Our Siblings in the Sea
Who can look at the beguiling smile and twinkling eyes of a dolphin and not melt? Dolphins are social, smart, and beautiful. They seem to invite interaction, don't they? We want to get up close and personal with them. To feel a connection with our siblings in the sea. After all, they're mammals like us, right?
I feel this way, certainly. Yet I've learned a very important lesson in the past few years that I've been working closely with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. There is a BIG difference in how we humans should interact with dolphins in the WILD and with dolphins IN HUMAN CARE.
Watching a dolphin in the wild is thrilling. Their ability to canvas great areas of the sea while still maintaining family and community bonds is impressive. They use a series of whistles (including a "name" whistle), clicks, and of course their unique echolocation, a sonar like ability. They are fast swimmers, great hunters, able to hunt using group strategies, and form bonds that last a lifetime. Smitten, we are tempted to reach out to wild dolphins, to jump in the sea and swim with them, to feed them a fish or two in the boat, (or candy, a sandwich, etc), or to lure them to the dock to communicate. We think, "Oh, what harm can this one tidbit do?" Well, if we all thought that, you could multiply that tidbit times 1000. You get the picture. Feeding wild dolphins encourages begging. Think of the bears at Yosemeti Park. Yes, sad, isn't it?
If you want that up close and personal experience, like me in the picture here, you can have that at an in-care facility where dolphins are accustomed to human interaction. Here, these social animals do not need to hunt in the wild for three squares a day. They welcome your interaction.
I returned to the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, FL last week to volunteer in the Pathways Program, a unique program for children with special needs to interact with dolphins. Every morning I began my day with a visit to the female group of mothers, calves and "aunties" in the front lagoon. I can't explain why, but when you say hello to a dolphin your voice goes up and you feel filled with joy. I'm sure I look silly, but I don't care!
There are many ways to interact with dolphins here. Above you can see the picture of dock time with my pal, JAX, an amazing survivor of a shark attack when he was just a calf. See, that's the point. The dolphins here were either rescued and were not deemed medically releasable or they were born here. This is their home, where their family lives. I come to the DRC for that personal dolphin connection in a safe environment-- safe for the dolphins and for me. Remember, please, that wild dolphins are just that--wild. And big! At over 500 pounds, they can bite and break bones with a slap of their tail. In human care, dolphins are trained to interact and they are accustomed to humans. I believe that the experience is pleasurable for both dolphins and humans. I wouldn't do it if I did not.
Are some dolphin care facilities better than others? I believe so. I'm not going to point fingers here, but any place that holds dolphins in small, cement pens should seriously rethink their position on animal care. Places like Dolphin Research Center that provide dolphins with a natural environment, put the aninmals' welfare over that of the visitor, respect animal choices, and provide a secure and loving permanent home for the dolphins have my full support. I join the legion of voices that condemn capturing wild dolphins for any purpose-- display in zoos, aquariums, or swim with dolphins facilities, or research. I also urge all of us resist the selfish temptation to feed wild dolphins or lure them to your boat or dock. Why is it selfish? Because doing so puts the dolphins in jeapordy.
Instead, I encourage you to visit the Dolphin Research Center and places like this for your own dolphin connection. These dolphins are the ambassadors for their species. Your experience with dolphins will be rich with memories and once you share it, you will join the rest of us who appreciate all that is being done to support injured and rescued dolphins. And you'll raise your voice to protect the majesty and wonder of dolphins in the wild.
I've been so moved by this incredible species that I'm writing The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy. Set on Sullivan's Island, SC. it tells the stories of three sisters--Eudora, Carson, and Harper--and their fiery grandmother, "Mamaw." One dolphin, Delphine, is the thread that ties the books together. Through this family and Delphine, I will take you to the authentic worlds of dolphins in the wild off SC coast to the Dolphin Research Center in Florida. I'll share with you all that I've learned from the dolphins through themes of communication, healing, and discovering one's true self.
The first book of the trilogy, THE SUMMER GIRLS, will be a June release. In May, you can go to my website (www.maryalicemonroe.com) and to my Author Page on Facebook to read Chapter One, contests, my appearance schedule, and more.
I hope these books will bring you up close to the world I share with dolphins--in the wild and in human care. And that you'll join me and countless others celebrating our siblings--on land and in the sea!