“If we’d just take care of each other,
then the mysteries of life and death
would take care of themselves.”
–– Malcolm Brenner, 2-17-19
–– Malcolm Brenner, 2-17-19
Mr. Ricou Browning
Browning, Ricou & Fran
5221 SW 196th Ln
Southwest Ranches, FL 33332-1111 (public address)
Feb. 20, 2019
Dear Mr. Browning,
I briefly met you once in 1971, I think, at the Miami Seaquarium. You were very busy fixing something that had sprung a leak, as I remember, and didn’t have much time to talk. I did remark upon your having played The Creature from the Black Lagoon,of course, which makes you immortal in the eyes of monster-lovers everywhere.
Another issue has cropped up, repeatedly, over the years regarding statements by Dr. John C. Lilly about how a dolphin named Pam was treated during the filming of “Flipper!”, the original 1963 movie. According to Lilly, the scenes where the dolphin is shot with a spear gun, and beaches itself, were actually filmed that way, with the dolphin impaled by a spear.
Lilly told me (not hearsay) that Pam was shot a total of 3 times in the peduncle to get the take. The first time, she swam back and allowed the spear to be removed. The second time, she couldn’t make up her mind what to do. The third time she headed for the high seas, had to be netted with the spear in her and returned to the beach to do the scenes with Luke Halpin and Katherine Maguire. Then, apparently, the spear was removed and the wound(s) treated.
Reportedly Pam was so traumatized by this she would not approach humans again. She was sold to Dr. Lilly who reportedly used her for LSD experiments, but that’s another story.
Lilly said “you” did this, but did it actually happen, and if so, what were the circumstances? Why couldn’t the effect have been done by an optical, or some other process? Were you directing the scene, or was somebody else? What really went on? And why was the dolphin left screaming on the beach during Halpin and Maguire’s scene? I just want to know the truth, and would like to get it from your lips. Lilly also told this story to David J. Brown, who included it in an interview with Lilly in his book Mavericks of the Mind, so the story is getting around.
I would like to know the truth, not only because I’m dedicated to it in my profession as a writer, but I would hate to see your reputation sullied because of it. It’s a nasty story, and I’m sure there must be some explanation for it; the film footage is there, unfortunately, to show that it happened, and I don’t think you had any animatronics that could do a scene like that in 1963.
Sincerely, Malcolm J. Brenner
“There is a strange urge in my mind: I would like to stop behaving as if I am a rat pressing levers – even if I have to give up the cheese and go hungry for a while. I would like to step outside the conditioning maze and see what makes it tick. I wonder what I would find. Perhaps a terrible superhuman monstrosity the very contemplation of which would make a person insane? Perhaps a solemn gathering of sages? Or the maddening simplicity of unattended clockwork?”
–– Jacques Vallee, Dimensions, 1988
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on that pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
– Percy Bysshe Shelly
Malcolm J. Brenner
Punta Gorda, FL 33982
Dear Ms. James,
Thank you for inviting me to send this letter to you personally after the SPAWAR page for FOIA requests failed to deliver my message yesterday.
I am making a request under the Freedom of Information Act specifically for a paper written for Stanford Research Institute in 1987 by Drs. Edwin May and Charles Pleass titled “A Remote Action Investigation with Marine Mammals.” My search has lead me from SRI to you, via several alternative stops.
In addition, I am requesting under the Freedom of Information Act generally for any and all papers, documents, recordings or films in your possession regarding human-marine mammal telepathy, remote viewing involving marine mammals and/or anomalous cognition involving marine mammals.
I’m asking for a waiver of all fees for duplicating this material. My reasons are as follows:
SUBJECT OF THE REQUEST: Right now, a lot of people think that the Navy’s marine mammal program either uses them as living torpedoes to blow up ships or as hypodermic-tipped frogman-killing machines. You and I know different, and I’d like to let people know that the Navy has experimented with communicating with dolphins telepathically. This knowledge will materially contribute to a greater understanding of Navy operations and activities.
INFORMATIVE VALUE OF THE INFORMATION TO BE DISCLOSED: Very high. I think it will be a major revelation to the public that the Navy has attempted this kind of communication. It may also help to dispel the rumors that the Navy has employed dolphins for various kinds of lethal missions (see above).
CONTRIBUTION TO THE PUBLIC’S UNDERSTANDING: I think the public-at-large would be greatly interested in know that the US Navy has attempted human-dolphin telepathy, as it is not widely known at this time. And we pay for these experiments. I am the author of “Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover,” a 2010 non-fiction novel discussing human-dolphin telepathy, among other things. Since 1971 I have been involved in researching this subject, and have discovered several trainers who have achieved a level of non-verbal communication with their dolphins. I release this information via a web page (http://malcolmbrenner.com) and a Facebook page, as well as by press releases. Furthermore, I have been on many radio shows and podcasts talking about dolphins, including Bubba the Love Sponge and Howard Stern. I have the necessary means to get the information out there. The purpose of the information is to educate the public-at-large about the US Navy’s attempts at human-marine mammal telepathy.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CONTRIBUTION TO PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING: Nobody knows that the Navy has carried out such programs. Therefore, the significance could be significant, even revolutionary. Michael Greenwood, a former civilian scientist who worked with dolphins for the US Navy, personal told me “If the Navy would release what it knows about dolphins, it would revolutionize psychology.” I’d like to know what he was talking about, and I think other people would, too. I think we deserve to know if there are other sapient species on this planet, and how we can communicate with them. And, I should point out, our tax dollars paid for this paper to be written. If it’s not still classified, we deserve to know what’s in it, and if it is still classified, why?
COMMERCIAL INTEREST: I have no commercial interests that could benefit from this information, nor do I envision myself doing so in any way.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely, Malcolm J. Brenner
(NOTE: I was surprised as hell to discover that I had deluded myself, and persistently misread the title of Drs. May and Please’s article. It is really “A Remote Action Investigation with Marine Animals.” The animals in question were… marine algae. Dinoflagellates, which, as their name suggests, swim by thrashing their tails. The investigators were trying to influence their activity cycles remotely. Well, they are a lot less expensive to feed than dolphins… so, I re-made the request, which was directed to the FOIA officer, Liz VanHorn. I am supposed to hear about the results this Thursday, Feb.21. What will be in the grab bag, and more importantly will the U.S. Navy pay the copying costs? We’ll see…)
(This is an article I wrote for Future Life #2, May 1978, and illustrated with my own photos. I’ll get them posted here when I can find them. Meanwhile, it’s surprising how little has changed in the dolphin world.)
THE WET ALIENS
By MALCOLM BRENNER
Suppose you are tuning your radio, hunting for your favorite music, when the following blood-curdling announcement comes on: “NEWS FLASH: Scientists report the Earth is about to be invaded by extraterrestrial aliens. The invaders range in length from six to thirty feet, and their brains, much larger than ours, suggest a fantastic degree of intellectual development. They are so strong they can leap twenty feet into the air or travel two hundred and fifty miles a day for days at a time without sleep! Their jaws are filled with needle-sharp teeth, and their tails can break bones with a single blow. Furthermore, these aliens possess an unusual ‘sixth sense’ which enables them to look into our internal organs, uncovering our hidden strengths and weaknesses! Their cryptic language, undeciphered by scientists, allows them to communicate ten times faster than we do. They can hear the sound of a single drop of rain falling fifty feet away! And latest reports indicate they possess highly developed psychic abilities which allow them to read our minds and second-guess our thoughts. Prepare yourself!”
“What is this?” you might wonder. “Another War of the Worlds prank? Should I get a gun; clean out the old fallout shelter? Or should I pray?” But wait! Before you can stir, the announcer’s back on the air.
“NEWS FLASH: More on those alien invaders. Scientists report that they are not warlike, but peaceful! Their astounding powers are used only for gathering food and for protection against their enemies. Despite their great strength, they are helpless under Earth ’s gravity and can exist only in a weightless environment. Our air is corrosive to their skin and will kill them in twenty-four hours unless they are constantly bathed in fluids from their home world. Their huge brains have produced no form of technology, and many scientists believe them to be no smarter than dogs. They lack clothes, shelter, and even the most rudimentary tools. They have rescued humans from mortal danger, on occasion, and they have built-in smiles! Congress has imposed fines up to $20,000 and jail penalties up to one year for killing or injuring them; but scientists studying the aliens report several thousand are being held captive around the world, and despite government protection more than ﬁfry thousand of them may be killed next year — accidentally!”
By now you’d know it was a hoax — but you’d be wrong! These aliens are not the dream of a science-fiction writer, nor the creation of some Hollywood special-effects department. They are real. They have existed on Earth for over thirty million years, their form unchanged, their roots going back before the beginning of human evolution. We call them dolphins.
All of the above statements about dolphins are true, including those that seem contradictory — depending on whom you choose to believe. They reflect the current scientific confusion about dolphins, but it’s nothing new. Throughout history, dolphins have either been worshipped as demigods, or devoured as delicacies, with no middle ground. Prehistoric Norwegian hunters carved them on the walls of caves. The author of the biblical Book of Job held a creature called Leviathan in high esteem; we now call the same creature orca, or killer whale, an overgrown dolphin with an overblown reputation for ferocity. The Nabataeans, a pre-Christian race of Bedouin merchants, were so fond of dolphins they carved them into the statutes of their gods, posing a riddle to the archaeologists who discovered their crumbled temples — in the middle of the Negev desert! The Greeks were infatuated with them; killing a dolphin, the sacred beast of Sun-God Apollo, was an unforgivable sin. Greek authors told stories of their friendliness which were considered fantasy until well into the 20th century.
Pliny the Elder, a Greek naturalist, is credited with discovering that they are not fish but warm-blooded, air-breathing mammals, like ourselves. The Romans and Polynesians ate them, but the Chinese and Vietnamese held them to be divine. The truth about dolphins is no less astounding than the many myths surrounding them, but until the 1950s almost nothing was known about them. Dolphins had been kept in oceanariums since the early 1900s, but not until World War II and the development of underwater microphones was their astonishing sense of echolocation (or “sonar,” to use a military term) discovered.
Like bats, dolphins emit high-pitched clicks, which sound like a door with rusty hinges. Originating in the larynx and in nasal sacks below the blowhole (nostrils), these clicks are reﬂacted off the dolphin’s concave skull and through an oil-filled ‘acoustic lens’ in its domed forehead. By varying the shape of this lens, the dolphin can spread a wide beam of sound for miles under the sea, or focus it with laser like intensity to nearby objects. The “sonar” pulses are ultrasonic to humans, but the dolphins hear their echoes bouncing off objects. By listening carefully, a dolphin can determine the size, distance, and shape of an object; what it is made of; whether it is alive or nonliving; whether it is approaching or retreating, and how fast; whether it is hollow or solid, textured or smooth — everything but its color! Since animal ﬂash is 75% saltwater, dolphins can “X-ray” each other — or humans – with harmless beams of sound. A dolphin’s enormous and complex brain enables it to process all this information instantly. The brain of a bottlenose dolphin — the species seen in oceanariums and on TV — is about 10% larger than a human brain, and appears to be superior to ours as a thinking machine. It has more folds on the neocortex, where rational thought originates, and the density of its neurons is greater. The only animals with larger brains are elephants and some whales, the dolphins’ distant cousins. Some scientists believe the extra brain matter is occupied with controlling the dolphin’s large bodies, or analyzing their complex echolocation. But whale sharks and dinosaurs possessed huge bodies and very small brains, and bats are able to use their “sonar” with brains that fit on a dime!So these theories do not wash.
Given this fantastic biological computer, you might think scientists would have long ago recognized the dolphin as a creature of unique intelligence. Not so! Dolphins lack hands and, being self- sufficient, have no need for human technology. Their oceanic lifestyle makes them difficult to observe. Not until 1955 did anyone wonder what the dolphins might be doing with all those brains, aside from chasing fish. In that year Dr. John C. Lilly, a young psychiatrist and neurophysiologist, was conducting sensory-isolation experiments for the Air Force to determine what would happen if an astronaut were cut off from contact with Earth. Lilly simulated weightless outer space by immersing himself in a tank of warm sea- water. Breathing through a facemask, isolated from all sensory inputs, Lilly experienced incredible hallucinations and proved that the brain can generate its own ghostly form of reality from within. He also began to wonder what the mind of a creature living under such conditions would be like. He conducted a series of experiments on the dolphins at Marineland near St. Augustine, Florida. While anesthetizing them to implant electrodes he made his first startling discovery — when a dolphin loses consciousness, it stops breathing! Unlike other animals, each breath for a dolphin requires an act of will. His first few experiments proved fatal to his subjects and angered the Marineland staff, some of whom have not yet forgiven him. After developing more humane techniques, he was able to “map” the dolphin’s brains and determine which areas controlled what behavior.
During these experiments, Lilly noticed that the dolphins in his laboratory behaved more like curious humans than white rats or rhesus monkeys. They second-guessed his experiments and tried to imitate the voices of his assistants! Fascinated, Lilly ended his brain research and began studying the dolphin’s sound emissions. He found they produce complex trains of whistles and squawks with which they communicate. In 1961, convinced of the existence of a dolphin “language,” Lilly received a NASA grant on the ground that his research might help us better understand communications from other planets — when we receive them.
He quickly encountered hostility from other scientists. Like early UFO investigators, Lilly found himself up against a wall of mockery and prejudice. His recordings of dolphins mimicking human speech were not convincing to untrained ears. His remarks were sensationalized by a press more eager for headlines than the plodding methodology of science. His stories of “intelligent” behavior were laughed at by cetologists familiar only with robotized oceanarium dolphins. Even the basic premise of his research was challenged; any idiot could see that human beings were the most intelligent creatures on earth — otherwise the dolphins would be keeping us captive!
Undaunted, challenged by the alien mind of the dolphin, Lilly began a series of experiments on his own mind, using sensory isolation and the then-legal drug LSD. Tripping among his dolphins, he realized that, if he was right, keeping them captive was not just an insult; it changed them, in the same way involuntary imprisonment changes a free man into a slave. The dolphins locked in his lab were not the same creatures as those roaming the wild seas; they were products of his experimental parameters.
“I felt,” he has since admitted, “like I was running a concentration camp for dolphins.”
As he considered closing the lab and setting his subjects free they began to die mysteriously, starving or drowning themselves. In 1967 he released the survivors, ending his research. Lilly remains much-hated among professional cetologists, partly for his “unscientific” theories, partly for his early brain-probings, and partly for his drug experiments, which nearly cost him his life on two occasions. If he were the only person to report such experiences with dolphins one might well doubt him, but a small number of scientists and laymen, fascinated by the idea of an Earthly non-human intelligence, began their own investigations. Some supported Lilly’s theories; others sought to disprove them. Still others wavered.
This is typical of the problems scientists encounter when they attempt to measure the dolphin’s intelligence. Its sense and thought processes are so different from ours that it’s hard to develop a meaningful test! But there are still profound mysteries surrounding them. For almost every fact postulated by a respected dolphin researcher, an equally illustrious scientist can be found to contradict it!
For example, Lilly claims that dolphins can produce a “distress whistle” when in danger or pain. This call, described by him as a whistle of rising, then falling pitch (like an inverted V) brings other dolphins to the rescue. Rene-Guy Busnel, a French cetologist who works with Jacques Cousteau, agrees about the “distress whistle” but insists it’s exactly the opposite — falling, then rising in pitch (like an upright V)! The Caldwells, equally respected, maintain there is no such thing as a distress whistle. According to them, dolphins have only one whistle apiece, which they repeat over and over to tell other dolphins “here I am,” like Kurt Vonnegut’s mythical Mercurian harmoniums.
Are you sufficiently confused?
One person who shares Lilly’s views is Ric O’Barry, formerly a trainer for Ivan Tors’ Flipper TV series. After working with dolphins for years, O’Barry concluded that the dolphins were not only smarter than he was – they were sometimes able to read his mind, learning complicated tricks faster than seemed possible. He now devotes his time to saving the whales and dolphins from extinction.
Another believer is Michael Greenwood, formerly dolphin trainer for the U.S. Navy and CIA. Greenwood became interested in marine mammals during the Navy’s Sea Lab program. Dolphins can dive to 600 feet and return in three minutes without being crushed by the pressure, equal to 200 atmospheres, or dying from the bends. Having gained some experience training sea lions, Greenwood was asked to take over a top-secret dolphin project in the Florida Keys. The mission, under a conservationist cover story, was to train dolphins to run intelligence missions against communist Cuba, planting instruments on atom-powered Soviet warships which would transmit data on the size and power of their nuclear reactor. The CIA and Navy factions on the project were warring with each other; the electronic equipment malfunctioned; and the dolphins were poorly trained! Greenwood became convinced it was immoral to train such intelligent and friendly creatures for warlike ends. He, too, came to believe they could telepathically read his mind. He now fears they are facing a slaughter by the world’s naval powers, who are unable to tell an innocent dolphin from one trained for espionage.
But the dolphins are already facing a wipeout. For the past fifteen years, tuna fishermen have been killing hundreds of thousands in the huge purse-seine nets used to trap yellowfin tuna, which are packaged for sale as “chunk light.” The dolphins and tuna stick together — no one knows why — and when the fish are netted the dolphins panic. Their “sonar” beams pass uselessly through the net’s mesh, and in their confusion they may become tangled and drown, or, worse yet, be dragged on board and crushed in the machinery. In 1971, an estimated 320,000 were killed. Since then the numbers have been dropping, thanks to new types of nets, new catching techniques, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which sets yearly quotas on the number killed. But the battle isn’t won: the tuna fishermen, chafing under what they feel are unfair restrictions, talk of taking their boats to nations without quotas.
Dolphin ESP is a highly puzzling issue, one that is infrequently discussed. Studies on humans show that, contrary to most science fiction, strong emotions, rather than powerful intellect, are responsible for telepathy, and this also seems true in human-dolphin mental contacts. People who see dolphins as highly intelligent are more open to psychic contacts than those who regard them as big fish; familiarity with dolphin ways also increases the likelihood of interspecies ESP. People who have had psychic experiences with dolphins find them difficult to describe.
Don’t rush down to your local oceanarium expecting to pick up dolphin brainwaves, however. While you might, it is highly unlikely, unless you’re exceptionally psychic. As Dr. Lilly discovered, captive dolphins are a different breed from their wild counterparts. While some thrive in captivity, many more have died from it, and the survivors frequently display spirits broken by the rigorous behavior-modification techniques used to produce oceanarium shows. Conditions vary greatly from one establishment another: some take great pride in maintaining healthy, happy specimens, while in others the death rate is staggering. Stories of trainers mistreating their dolphins out of malice or ignorance are confined to backroom discussions, where the public can’t overhear.
Sometimes the dolphins bear mistreatment stoically; sometimes they retaliate! Some dolphins have been kept for years in lagoons with nothing more than a line of ﬂoats keeping them in; others have ripped steel fences apart to escape! It’s impossible to generalize about dolphins for the same reason it’s impossible to generalize about humans: no two are alike. But there is no doubt that the “happy dolphin” image perpetuated by oceanariums and the media is a lie.
The Flipper series shows them as happy-go-lucky types, fawning all over their human masters, Kenny and Bud. The movie The Day of the Dolphin, while somewhat more realistic, still showed dolphins as being childlike, naive, and gullible. Trainers know better: dolphins can be sweet, even sexy, but they can also be deceptive, arrogant, and demonically cunning. The recent movie Orca, the Killer Whale did little to change the image of the most maligned creature since the snake. Although the orca saves the heroine, Rachel Bedford (a sympathetic biologist played by Charlotte Rampling) from a shark at the beginning, and spares her life at the end, in between these chivalrous deeds it devours Jack Campbell’s (Richard Harris’) crew, sinks a fishing fleet, sets a town on fire, and rips a woman’s leg off! Dino De Laurentiis would be well advised to restrict his swimming to pools from now on.
Paul Spong, a Canadian biologist who has studied orcas for the past six years, knows better. When a group of orcas swim by his research station in Alert Bay, Spong may hop into a one-man kayak and paddle out to meet the “deadly” killer whales. When he plays his ﬂute to them, the whales stop roaming and listen raptly. If we stop to think about it, aren’t humans the real monsters? Orcas are captured for oceanariums with concussion grenades, and catchers show no qualms about breaking up pods that may have existed for centuries.
The future holds greater promise for interspecies communications. While the scientific community wrangles, several groups are planning to decipher the dolphins’ language. The Dolphin Embassy Project, based in Australia, is headed by Doug Michaels, of San Francisco. This group is building a ferroconcrete “ﬂoating embassy,” loaded with electronics, which will function as a meeting place where humans can observe and interact with wild dolphins along the Great Barrier Reef. Plans call for the expedition to begin in April, 1978.
Members of the Canadian Greenpeace Project have, for the last several years, been literally laying their lives on the line to save the great whales. Using rubber Zodiac boats operating from a converted fishing vessel, Greenpeacers have been harassing Soviet and Japanese whaling fleets in the North Pacific, gathering evidence of illegal undersized kills and producing a documentary film. On two occasions Russian whalers have fired harpoons at whales the group was guarding, narrowly missing the humans!
Dr. Lilly, too, is returning to the dolphins with a new plan. He is programming a sophisticated computer to act as a human-dolphin translator, linked by radio to communications equipment in a sailboat. Lilly hopes that, by working with wild dolphins, he will both avoid the problems that plagued his earlier work, and vindicate his theories.
If any of these groups are successful, the benefits to humanity could be endless. We will have established communication with minds perhaps greater than our own; we will receive an outside view of ourselves from creatures who watched us evolve. The dolphins and whales could help us control ocean pollution and aid in the search for undersea energy sources. They might be able to shed some light on the persistent myth of Atlantis. And who knows? By the time we encounter real aliens from outer space, we humans might be able to say “Hello!” to them in their own language — with the smiling dolphins by our sides.
The Greeting, © 1970, 2010 Eyes Open Media.
Book Review: The Perfect Pair, Book III: Shards from the Mirror
By David C. Holroyd and Tracy J. Holroyd. 2016, Matador Press.
In the mid-1950’s, Leon Festinger, an American psychologist, infiltrated a UFO cult. The leader channeled a warning of the end of the world – but the cult’s members would be saved by a flying saucer. When the expected deadline passed, the Earth endured and no saucer materialized, the leader issued a revelation: Their faith changed the aliens’ minds! No Earth cataclysms! The members of the previously media-shy group went out… and began to proselytize.
What does this have to do with dolphin-training and Shards from the Mirror, the final volume of David and Tracy Holroyd’s The Perfect Pair trilogy?
Festinger labeled the mental anguish that comes from holding two mutually-exclusive concepts “cognitive dissonance,” and those two words popped to mind as I read about “David Capello’s” downfall. That was the stage name of an English dolphin trainer who shot to fame in the early 1970’s for his “perfect pair,” two dolphins who performed in flawless synchronization.
Because, by the time this book opens, Capello is experiencing growing cognitive dissonance. On one hand, his dolphins’ act wows audiences, makes him famous and makes a lot of money for the entertainment conglomerate he works for. On the other, he knows a concrete tank is no place for dolphins, he’s seen them suffer and die and he’s totally fed-up with bottom-line managers who have no fondness for them.
Volume I, The Enchanted Mirror, chronicles how young Capello falls into the job and succeeds beyond his wildest dreams. The first dolphins he meets, Duchess and Herb’e, are not only a perfect pair, but can communicate with him mentally!
As its title suggests, The Mirror Cracks recounts not merely Capello’s increasing success as a trainer but his growing frustration with the callous corporate bureaucracy. Particularly troublesome is his general manager Tommy Backhouse, a besuited corporate suck-up more concerned with the dolphinarium’s profits than the welfare of his performers, dolphin or human. Backhouse’s attitude is best summed up by his oft-repeated remark “Anybody with a whistle and a bucket of fish can be a dolphin trainer.”
This rather grates on Capello, who not only slaves to make his dolphin show the best in Europe but teaches Scouse, a blind dolphin, to perform using his unique “psychic training” method!
Backhouse, who fancies he knows everything about dolphins, isn’t impressed with Capello’s Jedi mind-tricks, and his requested raises (he’s a “presenter,” not a “trainer,” Backhouse reminds him) keep getting denied by the main office.
Worse, Backhouse pinches pennies by physically endangering the dolphins, like refusing to dump the dirty tank water, or expecting them to perform to exhaustion. And Capello suspects his boss is just waiting for the right moment to grab all the credit for his achievements.
When Shards opens, Capello is wondering if he hasn’t gone too far. He’s thrown his weight around trying to get what his performers need, and now the head office is talking about his mysterious way with dolphins… dolphins who won’t work for anyone else!
Even with all this hanging over him, Capello pushes forward, trying to train Duchess and Herb’e to do a double forward somersault. It proves difficult for an unexpected reason: Herb’e gets the trick, but wanting to perform solo, he won’t teach Duchess how it’s done! Duchess, in turn, has started courting Capello, and won’t allow a woman presenter he’s fond of in the pool! And earlier, Capello was freaked by the way his dolphins ignored a dying comrade.
These revelations mark Capello’s growing disenchantment with dolphin ethics. As marine mammologists are fond of reminding those of us who have dared read the late Dr. John C. Lilly’s scientifically embargoed books, “Dolphins are not little humans in wet suits!”
Like those of us who have been close to them need to be reminded! Once you’re in their environment, they appear quite large, and they’re happy to let you know they are now in charge!
Only something as dissociating as knowing you are harming the creatures you love could explain why, when Backhouse gets in his face once too often, Capello grabs a fire hose and blasts the man off his feet, then has to be physically restrained from pushing him into an empty concrete tank.
Backhouse, of course, tries to fire Capello, but the head office intervenes, instead transferring their golden-boy trainer to another dolphinarium far from Backhouse’s lair, a place called West Coast, where seemingly nothing ever goes right.
Reluctantly preparing to move his pair, Capello recounts one of the book’s strangest scenes. With the dolphins slung in canvas stretchers, the attending veterinarian notices that Duchess has outgrown hers, and he proposes to cut an eye-hole in the fabric to avoid a possible injury. Almost immediately, Duchess starts screaming in Capello’s head, projecting images of blood and pain. When the surgeon pulls out a scalpel and goes to make the cut, Capello, acting as if entranced, slides his hand between Duchess and the blade. Need I say he ends up at the local emergency room, bleeding profusely? The veterinarian, it seems, slipped.
What happens next becomes the crux of Capello’s disenchantment with the “magic mirror” of dolphin training. While he and the vet are tending his wound, Backhouse vindictively orders the helpless dolphins placed in an unheated truck on a cold night. When Capello returns two hours later with a few new stitches, he finds to his horror that his dolphins are freezing, and they have shut him out of their minds. Especially Herb’e, who has fled where humans cannot follow, a dark corner of the dolphin psyche that marks a fatal disengagement from life.
Having previously dealt with force-feeding other dying dolphins, Capello is determined not to give up on Herb’e, and to restore his perfect pair to their former glory.
It takes lavish care and a diagnosis of Herb’e’s illness, a viral infection, to bring the pair back from death’s jaws, and during this interval Scouse worms his way onto Capello’s center stage. Now the trainer must juggle not only human politics but the politics of his dolphins, too! (In defense of dolphins at large, I will ask the reader not to judge them by their behavior in captivity.)
In an odd twist of fate, the determined young trainer makes Scouse a star in spite of his disability. The dolphin is eager to perform, and while directing him through mental images, Capello has the bizarre experience of bi-location – of seeing both himself and Scouse performing their act from a remote point of view…
By this point, the reader may be granted some skepticism, and rightly so, if the reader has no experience with ESP or dolphins. However, some of us who have are sharing notes and rapidly approaching the conclusion that what Capello calls his “connection” with his dolphins and I call my “telepathy” with Dolly bear striking resemblances that can’t readily be explained by chance alone. It was even investigated by the U.S. military at least 31 years ago, yet it’s still classified! What did they find, and what methods did they use? While I have no ready explanation for this, I am working to make it a recognized phenomenon.
In this final volume, Capello at last muses about the dolphin behaviors that have puzzled and infuriated him, something he’s only given passing thoughts to before:
What if dolphins view life and death differently from us humans? That would explain why your Atlanteans constantly show indifference when in the presence of a dying colleague – a phenomenon you’ve never been able to get your head around.
What if they view their bodies as a mere conveyance – temporary vessels to be discarded when deemed no longer of use? An ethos that could well explain their suicide beachings in the wild. A view of death not as an end, but as a new beginning… in which case, you’ve been totally wrong in your previous evaluation of their attitude…
It’s not that they are uncaring; it’s simply that they have a different set of beliefs.
Blimey, Capello, what an idiot you’ve been – some expert you turned out to be!
As is often the case, dolphins are full of surprises, and Capello, unlike some people, is humble enough to admit it. For a while he’s finally able to concentrate on training the mostly rehabilitated perfect pair for the double forward flip, the culmination of a “shadow ballet” performance that will win them (and their proud trainer) a permanent gold star on the Dolphin Walk of Fame. But he can’t get Herb’e back to his old self, and soon Duchess is battering her former partner and showing an unwelcome interest in teaming up with Scouse for work and play.
When his latest request for a raise is rudely refused, Capello realizes he’s being played, that Backhouse and his people have out-maneuvered him. He has two equally repugnant choices, to remain in the sub-par trainer position under the thumb of a man he hates, or to quit and cut his telepathically-trained performers loose with the same man. Reluctantly, he decides to deprogram the dolphins for his inevitable departure. Cognitive dissonance seems to be the inevitable fate of any dolphin trainer stupid enough to care.
But the next blow is fatal: bad fish. Not just a few, but a prime supplier sending its good fish to restaurants and the rest to the dolphins, who only rate “animal feed.” This disruption is too much for the barely-recovered Herb’e, and Capello realizes to his shock that his beloved performer is slipping away. When management learns they’re about to lose half their top money-making duo, they do what any sensible executives would do: they throw gas on the flames. They send Backhouse to manage West Coast.
The confrontation, as inevitable as a Main Street shootout in an old western movie, takes place with Capello in the water supporting Herb’e, who is clearly on his last legs (pardon the meaningless expression). Distracted, Capello loses track of him, and the dolphin sinks. He somehow drags the 180-kg creature back to the surface, but it’s too late. Shattered, Capello stalks off, leaving Herb’e’s lifeless body for the others to deal with. He makes the last entry in the dolphin’s logbook, and in a final act of defiance, steals all of Herb’e’s logs from the company.
But like the inevitable resurrection of an immortal monster in a horror movie, things aren’t quite over yet. Capello goes home, where his dolphin odyssey started four years before with his mother’s innocent suggestion he answer a classified ad. And for several nights, he’s bothered by dreams where he violently attacks the props and scenery at West Coast. And early morning phone calls, which his mother answers, asking what he’s doing there when he’s been banished from all the company’s dolphinariums?
The dolphins have apparently taught Capello how to astral project, or create what Tibetan Buddhist monks would call a tulpa – a copy of a person composed of mental energy but capable of acting in the real world. And one last frantic “call” from an agonized Scouse sends him rushing back to West Coast in person, where he finds the dolphin just deceased. A nameless caller later informs Capello that an autopsy showed Scouse was horribly murdered, and that Duchess has followed her partner Herb’e into depression and death.
This being a true story, nobody gets what they deserve in the end. Capello goes back to his father’s sign business and tries to forget he ever trained dolphins. Backhouse buys the first dolphins sold by the notorious Taiji drive hunts, and winds up a celebrity dolphin expert and honored naturalist on a popular English TV show.
Years later, Capello visits an American uncle who drags him to a dolphin show at the local zoo. Capello reluctantly attends, only to find his fame precedes him: his success with the perfect pair hasn’t been forgotten after all. Capello closes with every ex-dolphin-trainer’s powerful suggestion: Don’t buy a ticket!
And now, after four decades of silence, he is sharing this tale with everyone. It is a truly remarkable story as much for his achievements and perseverance as any paranormal content, but my high praise for Capello’s telling of it doesn’t change the fact that, at 350 pages, Shards is not only the longest of the three volumes, but the weakest stylistically.
In contrast to the first two books, which open with vivid flashbacks, the beginning of Shards is scattered and unfocused, which leads to confusion about where Capello is and what’s happening. When the narrative finally settles down around page 10 and the paranormal themes emerge, the Holroyds, an unusual brother-sister writing team, seem determined to spin out Capello’s descriptions of his astral encounters by employing every ellipsis (you, know, those three dots…) in the United Kingdom! I know they’re trying to capture the disoriented, shifting feeling of an interspecies mind-meld, but the scene where Capello saves Duchess’s eyesight goes on with ellipsis after ellipsis for four bloody pages, and we get the point, already!
I can’t blame the Holroyds too much, because I tried the same literary tactic in my novel Wet Goddess for exactly the same reason, and concluded there were better ways to achieve the same result without annoying the reader. Compared to the first two volumes, Shards feels a bit rushed and padded, in need of some good stiff editing. Perhaps if the Holroyds do another printing, they will consider this suggestion.
But in relation to the importance of Capello’s moving and momentous story, this is minor carping. I’m thankful that he’s finally chosen to share his saga to create the perfect pair with us, not only because it validates my own strange experiences, but because we cannot have too much truth about how the dolphin enslavement industry destroys and consumes the self-aware beings it employs. Along with the revelations of Frank Robson and the confessions of Ric O’Barry and John Hargrove, The Perfect Pair trilogy deserves a space on every true dolphin-lover’s bookshelf.
(Malcolm J. Brenner is the author of the 2010 novel Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Loverand two other books. He lives in Punta Gorda, Fla.)