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dolphin (dòl´fîn), aquatic MAMMAL, any of the small, toothed, gregarious whales of the family Delphinidae. They include the beaked dolphin, the killer whale, the pilot whale, and 12 freshwater species in South America and S Asia. Fishlike in form, dolphins breathe through a dorsal blowhole. They propel themselves by means of powerful flukes, steering with a dorsal fin and navigating with the aid of echolocation. Dolphins are exceptionally friendly toward humans, and their high order of intelligence and their complex language have long been the subject of study.
Extracted from a piece by Vicki Mackenzie in the Daily Telegraph.
Igor Charkovsky, the Russian male midwife, is known for helping pregnant women give birth underwater in the Black Sea 'aided' by dolphins. 'Dolphins have an affinity with the baby in the womb and are automatically attracted to pregnant women. They sense when a woman is about to give birth and gather round. They give both the mother and child a sense of protection and safety,' says Charkovsky.
'Dolphins sense when a woman is about to give birth and gather round. They give both the mother and child a sense of protection and safety'
'Sometimes when the baby is born the dolphins muzzle it to the surface to help it breath.'
Charkovsky began to experiment with dolphins and children in 1979 at a dolphin research station. He discovered that 9ft mammals were exceptionally gentle with the children, aged between eight days and eight years, allowing them to ride on their backs, and handling them with extraordinary care, under-standing and purposefulness.
More specifically he realised how powerfully beneficial the animals were for the newborn, who lay peacefully sleeping in the sea with the dolphins swimming around them. He concluded that dolphins through their benign energy take the stress off the baby and mother alike, during and after the birth.
Igor Charkovsky, 127254 Moscow, Rustaveli 15a, Kv61, CIS (tel 7095 219 5937). See also 'Dolphin Therapy' in this book, in the chapter on 'Death and Dying.'
Dolphins interact with each other and with their enviroment primarily through the use of sound. Their sonar system enables them to communicate with each other, to "see" through echolocation, and they can possibly even stun fish sonically. Dolphin sounds are unintelligible to humans, and cover a large range of frequencies that we can hear or differentiate. To us, their noises sound just like buzzes, clicks, and high-pitched whistling. The squawks and similar sounds all seem to convey some information about emotional content, and they are often heard being produced when animals in captivity are anticipating food, when juveniles are engaged in play activity, or when one adult interferes with another. The pure tone whistles are rarely emmitted under these circumstances, and some have argued that they constitute language. This is where we enter an area of major controversy. The conclusions of authors who have carried out work in this field fall into three groups; those who believe that there is a dolphin language (for example, John C. Lilly ); those who regard these sounds as quasi-language (for example, R. G. Busnel); and finally those who regard the case for language at best non-proven, or not supported by experimental evidence at all (for example, D. K. Caldwell). There are many scientists that are researching this area. John Lilly demonstrated that dolphins could produce sounds in air that seemed to be imitations of humans. Louis Herman devised a series of experiments in which dolphins have learned to understand sentences. Dr. Denise Herzing is researching the communication of dolphins in the wild. Even the US Navy is exploring the dolphin's sonar ability, to design better sonar systems.
Dolphins both young and old chase one another, carry objects around, toss seaweed to one another and use objects to invite each other to play. They enjoy riding the waves from boats and have been seen jumping as high as 16 feet from the surface of the water and landing on their backs or sides. This behavior is called breaching.
-- Carl Sagan
The Big Bang Theory
Dolphins may also be able to immobilize or even kill their prey using bursts of high-frequency sound. This idea was proposed in passing by a number of scientists but was first systematically investigated by the American and Danish marine mammal researchers Kenneth and Bertel Modl, in the first 'full-scale review' of the idea in 1983.
This 'big bang' theory suggests that, even if dolphins cannot kill their prey outright with bursts of sound, they can impair their prey's equilibrium or sensory system, making them easier to capture.
The 'big bang' theory may explain: how dolphins can catch prey that can easily out-distance and out-maneuver them; why dolphins have lost a large number of their functional teeth and their once-powerful jaws; and the high degree of co-operation between dolphins, necessary because they are carrying around the equivalent of a 'loaded gun'.
These so-called 'loud impulse sounds' have been recorded during predation in the wild by bottlenose dolphins and killer whales, made when the animals were hunting mullet and salmon respectively.
Norris and colleagues presented further evidence in 1989, based on experiments where the exposed anchovies to pneumatically-generated 'loud impulse sounds' similar to those recorded in the wild. They discovered that these sounds killed and injured the anchovies. More scientific evidence will be needed before conclusive proof of this theory can be obtained.
Dolphins recently demonstrated beyond doubt that they are capable of recognizing themselves in mirrors - joining an elite group that includes the chimp and African grey parrot who have passed this test of self-awareness. Dolphins have a sophisticated communication system. Using signature whistles they can recognise at least a hundred other individuals. They are also accomplished mimics. Dolphin social structure falls into a type known as fission-fusion where groups of individuals form fluid alliances, joining and splitting in a medley of associations, some temporary, others quite stable. The same arrangement is found in chimp societies. Despite a lack of manual dexterity, dolphins have been known to use tools. One group has learned to fit conical sponges onto their rostrum so that they can root about in the seabed without being harmed by stonefish and other venomous animals. Some experts even believe that dolphins are capable of abstract thought, based on their remarkable ability to understand and act upon communications with humans.
Aristotle's Observations About Dolphins
BELIEFS ABOUT DOLPHINS ARE RECORDED STARTING WITH
Aristotle. In his work, Historia Animalium (The History of Animals), Aristotle
makes many pertinent observations about dolphins, including the fact that
they bear their young alive,
suckle them, breathe air, and communicate by underwater sounds.
Aristotle made a rather startling statement about dolphins:
"The voice of the dolphin in air is like that of
the human in that they can pronounce vowels and combinations
of vowels, but have difficulties with the consonants."
This observation had been scorned by nineteenth-century biologists investigating dolphins as biological objects in the sea. These nonparticipant objective observers, who had not experienced the living dolphins at first hand, called this mythology.
On the face of it, Aristotle's statement is rather startling. First of all, dolphins communicate with one another with underwater sounds; but then Aristotle mentions, "the voice of the dolphin in air." Until new observations were made in 1956 and 1957, this statement remained a puzzle. Someone at the time of Aristotle must have heard the voice of the dolphin in air or Aristotle would not have mentioned it. He did not specify the conditions under which this voice was heard in air, nor how the voicing sounds were produced by the dolphins.
During the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century biologists said that the whales and dolphins had no vocal chords and therefore had no voicing. The underwater sounds and their sonic emitter apparatus had not yet been investigated.
From Aristotle's writings we know that there were
dolphins in the Mediterranean and porpoises in the Black Sea. We can hypothesize
that Aristotle, or his contemporaries, experienced dolphins in shallow
water pools close to man, in the light
of our later knowledge of dolphins, derived from our experiments in the
fifties. Modern dolphins under similar circumstances start emitting sounds
in air when they are exposed to humans speaking in air.
There is no reason to suppose that the ancient
dolphins of the Mediterranean did not act as the modern dolphins do.
An extensive search of the written literature, both scientific and literary, since the time of Aristotle, shows no further experience with dolphins' sounds in air as described by Aristotle. Up to 1955 there were only denials of the validity of Aristotle's observations by those who had no opportunity to be close to dolphins in shallow water. Aristotle states further that "small boys and dolphins develop mutual passionate attachments." He told stories of dolphins giving young boys rides, pulling them through the water. He also told of a dolphin beaching itself and dying from grief when a friendly boy left. It was not until the twentieth century that similar episodes are recounted.
- John C. Lilly