dolphins, as determined by Lilly and associates, have far more of their behaviors under conscious control than do we.
Dolphins can dive to 1000 feet, jump 25 feet out of the water, and precisely take a fish from your mouth, stay down 20 minutes on one breath and swim 18 knots/hr sustained with a top speed of about 35 knots. They have a built in, high power, sophisticated sono-electric system that can do everything from stun food to perform the most delicate, focused, targeted, gentle resonant therapy.
If our fossil dating is correct, dolphins and whales have been here with complete sonar systems and brains equal to or larger than our own for at least 15 million years and perhaps as long as 30 million years. For this vast time, something like three timesour evolutionary history as genus Homo (counting from genus Home, e.g. Homo habilis, estimated at 5 million years or so)
The Cetacea are a planet-spanning culture with multiple species, communicating across the globe, by acoustic and perhaps radio means, and communicating in an “open” linguistic system with a trillion symbols to choose from.
Further, their senses are, in a word, broader band than ours. For example, their sound interval discrimination ability is 10X better than a human. Their acoustic system brings in data at something like 40X our own rate at over 10X our frequency range (maximum frequency heard by humans, ~20,000 Hz; for the dolphin ~200,000 Hz or better).
So when I am in the water with a dolphin, I am faced with the humbling truth: compared to the dolphin, I am almost blind, almost deaf, can hardly swim, have a smaller brain, and a shorter evolutionary history!
I feel I have learned more about their nature than most people on this planet, since age 13 onward. I know many of the old Greek tales about dolphins are true because I have lived them. I am a proud inheritor of the Lilly/ Truby/ Morgane/ Bateson/ Munson et alia tradition of dolphin research.18 It is from this experience that I now write.
From a scientific point of view, consider this a “preliminary report” mainly presenting observations suggesting connections with known data, and directions for further study. I seek the truth, and I am always open to the truth, should anyone have better ideas or corrections.
The Cetacea are increasingly coming to contact us. Certainly more humans than ever before are aware of them and going to meet them and learn from them. Let us meet the dolphins and other Cetacea with our finest. I know we will be richly benefited by what we will learn, especially for our children. Call it their love that they share with us. It is their gift, and I know it would bode well for the humans to recognize the magnitude of this gift and respond in kind. Let us now consider some to the dolphin’s capabilities.