We recently received a letter from a movie producer who said he wants to make “the definitive dolphin movie”, asking us for information about Dolphin-Assisted Therapy, a topic which we have been studying for over twenty-five years.
|Dolphin-Assisted Therapy with a severely disabled child and two dolphins eager to interact.|
As often happens, they found us through a search on the internet. And as also often happens, we gave them the information they were searching for despite their not offering to compensate us for the expertise, time, and effort we were asked to contribute. How odd it seems to us that some people who claim to know dolphins, who make a study of them, or do films about them, do not pay attention to some of the lessons to be learned from our relationships with them. Especially the lessons about cooperation, that generosity of spirit that ensures strong, healthy, and continuing bonds of trust and mutual support.
Cooperation among “dolphin people” sometimes seems to be as lacking as among any other segment of the human population. We wonder why.
Additionally, when we made an offer to be available as continuing consultants on their film project, they rejected it upon this basis:
“…unfortunately we've decided not to film any captive dolphins in the movie. We're interested in their healing abilities but serveral of the people we've worked with on the film agreed to work together on the bases of only filming wild dolphins [sic]”
How sad. Our response included these thoughts…
“It is too bad you and your cohorts are so restrictive in your thinking. We love our interactions with free-ranging dolphins, but for therapy, a safe and controlled, and easily accessible environment is necessary. For that reason, we have paid a lot of attention to those dolphins living among humans, in constructed environments.
These dolphins are either rescued or have been born among humans. Those rescued would have been dead long ago if not rescued, rehabilitated, and promised a lifetime of care. None of them have been captured, and thus are not "captive".
|Calamity, a rescued dolphin. She was rescued twice, rehabilitated and released once, only to be found again, entangled and badly injured by fishing gear. Unable to survive in the ocean, she has lived among humans for over 20 years.|
For people who love dolphins and want to extend themselves in service to them, the dolphins who have stranded and become dependent upon humans are the ones they can serve. Dolphins who live among humans are unique, in that they offer us a direct means to begin to understand them, to learn from them, to offer our compassion to another highly developed social species. Note that we say ‘learn from’ and not ‘learn about’. The learning is based on relationships, consistent sharing of the same space and time, often in physical contact with each other.
We refer here to the "trainers" and vets and volunteers and others who live with and care for dolphins as their mission in life. Those who stand along a shore and view them from afar sometimes think of themselves as loving dolphins so much that they will not engage with them directly, fearful of disturbing their freedom. These people do not understand dolphins except as abstractions, the subjects of the research of others.
Do you, or your people, see humans who live in facilities for long-term care as less than deserving of the care we give to other humans? Would you have them turned out onto the streets when they are able to walk if they continue to have other needs? Would you be willing to go into a long-term care facility and euthanise the patients? This is the position of those who see the dolphins under human care, after being rescued, as captive and unworthy of their loving attentions. In England, this is the law, to euthanise any dolphin who might survive only if it is cared for by humans. This law was brought into force by those that made ‘dolphinariums’ illegal. There is no place for them to live if they survive the beach but cannot go back to the ocean.
We have discussed these issues many times over the years with the likes of Ric O'Barry and others, who see all dolphins under human care as unworthy of this kind of love and care, who should be force-fed contraceptives to prevent their having offspring, and this kept up until they die. This, of course, ignores the continuing movement into human care around the world of dolphins whose plight calls upon human compassion to care for them. They will always be arriving on the shore, in need of human compassion. The goal of preventing procreation also ignores the social needs of the dolphins, to bear and care for their offspring.
|One of Calamity's offspring, young Bella.|
If you want to do a film that includes the whole story of our deep connection to dolphins, how can you ignore those whose sea-born freedom, their destiny, has been given into the hands of humans?
Will you also ignore the stranding organisations who pour tens of thousands of human hours and untold hundreds of thousands of dollars into caring for dolphins, some of whom will have to be given care for whatever lifetime they succeed in having? Have they created "captured" dolphins?
What are the spiritual implications of the life of a dolphin born among humans? It does not belong in the sea, and it does great service as a bridge between lives. It experiences an extraordinary life, learning, playing, sharing, singing it's musical language with other dolphins and among among humans. Is its life without meaning, or ‘inauthentic’ in some way?
|This young woman was blinded in an auto accident eleven months before this picture was taken. The opportunity to swim with Bella was her 21st birthday gift. For both Bella and this young woman, this moment was a meaningful moment.|
We have become friends (since her birth) with an extraordinary dolphin named Bella. She was born of a rescued father and a rescued mother. Her life is one of continuing exploration, delight in discovery, playful games, close physical contact with humans, and she serves as an excellent Ambassador between her species and ours. Is she to be ignored, force-fed contraceptives, and made to not experience the joys and lessons of motherhood?
What is freedom, in your view? Is it a condition only of the body or of the body and the spirit? Do you know any ‘free’ people who live in small flats in cities? We bet you do. How about humans who are trapped and constrained in their lives, who live in remote settings far from a city? It is a projection of humans that dolphins who live among humans are not ‘free’. They are at liberty, to experience life as best they can in the circumstances that destiny has wrought for them. While movement across great distance is not possible for them, the freedom to live, to learn, to express, and to experience relationships is no less than anywhere else.
One of the dolphins we have come to know, Buck, is 43 years old, and has lived among humans for 42 years. He is well adjusted, healthy, happy, friendly, and a beautiful example of a dolphin who is totally trustworthy, calm among people, able to do much to educate and inspire humans....and he has had unusually caring and non-harsh interactions with humans since his rescue at age 1. No strict operant conditioning, only a cooperative and fully interactive "training system" has ever been used with him.
The lesson here is that dolphins can, and will, do very well among us if we do not ask of them what would stress humans just as much. Inappropriate training systems, by people who have yet to grasp the full nature of the dolphin, has given us the impression that some dolphins are not able to thrive being among us. This is really a non-issue, based on limited understanding. It is a human issue, not a dolphin one.
I am saddened to think that you may take your opportunity to do "the definitive film on dolphins" and not be willing to look at the whole picture. If you do as you suggest, you will do no more than all the others who have done the same, ignoring the very important story of the deeper, closer, more personal and intimate relationships where we care for those whose destiny has brought them to live among us.
If Dolphin-Assisted Therapy is interesting to you, you will not be able to tell the whole story without filming dolphins under human care, where humans and dolphins benefit by working and playing together.”
|A profoundly autistic child who had never looked a human in the eye, nor spoken a word. After two weeks of Dolphin-Assisted Therapy, we witnessed her speaking, looking with interest into the eyes of others...a changed life.|
We have to wonder, sometimes, how deeply the thoughts of those who 'love dolphins' have gone. Caring for them, in all of the many circumstances they find themselves in, requires a many-faceted response.