Just How Unique are We? Part 4

The Sleep-Talk of a Dolphin
Dolphins may sleep-talk in whale song, according to French researchers who've recorded the marine mammals making the non-native sounds late at night. The five dolphins, which live in a marine park in  France, have heard whale songs only in recordings played during the day around their aquarium. But at night, the dolphins seem to mimic the recordings during rest periods, a possible form of sleep-talking. And you thought your nocturnal mumblings were weird.

Dolphin with a hook in its mouth and the fishing line around its flipper seeks help from human divers.
thanks, Tony

My friend, Katy Pye's, book Elizabeth's Landing will be published in April. Her blog is below.
If you love sea turtles, this one is a winner.

Tanya and Terry

 I never met Terry, but feel like I knew her because Tanya loved her so much. She has pictures of her in her house, and a couple of her paintings. That's right. Terry, as many of us have, turned to art in her old age. Here's Tanya's story. Ginny

"I heard this week that an old friend had passed away. Though I wasn't able to visit her often, or talk to her in her language, I always considered her a very dear friend. She apparently died of natural causes after a long life, though we are about the same age (delicately put--both in our early 50s.) She was loved by many, including me. I first met her 24 year ago when I handed her a fish...

My friend was a dolphin named Terry. She was born in the wild but lived most of her life in a Marine Park. When I met her, she was part of a research gourp that was trying to understand more about language by seeing how well we could communicate with another species. In my opinion, the score was: human understanding dolphins, 2; Dolphin understanding humans, 10.

I had just started volunteering to help care for and entertain the research dolphins on weekends. I was being trained to feed Terry and Circe, two females in this group of four dolphins. The first time I tried to hand a fish to a very large animal with a very large mouth full of sharp gleaming teeth, I fumbled. Terry snatched the fish from the water and gave me a look that clearly said, "you aren't very good at this, are you?"

I got better as Terry trained me. If I tossed fish fast enough, she wouldn't clack her jaw at me. Terry was a Mom at that point. Her calf was Panama, and she was a loving but stern Mamma. Folks asked whether I petted Terry or went into swim with her. Nope. I saw how she disciplined Panama when he stepped out of line and not speaking dolphin, I figured I'd break and/or bleed.

Telling the dolphins apart was hard. Some humans looked at the dorsal fin or tail to see a distinct mark. Terry had a notch in her tail, but I could tell her apart from Circe by her facial markings, and especially her eyes. When Terry looked at you, you stood up a bit straighter, like you were about to get an order. You probably were.

Dolphins have no problem telling humans apart. I think I was known as the 'hula hoop girl.' I'm tall with long legs so I could run around the inside lip of their tank dragging a hula hoop in the water while dolphins chased me. If I turned to go the other way, the dolphins turned as a group, making a wave that I'm sure was intended to knock me in the water so they could capture the hoop. I don't know if any other volunteers played this game with them, but whenever I came in for my shift, Terry would grab the hula hoop and bring it to me. 

I stopped volunteering when life became too complicated. Many years later, after several moves and a marriage, I returned to California and reconnected with my friend, Mike, who worked at the park where Terry was still living. Mike made it possible for me to see Terry again.

We were both much older, of course. People asked if Terry remembered me. I'm not sure; she didn't say. If she had other distractions, she hardly noticed me. If she was bored or I hung around long enough, then she'd come over to visit and seemed as though she liked having me around. Maybe she remembered me, or maybe she was just trying to figure out why my eyes leaked.

The last time I saw Terry, she was pink and chubby, with many less teeth, but she was clearly in her element. Her caretaking humans called her a 'lap dolphin' as like many of us, she'd mellowed with age and less child-rearing repsonsibilities. She was out where she got lots of attention, in a tank full of young males that she enjoyed bossing around. She was helping her humans with the 'swim along' program, primarily by allowing the young and/or scared humans to grab her dorsal fin and have their swim suit bottoms pulled off by the force of her wake. Old dolphin, my eye. I swear she laughed. In between swims, she slept--like any grandma. I got a kiss that I'm forever grateful for.

The desire to connect with other species drives many humans. I'm certainly one of them. I've traveled to distant places to just to look in the eye of an animal that doesn't know me to see if we can connect. It's a moving experience whether or not it is only in my imagination. Knowing and loving Terry is a huge part of who I am today. I'm honored that I was allowed to her friend, and know her name. In my vanity, I imagine that she knew mine."

Terry, the artist

Taj and Terry

These pictures were taken by Mike Owyang. (Look at my opening post for another of his wonderful pictures.)

Taj was 71 and, at the time of this picture, the oldest living Asian elephant in North America. Terry, who died two days ago was thought to be one of the oldest dolphins in captivity. She was 51.

Mike and my friend, Tanya, were very close friends of Terry and I asked Tanya to write about her. That will be in the next posting.

Got an itch?

Another picture from Baja. I was in the other panga when I took this picture. I know it looks like the whale has either been hit in the head by the little boat, or is trying to consume it bow first, but she's really just using in for a 'toothpick.' Or her baleen itched.

Gray whales are baleen whales. Orcas, dolphins, and Sperm whales are in the toothed whale family. Baleen functions like a giant sieve. The whale vacuums up microscopic organisms from the sea floor, and pushes the water and sand out through the baleen with its thousand pound tongue. What's left is dinner.