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Archive for the ‘Cetaceans’ Category

The whales are so smart they know that even if they hear the cranes coming up the pathway [to lift them out of the pool] or certainly if they see them, they won’t separate, they won’t allow it to happen because they know the possibility … that one of the members of their family or their social group could be taken away from them. … You’ll [hear] extremely upset vocalizations from whales that are … being taken away, and then the whales that they’re being taken away from.

— Former Orca Trainer for SeaWorld

This reminds me of the practice in human slavery, when female slaves were forced to “breed” children so they could be sold off as quickly as possible for profit.

SeaWorld has never really recovered after its drop in stock price and popularity resulting from the movie Blackfish. Recently I have seen prime-time TV advertisement by SeaWorld defending its practices.

Here is another, somewhat older website about the Miami Seaquarium – called in parody Seaprison.

We consumers can help by not patronizing businesses that enslave animals to make human profits.

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Here is an inspiring video of a dolphin basically asking a diver for help – and then getting it. Events like this confirm to me that animals are not different in kind from humans. I know that religious people like to say that God made the animals, and then he made man and woman. We also like to rationalize that somehow we’re the crowning of the animal kingdom, and therefore we have the right to use and abuse animals as we see fit – and hunt and kill them when it pleases us.

There are so many examples of animal intelligence, the video below being just one of them, that clearly illustrate thinking, planning, collaboration, interspecies trust and interspecies communication. There is nothing that we have that dolphins don’t have, other than – we grew up on land and developed digits that we can use to manipulate things, like tangled fishing lines – and dolphins grew up in water and developed advanced echolocation techniques at the expense of having digits.

Watch this video and then tell me again that a dolphin is “just an animal.”

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I have been blasting hunting of cetaceans in a few posts lately, and those posts are getting a lot of views. The issue of whaling, or rather the controversy of whaling, seems to have surfaced with the public lately. My views on dolphins and whales become very obvious when you search the category box on this blog for “Cetaceans.” Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading Dan Wall’s piece on whaling from the Alaska Native perspective. Here is an excerpt:

The issue isn’t simply a question of whether or not to support or oppose hunting, fur, whaling, and so on; it’s also a question of how you frame the issues. There is a big difference between the commercial fur industry and the hand-made clothes of locals who’ve eaten the meat previously kept warm by that same fur. Likewise, there is a big difference between a whale taken for commercial purposes and those whose blubber will be shared out to the community. Whether or not that settles the issue is another question, but quite often I think people simply fail to notice the difference.

— Dan Wall

Check out Dan’s full article at Northier Than Thou for an entirely different angle on whaling.

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Time Japan Dolphins

from Time Magazine, Feb 10, 2014 – page 9

The Prime Minister of Japan, one of the most industrialized nations in the world, actually defended the Japanese practice of Dolphin hunting since it was “deeply rooted in their culture.”

What a lame excuse!

The Korowai tribe of south-eastern Papua is thought to be one of the last surviving tribes in the world engaging in cannibalism. Obviously, cannibalism is deeply rooted in their culture. Do we therefore allow it to happen?

The Mayans, just a few centuries ago, made human sacrifices to their gods. They tore the beating hearts of their victims out of their chests, before they decapitated them. This practice was deeply rooted in their culture. Would it therefore be acceptable to let it continue today?

Early Christians stoned female adulterers to death if they got caught. Being passed down from the Old Testament, this law was deeply rooted in the Christian culture. Do we stone adulterers today?

I think the Japanese Prime Minister should have more sense in 2014 and set an example that his nation can be proud of.

The Japanese should stop hunting dolphins and whales.

Related Posts:

Are Orcas more Human than Humans?

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In recent weeks, headlines about the slaughter of dolphins by the Japanese have surfaced again. This slaughter was made famous, or rather infamous, by the movie The Cove, which I have reviewed here. The Japanese have routinely and systematically slaughtered dolphins and whales, treating them as meat animals. In their defense, they point to the American slaughter of chickens, cattle and pigs by the millions. On the surface, this looks like a valid argument, painting us as hypocrites.

I just happen to believe that cetaceans are sentient and therefore not a subservient species to man, but an equal that we should treat as such. My standards for dolphins are different from those for cattle. I know not everyone will agree with me on that.

faroe-islands-whale1

The picture above, however, is not from Japan, but from the Faroe Islands, a part of Denmark. And yes, the red in the water is blood from the slaughter of pilot whales by the villagers for meat and sport.

Warning – Pictures of Shocking Animal Abuse and Slaughter

This picture, with others linked to here, has been called an email hoax.

However, I have found corroboration by Hoax-Slayer, a site dedicated to debunking email hoaxes, and they have confirmed that the story is true. This has been going on for centuries and it’s part of their culture. The males do the killing, while the females look on.

The whales are herded into bays by boats and even jet skis, where they are dragged onto the beach by hooks into the blow holes. Then the men cut their spinal chords. Earth First gives much more gruesome details in this online article.

Someone from Sweden commented on this post and pointed out that the Faroe Islands were self-ruling since 1948, all laws are local under the Faroe Home Rule Act.  Denmark has sovereignty on some things regarding the Faroe Islands, but not local laws, which are made 100% by the Faroese themselves. He points out that it’s for meat, and not sport.

The Faroe Islanders kill pilot whales for meat, and ritual, as it seems to me. It’s not just the Japanese.

And where are the Faroe Islands?

Faroe Islands

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SeaWorld’s stock is down 25% from its high point. The company blames it on “bad weather” affecting theme park attendance. However, the company is aware of the negative publicity brought by the surprise hit movie Blackfish. Before going public, the company described the risks to its business:

An accident or an injury at any of our theme parks or at theme parks operated by competitors, particularly an accident or an injury involving the safety of guests and employees, that receives media attention, is the topic of a book, film, documentary or is otherwise the subject of public discussions, may harm our brands or reputation, cause a loss of consumer confidence in the Company, reduce attendance at our theme parks and negatively impact our results of operations. Such incidents have occurred in the past and may occur in the future. In addition, other types of adverse publicity concerning our business or the theme park industry generally could harm our brands, reputation and results of operations. The considerable expansion in the use of social media over recent years has compounded the impact of negative publicity.

Statements by the company try to discredit the movie, calling it “shamefully dishonest.” SeaWorld recently took out a full-page advertisement in seven major newspapers condemning “inaccurate reports” while reiterating its advocacy for killer whales and their humane treatment.

But the facts tell another story. There are no records of killer whales in the wild ever attacking or killing humans. Of course, humans have a difficult time getting near the animals, so that alone does not really say much.

However, I have seen elephants, tigers and bears in zoos perform repetitive motions in their cages, wandering back and forth in the same pattern, wearing down the concrete beneath their feet. I have recently seen the dolphins at Dolphin Encounter in Hawaii circle their little enclosed habitats over and over again.

It is no surprise that an animal weighing up to 10 tons that is kept in a tight tank, fed on a diet of thawed fish, might exhibit similar stress. Like circus animals, they have to perform regularly, and often they are separated from their cubs or relatives against their will.

Between 1960 and 2012 there have been 114 cases of orcas in captivity attempting to harm their handlers or trainers.

It will be interesting to see if the business model of SeaWorld can survive this severe blow.

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Here is an orca exhibiting strange behavior. I can only assume it’s one of these possibilities:

1. The orca is trying to communicate with humans, and it’s using the only sounds that humans consistently seem to produce under water. He thinks it’s our way of communicating and he’s answering in “our language.”

2. The orca is simply “parroting.” A parrot has the ability to hear complex sounds and reproduce them.

3. The orca is being funny, mimicking us and essentially laughing at us.

If any reader has other suggestions, I’d be glad to listen.

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BlackfishBlackfish is an eye-opening documentary of 83 minutes directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. It includes gruesome footage never seen before of injuries and deaths of whales and human trainers.

The profitable marine theme park industry, with Sea World at the top of the pyramid, does not want its lead attraction, the orca show, to be disparaged or challenged. As a result, Sea World apparently creates false facts, misleads its own trainers, and covers up the truth after accidents inevitably happen.

The documentary tells the story of the notorious performing whale Tilikum, who, unlike any orca in the wild, has taken the lives of several people while in captivity.

Tilicum was captured when he was only four or five years old and brutally taken away from his mother and has lived in captivity ever since.

If I had been taken away from my mother at age five and kept all my life in a 12 by 16 foot cell, the proportional equivalent of a killer whale tank at Sea World, while having to perform stupid and unnatural tricks for audiences on a regular schedule, I would have been psychotic too by the time I was 45 years old.

Having a life-long interest in non-human intelligence, I had to watch this documentary. Evidence to my interest in cetaceans and their intelligence is the fact that “Cetaceans” is one of the categories in this blog that you can search. Here is one article that deals specifically with intelligence of whales.

I think that the time of animals in circuses is gone. That counts for elephants in big tents, lions and tigers in Las Vegas, and whales and dolphins at Sea World and any other captive commercial programs. Ironically I just got back from Hawaii, where I talked with a trainer working for Dolphin Encounter.

Dolphin EncounterThey have 13 dolphins who live and perform there, supposedly all born and raised in captivity. She argued that the dolphins have it better there than they would in the wild, with free healthcare and room and board. There happened to be a veterinarian there doing stomach imagery with scopes down the dolphins’ throats while we were standing there watching.

The dolphins seemed ok, but we can’t talk to them, and they can’t tell us how they feel – so how do we know?

The documentary movie Blackfish brings this controversial subject right in front of the public. It can’t be good for Sea World. I am saying this when I live within 30 minutes of the park in San Diego. Sorry, Sea World, it’s time to figure out how to make money without imprisoning and enslaving fellow sentient species.

Rating - Four Stars

 

 

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On Feb 26, we went whale watching.

We saw hundreds of dolphins and one very special, very rare fin whale. Fin whales are  the second largest animals ever to live on planet earth. They are extremely fast, and this one was cruising away from us at record speed. But the boat caught up with it. Fin whales don’t usually breach, like humpbacks in Hawaii sometimes do (if you are lucky), but it was still awe-inspiring to see such a majestic animal that close by.

Their dorsal fins are far back on the body, just before the fluke.

fin_whale

Picture by deviantart.com

So in this picture that Trisha took, the whale is diving down already, just before disappearing.

Fin Whale 1

Here is another shot. He just blew, and the head has just gone down again.

Whale 3

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Whale Watching in Maui

After hearing that the Humpback whales had arrived in Maui early this season, we decided to go out and take our chances on Nov 17. We signed up with the Pacific Whale Foundation, went out on a two-hour cruise – and we saw whales.

Here is the course we took:

This was my first time ever whale watching. The trick is to go out there and look for whales spouting. You can see that from a fair distance. The whales make vapor clouds that last for a few seconds when they exhale. Usually whales surface in groups, so there are multiple of those popping up. The boat then turns toward them to get closer. The whales dive and seemingly disappear for five to ten minutes, until they surface again. You have to close in on them iteratively.

On the above chart, the area at the red arrow is one where we spotted whales. We then drifted along waiting for them. You can see the irregular track indicating that we just drifted, waiting.

Then the whales came up. Everyone in the boat got their cameras out and was busy trying to capture the moments. I didn’t even bother. Whales surface for a fraction of a second sometimes. Getting a picture of any detail with a point and click camera is just about impossible. The best views are usually long gone by the time you aim the camera and press the shutter. Here are the very best pictures Trisha was able to get:

This is the tail fluke of a Humpback. They display their tails just before they get ready to dive deep (and disappear for a while).

Here one more fluke shot. This time a different whale.

I left my camera in my pocket. I didn’t even try. And as a result, I probably actually saw more than anyone else on the boat. I saw pectoral fins, huge backs and flukes, sometimes as close as a hundred yards or so.

We moved on and eventually stopped at the area at the green arrow. There was a large pod of mellonhead whales. These are small, dolphin-sized whales. There were dozens of them on the surface at any given time. It was hard to tell how many there where overall. Our guide said he had done tours for seven years, and this was only the second time he had ever seen this species. I guess they don’t come into the coastal waters very often, so it was a unique opportunity.

These were even harder to photograph. Sometimes we’d see dozens of shark-like dorsal fins stick out of the waves. Here is a good shot of one whale out of the water, with the fins of a few others. We saw some of these breaching, but never got any good shots.

Now I appreciate the photographic skill it takes to shoot something like this – taken off the Pacific Whale Foundation’s web site:

I highly recommend the Pacific Whale Foundation, not only for their impressive tours, but for their conservation research and public education and relations efforts.

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It all started almost 50 years ago. A young man named Richard O’Barry trained five dolphins to be used in a television series called Flipper, which, of course, became a worldwide success. O’Barry started an industry of dolphins performing and living in captivity. After building up that industry, O’Barry has come to realize that dolphins should not be kept in activity for a variety of reasons. So he has spent the last 25 years as an activist trying to unravel it all.

The Japanese have an age-old tradition as a fishing nation, and, along with Norway, as a whaling nation. Since the international community banned whaling in 1986, the Japanese have found ways to continue whaling under the guise of scientific research. The Japanese money machine has bought entire nations to vote with them to undo the ban on whaling. Propaganda and misinformation are rampant.

There is a cove in Taiji, Japan, where fishermen confuse and disorient dolphins using sound, drive them into a dead-end in the ocean, close them off with nets, and systematically slaughter them, at a rate of 25,000 a year. This is done without the world, and even most of Japan, knowing about it.

A film crew, at signficant risk, goes in to install hidden cameras, in the mountains surrounding the cove, as well as under water, to take footage for evidence that this is taking place.

Richard O’Barry is to marine mammal activism what Michael Moore is to the health care industry and right-wing politics. A powerful pill.

The Cove is a documentary that will have you spellbound and shocked as you watch it. You will no longer feel tempted to fork over $250 or more to “swim with dolphins” in a lagoon in Hawaii, or pay entry fees to Sea World to take your kids to a dolphin petting zoo. Because, by paying those fees, you will realize, you are endorsing a brutal industry that should not even exist.

Rating: ****

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A comment by a reader prompted a more elaborate response than could be produced in a response comment. So here is the comment:

Okay, I am an animal lover, and especially of dolphins, who love to gang-tackle (catch the euphemism) their females.

And there is no doubt that other sub-language, sub-human animals, like dolphins, have more to their psyche (I mean that in the original Greek sense of moving-animating substance) than is usually assumed, especially in our stupid, computer oriented times.

That said, a mammal playing with bubbles, however perfect and frolicsome, does not compare to humanity at its peak–Chopin playing with subtle chord variations, Monet playing with subtle color variations, Nietzsche playing with subtle word echoes, etc., etc.

I love my dolphins and would not eat their meat. But the same complexity as homo sapiens at their most complex? More evidence besides bubbles, Mr. Scientist.

Thought 1:

And there is no doubt that other sub-language, sub-human animals, like dolphins…

This comment has a lot of implications. The suffix “sub” implies a lower standard or level to begin with, both under “language” and then under “human.” We humans do not know if other “animals” have language. There is evidence that primates have language, but there is even stronger evidence that cetaceans have language. The whistles and clicks we can hear have been analyzed by researchers for years and they have detected patterns. Furthermore, the bandwidth of the sonar capabilities of cetaceans is much larger than that of  humans, so there is a lot of variation on the ultrasonic scale that we can’t access without instruments. I have also read of a study (and I must apologize that I cannot find the reference anymore now) where dolphins in two separated tanks, only connected through a telephonic link, were able to replicate complex behaviors without ever being together. This would imply that one dolphin can tell another solely through sound to do something specific that the other has never done before. I admit that this might not be “evidence” of language, but it would certainly qualify as a strong indicator and warrant more research.

Thought 2:

That said, a mammal playing with bubbles, however perfect and frolicsome, does not compare to humanity at its peak–Chopin playing with subtle chord variations, Monet playing with subtle color variations, Nietzsche playing with subtle word echoes, etc., etc.

Coming out of my comments on thought 1 above, I would venture to say that cetaceans with their far larger sonic bandwidth, both in range in both directions beyond the human range, as well as in resolution, could not only understand subtle chord variations by Chopin and others, but are probably using them every day in their own songs. As far as Monet, and colors, we can assume that cetaceans do not have the ability to see as well as humans, based on their environment, but their echolocation capabilities indicate immense capacity to see using an entirely different process than is even available to us humans. Since this comment references human art forms, and applies anthropomorphic standards to cetaceans, I might just suggest that since we do not even have the senses to detect echolocation signals and our sonar sensors are so limited, that if there were cetacean art forms based on sonar, we simply couldn’t even detect them, let alone appreciate them.

So assume for a moment that a dolphin is indeed as complex in thought as a human, and if there were art based on sonar, a dolphin would view humans terribly poor by artistic standards, because it simply could not even perceive what a Monet painting was, let alone analyze it. If I dolphin were to try to communicate through its art to a human, it would think of the human as a dull brute.

Thought 3:

I love my dolphins and would not eat their meat. But the same complexity as homo sapiens at their most complex? More evidence besides bubbles, Mr. Scientist.

I have often stated that humans, should they ever come into direct contact with extraterrestrials, would be terribly ill-equipped to communicate even in the simplest form. Here we live right next to a friendly “extraterrestrial” species of intelligence, one that is tens of millions of years older than we are one we can touch (at least in the pools of Sea World), see, interact with, hear and one that we have common DNA with. And yet, we haven’t exchanged a single thought.

The skeptic might say it’s because there is no thought in cetaceans. I say that it’s because we simply don’t have equipment in our own limited thought capabilities to make the connection, and they don’t either.

Conclusion:

Are my comments in this post science? Of course not. I leave the science to the scientists. But I follow the advances, I marvel at our what I really think sentient brothers in the oceans, and if I were 18 again, I might well take this up as my chosen field of study. I am excited about it.

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Dolphin Bubbles

If you have followed my blog, particularly the “cetaceans” sections, you know that I believe dolphins are equal to humans in raw intelligence and personality complexity. They are sharp, creative, playful and inventive. Here is a fascinating example:

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DeMares is the first person to hold a doctorate in interspecies communication. Her emphasis is on transpersonal consciousness, the human-nonhuman animal bond, and bio-ethics.

Much of DeMares’ research focuses on the mammals with the highest intelligence, including primates and cetaceans. Surprisingly, there are more animals than we think that have rudimentary language. For instance, prairie dogs have extensive vocabularies for danger intrudors, with different words for human, antelope, coyote, snake and so on, with even distinguishing words for color and shape of the intruders.

But in this book, she focuses mostly on dolphins. There are many other dolphin researchers that she introduces, including the infamous John Lilly, who is probably more known to us from his 1960ies subculture of drugs and particularly LSD, than from his groundbreaking dolphin research. Both Lilly and DeMares believe that dolphins are at least as intelligent as humans, perhaps even more. They believe they have a complicated language, oral history, ethics and highly developed social order.

The book also talks about the more foo-foo stuff, like dolphins as healers, dolphin consciousness and how it affects humans, the euphoria and well-being that humans achieve from swimming with dolphins, dolphin dreams, and the like. I went quickly through those pages, but I ate up the science stuff.

The complexity of the dolphin brain, its very different way of perceiving the world, particularly through echolocation, is highly inspiring.

I did not know that the US Navy uses Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) that turns out to be a highly destructive technology that causes extreme suffering, bleeding, disorientation and permanent physical damage, including death, to cetaceans. The navy just started using this technology in 2003, when this book was written, and it was not being deterred by animal rights activism and scientists. I don’t know what the navy has done with LFAS since, but if it has applied it as planned, there must be carnage out there now. I need to do online research to confirm this.

DeMares’ book is a must-read for anyone interested in cetaceans, cetacean intelligence, alien linguistics and alien studies (since I consider dolphins aliens in a true sense of the word).

I have made jokes about his: We humans always wonder what it would be like if aliens landed on earth. They clearly would not speak English. Would we be able to communicate? Absolutely not. We have aliens living in our midst, all over the oceans, the cetaceans. They are just as smart as we are, yet very few humans have ever had anything resembling a conversation with a dolphin. We have walked this earth, if you include our earliest ancestors climbing on trees in Africa, for about 6 million years. Cetaceans have been here for 20 to 50 million years. Yet, we have no connection with them.

DeMares has helped with positive progress in  this quest with Dolphins, Myth & Transformation.

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If you read my post about Replay, Ken Grimwood’s time travel novel, you would have seen my reference to Starsea, a movie that takes a central role in the plot of Replay.

Into the Deep is the story of Starsea. Dolphins, and cetaceans in general, are presented as sentient beings with a level of intelligence equaling that of humans. In the book, we get to know four human protagonists, a marine biologist, an investigative journalist, a petroleum engineer and a tuna boat captain. The four become, through the course of the story, interconnected and end up collaborating at the end, as unlikely as it would seem at the beginning. We also get to know many dolphins, with names like Ch*Tril, Qr/Tal, Tk/Lin, etc. The author does a wonderful job telling the story from the point of view of the dolphins, and we start thinking like they do, we view humans like a dolphin would.

We humans can visually look around a room and see a bottle of wine on the coffee table, a painting on the wall, a candle burning in the mantle of the fire place, and the television set on, sending pictures our way, all with a scan of our eyes, taking in object shapes, textures of those objects, colors and opacity of the objects.

Dolphins can see like we do. However, they can also echo locate, sending ultrasound signals out into dark or murky water and hear the echoes coming back like a submarine’s sonar. Using no vision at all, a dolphin can create a picture in its brain with that same level of detail. It can ‘see’ a coin on the bottom of the sea, a lobster crawling, a rock in its way, and it could determine the texture and shape of those objects, as clear as we can do it with vision. But it goes a little further. Since it’s sonar, the dolphin can look right through soft tissue and ‘see’ the skeletal structure underneath, of humans, sharks or other dolphins. If a dolphin were to have a racing heart due to an adrenaline rush from being frightened, another dolphin would clearly see that racing heart. A dolphin can draw conclusion about another dolphin from seeing inside like we humans can when we see somebody blushing, perhaps.

The dolphins call the humans land-walkers. They see them only from a distance, except when they come out to the sea in strange, fragile hulls with large white dorsal fins on top of them. The dolphins observe the humans and think of them as communication handicapped, since they apparently can only communicate by flapping their front-mounted blowholes making crude noises in a narrow frequency band.

Here is an excerpt from the point of view of one dolphin that has swum up to a beach where he is surrounded by a bunch of people delighted about his appearance:

Then he turned his attention to the young ones. They swarmed around him, reaching out to touch him with the squirmy little growths that sprouted from the ends of their upper appendages. He allowed the contact, even enjoyed it when they stroked him gently; but he remained alert, because each of those wriggling growths was tipped with something hard and sharp, like miniature crawler-claws. He’d received a few painful scrapes on his delicate skin during the first few of these encounters, but the young ones seemed more careful now, and usually onely touched him with the soft pads beneath their claws.

One young female, smaller than the others, was standing hesitantly aside from the boisterous group that had rushed to meet and touch him. Tk/Lin scanned her internally and saw that her heart was racing, the muscles around her stomach were tight. An adult male was urging her forward in the water, but she held back, clearly afraid.

Tk/Lin peeled away from the crowed of fearless young ones around him and made his way slowly, ever so slowly, toward the trembling little female. he stopped two beak-to-flukes from her and raised his head above the surface, swaying it to and fro in a gentle rhythm timed to mimic the normal land-walker heartbeat. The young one watched, entranced, but  still she clung to the lower limbs of the long male behind her.

Two of the bigger young ones came splashing toward Tk/Lin, eager for more active play, but he warned  them away with a slight thwap! of his flukes against the water. They retreated, and Tk/Lin turned his attention once more the the frightened little female. Keeping his distance from her, he rolled methodically from one side to the other, showing her his dorsal, his pectoral fins, his soft white belly. She watched in silence, her eyes round.

One of the many-colored spherical things filled with air that the young ones often tossed to Tk/Lin was floating nearby. he nudged it with his beak, and it rolled across the placid surface to the young female. She reflexively let go of the adult’s limbs and caught it between her own upper appendages. She stared at the toy for a moment, then at Tk/Lin, and gave the weightless sphere a push back in his direction. He chittered his approval and bounced it back toward her, a little harder this time.

The young one’s face contorted, her mouth curling upward at the sides in the land-walker gesture that Tk/Lin had learned to recognize as indicative of amusement or contentment. She slapped the toy back again, through the air above the surface; her aim was off, but Tk/Lin easity darted to meet it and toss it back to her. The young one squealed and tossed the brightly colored sphere again and again, ignoring the adult behind her. Her muscles were relaxed now, Tk/Lin scanned, her heartbeat steady and normal.

As I stated in my review of Replay, I am fascinated by the concept of cetacean intelligence and I will write some blog entries about that subject alone shortly.

Into the Deep, of course, is a fictional story, with a plot line that stretches a bit beyond where I would have taken it, but it’s wrapped into basic concepts that are fascinating and entertaining.

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