RD February 2014 issue article

In one of the Reads in February’s RD issue, neuroscientist Lori Marino breaks ground on a popular belief about dolphins: they aren’t smiling, nor are they naturally tame and gentle, like my mom used to say. Sure, you can see their smiles. It looks like they’re always smiling. Seeing is believing, right? Whoever made that saying up has never heard of deception. Or illusion. People think the dolphins are smiling because of the alignment of their jaws. Underneath the alignment of their jaws, dolphins can actually be extremely aggressive predators and captive dolphins could really use some stress therapy adapted for dolphins. Instead, the dolphins are the therapy objects for dolphin assisted therapy, aka DAT, for kids with special needs, depression, you name it.

Blame ancient folklore and neuroscientist John C. Lilly, says Marino. During the Graeco-Roman era, dolphins were closely linked to the gods. According to a Greek tale, Poseidon summoned a dolphin to rescue his son Taras from a shipwreck. The Celts and the Vikings also believed dolphins to have special powers. Even now Brazilians and the inhabitants of the Solomon Islands trade dolphin body parts for medicinal purposes. John C. Lilly was most famous for studying interactions between dolphins and autistic kids; his research and statements are what most DAT facilities use to convince doubtful parents: “Listen here, folks. We have Lilly’s research and evidence written in stone, so you better believe it works! Otherwise I’m just wasting time talking with you here.”

According to Marino, the research should not have been written in stone, and luckily it CAN be removed. There are other ways to remedy the bad side effects of autism with kids, not just DAT. Approximately three in five captive dolphins do not get to experience their first birthday, and captive dolphins have been seen ramming into the sides of their tanks and wearing their teeth down because of all that concrete. Most causes of their deaths are usually stress-related diseases. The public is oblivious to these facts because dying dolphins or stressed dolphins are quietly replaced in zoos, using the same name as the original one. Dolphins in the wild can go hundreds of feet below sea level, as compared to the height of a captive dolphin’s tank.

Aren’t you forgetting something though, Marino? You should have acknowledged the dolphins in the wild too. Remember that the Brazilians and the inhabitants of the Solomon Islands trade dolphin body parts for medicinal purposes, but what of the people who actually KILL dolphins directly, not just put them in captivity, for food since dolphins might be the only food resource? It’s not enough to tell these guys, “Hey, stop eating like kings and queens at the expense of the dolphins.” If we ban the hunting of dolphins right now, where would the people get their food? Now it’s the opposite–saving the dolphins at the expense of the hungry. With all this polluted water, the wild dolphins will suffer too. Forget smog and oil–with all this technology and the ever-growing population, we might have to build cities under the sea and live like mermen and mermaids! Then this would pollute the water further, and the mermen and mermaids will have to heed the dangers of the deep blue. Looking at your own research, I do not think you finished your homework either, like Lilly. You attempted to finish his homework, but you didn’t finish yours. Unlike Lilly’s, your research is not flawed but it has gaps. Captive dolphins aren’t the only ones who are in trouble. Actually, I realize that more people would think the dolphins in the wild need help!

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