Dolphins on acid (and other bad ideas)

How dosing dolphins with LSD (and giving dolphins hand jobs) helped shape our modern pop culture beliefs about dolphins as sources of healing — beliefs that, according to neuroscientist Lori Marino, can endanger both dolphins and the humans who come to them for help.


  1. Knee-jerk angry response to this from my incorrigibly woo-befuddled mother, so I’d say Ms Marino has a point…

    1. Out of curiosity, what was the flavor of angry?

      Are dolphins really mystical creatures, on par with ‘indigo children’, only wiser?

      Is big Pharma suppressing dolphin-therapy to continue to sell those lucrative autism drugs that only treat the symptoms, and don’t heal the disease(and, um, don’t actually exist, and thus aren’t terribly lucrative)?

      Do dolphins actually totally love living in the aquatic equivalent of SuperMax prisons for our amusement?

      1.  Passive-agressive snark about how ‘authority’ always says this kind of thing. Pretty generic, really. She didn’t even read the bloody thing.

        1. I’m having more trouble with the whole GMO thing. While I have concerns they are mostly around the direct effects of the crops themselves on the ecosystem, the use of pesticides and development of pesticide resistant weeds, and other obvious issues with large scale farming. Some of my friends, on the other hand, are more concerned with what is increasingly seeming like pseudoscience linking GMO plants to everything from IBS to Autism. It seems a bit much (and I don’t even eat grains anymore). 

          Question it and you’ll get the same response. It’s good to ask some questions about these things, but that goes for both sides. 

          I just saw a nail polish that stated it was Non-GMO. I mean, nail polish. It’s poisonous by definition (as is anything that takes it off), and people are worried about GMOs? 

          1. You’ve gotta watch out for chemicals. They’re made of atoms, and every knows how dangerous those are.

  2. Wow. I honestly thought that stuff was made up. People actually… did that? Fuck people are messed up.

    I learned what I needed to about dolphins when I saw a documentary of them as a child. A group of young male dolphins tortured and killed a younger one for fun.

    I thought, well, they’re a lot like us (which would imply not having any magic healing powers other than the amazing placebo effect).

    1. In case you think our closer relatives are any friendlier, there’s a David Attenborough nature video that shows a gang of chimps hunting a monkey. 

    2. I get where you’re coming from, but it’s frustrating to see people anthropomorphize wild animals. Dolphins hunt on instinct. They are incapable of ethical reasoning, or even intuitive conscience. Comparing their bullying to human bullying is simply incorrect.

      1. it’s frustrating to see people anthropomorphize wild animals.

        Not nearly as frustrating as seeing people pretend that human consciousness is special and magic and unrelated to the consciousness of other animals.

        1. Oh, well then, it’s a jolly good show I didn’t say anything of the sort!

          Conscience ≠ Consciousness

      2. I think I anthropomorphize less than you think. It’s people I don’t think so much of. I don’t think all people are capable of ethical reasoning, and conscience means nothing to me. I honestly don’t think people have anything special going on here.

  3. At least our dolphin overlords may keep us around for hand jobs. 

    I seem to recall a dolphin keeper (a woman) being fired for something along these lines, and I wonder how policies differ.  Do some places have a dolphin fluffer?  And what about the killer whales?

  4. apropos, this recent essay on “the myth of dolphin rape”:

    personally, i hold dolphins in high regard. whatever their indivually violent capabilities, they have also shown themselves to be altruistic, communally protective, and of course playful. dolphin interactions have been useful in the location of internal disease and there are well documented cases of dolphins being able to engage the attention of autistic children, in addition to the many stories of dolphins saving human lives. to the dismissive skeptics: humans also display a full range of qualities from from virtue to vice, yet we still uphold respect as an essential mode of interaction. why should respect for dolphins be limited by the worst examples?

    1.  The thrust of the article isn’t so much dolphins are assholes, but that we’re assholes to dolphins. In the guise of helping unfortuneates. Which means that people are being assholes to them as well.

      1. If dolphins are indeed intelligent and self-aware (and I think they are), it shouldn’t really surprise us that some of them are going to be assholes just like people.

  5. I was similarly confused about the use of dolphins for a close relative-by-marriage’s team-building retreat for a major caffeine and sugar distribution chain.

    That’s my primary gripe about major corporations — their willingness to exploit anything they can get their hands on.

    1.  There was a splendid story a few years back about burger king, I believe, sending folks on a team-building boondoggle that included fire-walking. Third-degree burns were had by all.

  6. I’d feel pretty hypocritcal being against using the dolphins since I eat meat and wear leather.  They are probably living a happier life than the chicken I get eggs from in the grocery store or the cow that’s made into my burger even if they do have to do some tricks or let some kids play with them while they live in a tank.  If you’re vegan, okay, you can probably gripe about their situation being unhappy or unhealthy without coming off as ridiculous, but I’m not vegan, so I don’t really get the outrage privilege on that issue. 

    However, I do take issue with the people selling the dolphin experience as anything other than entertainment.  If you want to sell tickets to watch them jump through hoops or charge vacationers to swim around with them for kicks, okay.  But selling it as a therapy is taking advantage of desperate people.  We don’t have a lot of real  proven treatments that work for things like autism, so parents are vulnerable to trying anything they think might help their little ones.  Taking their money for the dolphin thing with  no more proof than they have that it works and why is shameful.  It wouldn’t matter if they were selling snake oil or sugar pills or swims with dolphins, they’re profiting from desperate people without doing what they lead those people to believe they can do.  We need to tighten the laws on all types of treatments, of the quack and supplement variety and of the more big money Western medicine variety.  If you imply at all that there might be any sort potential of health benefit, you should be charged with fraud if you don’t deliver as determined by loads of scientific proof . The first time you allow anyone anywhere on anything connected with or endorsed by you to say a word even related to “therapy” or any ailment or anything like that it might help with a physical or mental condition and don’t do everything in your reasonable power to distance yourself from such claims if you could be reasonably expected to have heard people making such claims, you should be bound to prove the results of your therapy or be held legally responsible for being a scam. 

    1. Torturing or raping an animal and killing an animal for food are not morally equivalent, even if you hold the latter to be wrong.

  7. So, in the name of science, John Lilly encourages Margaret Howe to possibly dose, cohabit with, and when “scientifically/emotionally” necessary, perform acts of sexual relief on a dolphin, and this was expected to be taken seriously by these lunatics?  WTF?  For the dolphin, it must have been akin to an alien abduction experience.  Try explaining this mess to the rest of the dolphin pod.

    1. Your own pool, free drugs and hand-jobs? Those shifty, grinning motherfuckers. i never get the good stuff…

      1.  Our dog never wanted to leave the vet’s he was all like “They took me in the back room, they put on mask and rubber gloves, they have ketamine!  These girls are freaks!”

  8. I’d really worry about dosing any swimming mammal with LSD.  It’s disorienting enough in humans that I’d expect there to be a risk of drowning.  (Also, considering that the one elephant that was dosed with LSD died of heat regulation problems, it’s probably a really bad idea for whales or big orcas.)

    As far as dolphin therapy goes, I don’t know.  I’ve had relatives do the recreational swim-with-dolphins thing, and as somebody else there commented “Yay, they’re like big wet dogs”,

      1. Dolphin swimming isn’t autonomic. They literally only shut down consciousness in half their brain at a time so the other half can keep them from drowning.

  9. I listened to a radio story about the military’s trained dolphins, which they use to recover torpedoes and stuff. The report asked why the dolphins are willing to do these tasks in the open ocean without rewards and why they don’t just swim away.  The trainer said “We don’t really know.” 

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