In 1964, Margaret Howe Lovatt, working with psychedelic dolphin researcher John Lilly, began to live with one of the animals full-time as part of a NASA-funded study about interspecies communication; a new documentary about Lovatt, titled "The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins," airs on BBC4 later this month. Above, a clip of Lovatt talking about how she developed a deep intimate relationship with Peter the dolphin that veered into the sexual. At the time, a sexploitative article in Hustler, the high weirdness of the experiments itself that included giving LSD to dolphins, and myriad other unpleasant issues, brought the project to a very sad end.
In 2010, researchers at the Dolphin Research Center (DRC) in Grassy Key, Florida, showed dolphins can imitate behaviors without using their eyesight. ... Now, a follow-up study shows not only how Tanner accomplished this task using sound, but also that he used a deliberate, problem-solving approach to imitation. The research was published in the journal Animal Cognition.
Check out Scicurious' report on a recent research paper entitled "Spontaneous Ejaculation in a Wild Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus)" — in which we learn that dolphins can masturbate (yes, even without hands), but, frankly, they don't always need to. That's because male dolphins can have what amount to wet dreams ... sudden, unexpected orgasms that happen in their sleep. And, um, there's video. If you're into that kind of thing.
Using old Soviet Union techniques, Ukrainian scientists trained dolphins to attack and kill swimmers using knives and guns strapped to the heads of said dolphins. Like you do. Today, the dolphins escaped. No word on whether they are armed. (Is it just me, or does this sound like the set-up to a cheapo Eastern European "B" horror movie? I'm imagining screaming spring breakers fleeing evil cetaceans. Day of the Dolphin?)
Someone is killing and mutilating dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, and no one can figure out who is doing this, or why. This Friday, a team from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Mississippi encountered a dolphin with its lower jaw cut off; last weekend, they found a dead dolphin with a 9mm bullet wound that "went through the abdomen, into the kidneys and killed it," according to IMMS director Moby Solangi. Snip from the Sun-Herald's coverage:
In Louisiana, a dolphin was found with its tail cut off. "Animals don't eat each other's tails off," Solangi said. "We think there's someone or some group on a rampage," he said. "They not only kill them but also mutilate them."
IMMS investigated the first dolphin shooting earlier this year and incidents have increased in the past few months. In Alabama, someone stabbed and killed a dolphin with a screwdriver, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration press release. In September, a dolphin was found on Elmer's Island, La., with a bullet in its lung. Others have been mutilated with knife-like lesions.
Dolphin carcasses are displayed by conservationists and environmental police officers at San Jose beach, 40kms north of Chiclayo, Peru, on April 6, 2012. The cause of death of over 800 dolphins in the last four months on the shores of Piura and Lambayeque are still being researched, Gabriel Quijandria, Deputy Environment Minister said on April 20, 2012. More about the ongoing investigation into the possible cause of these mass die-offs: CBS News, MSNBC, AFP, DPA, CNN, (REUTERS/Heinze Plenge)
"Over the weekend, I borrowed a friend’s time machine and cold-bloodedly killed a Neandertal, a Homo erectus, an Australopithecus, a dolphin, a chimp, eight sentient robots, the first extraterrestrial visitor to Earth, and my neighbor with the unreasonably loud sound system. Question: in the eyes of the law, how many murders did I just commit?" — John Rennie on the ongoing debate about intelligence, species, and the rights of non-human persons. Read his great story at Smart Planet. (Via Philip Yam)NOW WITH WORKING LINK!
It was just this understanding of rights as obligations that governments must obey that formed the basis for a declaration of rights for cetaceans (whales and dolphins) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Vancouver, Canada last month. Such a declaration is a minefield ripe for misunderstanding, as the BBC quickly demonstrated with their headline, “Dolphins deserve same rights as humans, say scientists.” However, according to Thomas I. White, Conrad N. Hilton Chair of Business Ethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the idea of granting personhood rights to nonhumans would not make them equal to humans under law. They would not vote, sit on a jury, or attend public school. However, by legally making whales and dolphins “nonhuman persons,” with individual rights under law, it would obligate governments to protect cetaceans from slaughter or abuse.
“The evidence for cognitive and affective sophistication—currently most strongly documented in dolphins—supports the claim that these cetaceans are ‘non-human persons,’” said White. As a result, cetaceans should be seen as “beyond use” by humans and have “moral standing” as individuals. “It is, therefore, ethically indefensible to kill, injure or keep these beings captive for human purposes,” he said.
Johnson also makes an interesting point—there's a legal basis for this kind of thing. After all, if corporations can be people, my friends, why not dolphins?
Now, some more awesome news: Dolphins apparently have a system of identifying themselves to each other similar to the way you and I use names.
Scientists have actually known since the 1960s that this system existed. Basically, each dolphin creates their own "signature" whistle when they're very young. In studies of captive dolphins, they used this whistle mainly when they got separated from the rest of the group. It was like a way of saying, "Hey, I'm over here!" Or, given the environment, perhaps some version of "Marco! Polo!"
Quick and Janik recorded the calls of swimming dolphin pods using underwater microphones. From 11 such recordings, they worked out that dolphin groups use their signature whistles in greeting rituals, when two groups meet and join. Only 10 per cent of such unions happen without any signature whistles. And the dolphins use their signatures nine times more often during these interactions than during normal social contact.
The signature whistles clearly aren’t contact calls, because dolphins hardly ever use them within their own groups. Mothers and calves, for example, didn’t exchange signature whistles when travelling together. And they’re not confrontational claims over territory, because bottlenose dolphins don’t have territories.
Instead, Janik thinks that dolphins use the whistles to identify themselves, and to negotiate a new encounter. The human equivalent would be saying, “My name is Ed. I come in peace.”
Quick and Janik also found that the dolphins don’t mimic each other’s signatures when they meet up. Justin Gregg from the Dolphin Communication Project says, “In other words, dolphins are not shouting out “Hey there Jerry” to each other, they are saying “it’s me, Tim!” He adds, “We really have no idea when or why they use these whistles. This study has uncovered a brand new function for the signature whistle, which makes it rather exciting. They appear to be identifying themselves to social partners after a prolonged separation.”
Sometimes, you need to start off your week with a dose of happy news. For instance, this video from the American Museum of Natural History details two recent instances where scientists have observed a whale and several dolphins interacting in ways that are something we might classify as "play".
It's hard to talk about animal behavior without getting too anthropomorphizing, but think about it this way: In both instances, the whale and dolphins did not appear to be competing with other, they did not appear to be fighting, nor were they cooperating in a goal-oriented way. When scientists say "animals are playing" they don't necessarily mean "play" the way human children play, but they do mean behaviors that go beyond simple eat/sleep/defend/breed necessities. Play might be learning. Play might be about forming social bonds that help an individual later on. And however you interpret it, spotting examples of spontaneous, inter-species play in the wild is kind of a big deal.
And now, with those caveats out of the way, I'd like to highlight the top comment on YouTube, by one Bill Kiernan: "We both used to be land animals, isn't that crazy? clearly we need to hang out."