Why dolphins really ARE “little people in wet suits,” Part 1: Feelings, Ooohh Feelings…

From the Sunday comic strip “Mark Trail” many years ago. I don’t know if it’s still going or not. It wouldn’t be a great loss, because nobody read the daily strips about a park ranger, but this one on a weekend caught my attention.

I think it can be safely said that I do know what anthropomorphism is. In its simplest form, it is endowing non-human entities, be they animals, plants, objects or just natural forces, with human traits, like awareness, reason, and emotions.

Especially emotions. We are long past the point of imagining a god is mad at us personally or collectively because a storm passes over… but a tornado, typhoon or hurricane may elicit that response, because the damage is more severe, or widespread, or fatal. Legally, we still refer to things that are foreseeable but unlikely and unavoidable as “acts of God,” a term that shows the piety of our lawyers, if not their wits.

We must thus be very careful in our dealings with other animals, who do not share our human ways, not to anthropomorphise them; we do so at our own risk! For instance, that grinning chimpanzee isn’t happy with you, it’s about to rip your face off!

PIC BY M WATSON / ARDEA / CATERS NEWS – (PICTURED: A Chimpanzee laughing) – These comical creatures are clearly up FUR a laugh in these sidesplitting images which show a variety of ecstatic animals enjoying a good old chuckle. The hilarious snaps, taken by a whole host of photographers from around the globe, prove life in the jungle is most definitely jolly, as creatures from an orangutan to a elephant seal are pictured mid-laugh. A cheery chimpanzee can be seen sporting a toothy grin as he enjoys life at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia. And a pot-bellied pig is clearly tickled pink at his home in Lower Saxony, Germany. In another image an Icelandic horse appears to crack up when he spots a photographers camera, while a chuckling cheetah creases up in Kenya. SEE CATERS COPY

Exposing your canine teeth (fangs) is a sign of aggression in chimps, even though grinning among us humans is a sign of pleasure. Moral? Just give that chimp a nice, close-lipped smile, and retain your face a while longer.

From the brilliant Japanese Manga comic strip Beastars, one season available as a fantastic anime on Netflix. After a llama student is horribly murdered one dark night, it’s the predators vs. the herbivores at Cherryton Academy, where a bunch of neurotic students ranging from a shy wolf who doubts his killer instincts to a dwarf rabbit with nymphomania and a young buck — literally — maneuvering himself into a place of esteem and power are being educated… but not in reading, writing and arithmetic!

Same with a dog that humps your leg; this often comes up in discussions about how Dolly the dolphin used to rub against me. She was definitely masturbating, but chances are about 90% that your dog doesn’t have sex on its mind when it humps you, it has dominance.

I say that because I saw it in action. Long-time readers will remember that before I acquired Epic I had two other dogs from Grants, N.M., Pixel and Pugsley. Pugsley was a neutered Husky bitch, one of the smaller dogs that Husky enthusiasts tell me do most of the actual sled-pulling.

So that was Pugsley’s raison d’être. Then Cay came to stay at my place and brought with her Keiko, an utterly untrainable (to Cay, anyhow) 80 lb./36 kg. male pit bull mix.

The mixed-breed Keiko in a quiet moment.

When the dogs had settled into a predictable dominance hierarchy, with Keiko uncomplainingly on the bottom, every night, after they ate, Pugsley would hump him. Keiko pretended she wasn’t there. For the two dogs, this served a dual purpose: for Pugsley, reassurance of her dominant position over Keiko, and for him, the ability to completely blow her off, because she was fixed, whereas Pixel, who was my mate at the time, wasn’t, and Keiko got her pregnant when… well, that’s another, sad story.

But the point here isn’t to make you any more sorry for me than you already are, it’s to explain that humping for dogs, and many other quadrupeds, is not only sexual activity but a crude form of dominance behavior, expressed by both males and females, and should be interpreted thus in non-sexual situations. The “obvious” betrays us because we are conditioned to think of humping as involving sex. Not always!

I think it can also be safely said that many, if not most, scientists familiar with marine mammals will accuse me of anthropomorphism in allowing my relationship with Dolly to develop to the degree that it did, but this isn’t true either. In fact, I can safely say that, because of my experience, few other humans are as aware of the differences between humans and dolphins as I am!

So what do I make of the late Drs. David and Melba Caldwell, co-authors of many scientific papers and the popular, anti-revisionist, pro-U.S. Navy book The World of the Bottlenose Dolphin, when they say, as they do in the book,

“Dolphins are not little people in wet suits.”

By this, I take it the really mean,

“DON’T FUCKING ANTHROPOMORPHIZE DOLPHINS!”

but they were much too polite to put it that way, at least in print.

(David & Melba chart the auditory damage done to dolphin hearing by attending orca death-metal concerts featuring extended humpback whale solos.)

On the surface, this homily seems like a foregone conclusion. As a species, bottlenose dolphins are vastly older than us, having retained their current form, including the large, 3.3 lb./1.5 kg. brain, much more convoluted than our 3 lb./1.36 kg. model, for the past 12,000,000 (that’s 12 million, for the numerically-challenged) years. We have had our current, erect primate form only since Homo Erectus about 2 million years ago, and our current level of physical and cultural evolution, Homo sapiens, for about 250,000 (one-quarter million) years at longest. Obviously, these creatures who exist without tools, weapons, protective clothing or even manipulative appendages (aside from their mouths) could teach our species a thing or two about SURVIVAL SKILLS!

What I found really surprising about Dolly’s behavior was how much it WAS similar to human behavior, and I don’t think this just my interpretation. For instance, consider the situation when I brought “Elaine,” a young woman (just turned 18, not that it should interest you) I wanted to have a serious (read sexual) relationship with, to meet Dolly, “the gentlest of all the dolphins,” her trainer and the woman who coaxed me to shoot photos for her never-written book claimed.

Dolly towing my wannabe girlfriend about 30 seconds before the next photo was taken.

Dolly, of course, had her own damned ideas!

You don’t want this to happen on a date. Trust me, you don’t.

Am I wrong when I label this behavior “jealousy”? It caught me totally unawares! I had never imagined that a creature like a dolphin could regard me as her exclusive property, to be defended against all interlopers for their attentions, whether her own species or not!

How did Dolly know, sense, or figure out, that Elaine was my girlfriend, a rival for her affections, and not my sister, or niece, or daughter? I remember that day there was absolutely no feeling that I had any type of “contact,” or mental communication, with her at all. And not for lack of trying! I was sending her my thoughts — she just wasn’t letting me know she was receiving them!

Years later, when I read David Holroyd’s account of a similar experience with a captive dolphin in Great Britain, I knew my analysis was correct. When dolphins don’t want to communicate with you, they shut down ALL the channels! That’s how you know you’re fucking up.

I could run this post a lot further, but I’ve already published 2 today, and I need some time to make these points, can’t do it willy-nilly. Bare with me, and I’ll get around to telling you why dolphins ARE sometimes “little humans in wet suits”!

(End Part 1)

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