A leap from freedom …

Much is said about the intelligence of dolphins. But what is true in this? Are dolphins as smart as they say?

A leap from freedom …

Much is said about the intelligence of dolphins. But what is true in this? Are dolphins as smart as they say?

First, I would like to analyze what is intelligence?

Although there are multiple theories and models in this regard, we can briefly define intelligence as the capacity or set of intellectual capacities that allow a living being to successfully adapt to the environment that surrounds it, being able to solve problems, more or less complex, and use the resources available both in the subject itself and in the environment, in the most efficient way possible. This implies the ability, among other aspects, to organize mental content, restructure and shape it, and even a certain capacity for abstraction.

There are many species of animals classified as intelligent, among them the dolphin stands out. This cetacean has a brain structure and behaviors that make it think of it as one of the most intelligent animals. This appreciation is enhanced by their complex social behavior that reminds us of ourselves.

So, if we attribute some intelligence to them, why are they unable to leap to escape captivity?

Perhaps the mistake is that we are analyzing and comparing dolphins with “human intelligence”?

This and many other questions came to me when I swam with them for the first time on the beautiful island of Cuba and the warm waters of Varadero. It was 9 years ago and at that time I was completely unaware of the life of these magnificent animals. I shared this adventure trip abroad with one of my best friends. Newly arrived, we had to organize our activities, and start with an excursion that seemed like a good plan. Faced with a varied range of offers, we do not doubt which one would be chosen: Swim with Dolphins !!! There we went. In an area adjacent to the sea, there was a series of pools naturally distributed in a network where the dolphins moved with total “freedom”, simulating their habitat with a large natural space where you could even see the seabed. The joy and exaltation of being able to swim with them did not allow us, at first, to realize that “freedom” and “habitat” were not so true. We were very controversial to learn that their lives were spent in semi-captivity.

At that moment everything seemed different to me, both living the same experience, but with different ways of feeling it. For my friend, the experience had a mixture of sensations, a great joy that was mixed with her fear of the water, feeling the presence of these enormous animals under her, the closeness of her, she could not enjoy them as she had imagined.

However, for me, that I feel and am another “fish in the water”, it was magical !!! That skin so smooth and soft to the touch, when caressing them all their energy reaches you and makes you vibrate, that sympathy that they carry as if they were happy all the time, and our serotonin that rises and we feel happy to be there with them. Magic moments! All their plastic movements, their coordination, the feeling of believing that they speak to you, that they communicate with you, that they are “human” …

But what is true in these performances?

Does their intelligence have to do with training ability? Is it easier to train a dolphin than another animal? The questions were happening in my head and I wanted to keep them all, that they did not go away, that they were important because I wanted to know, or at least generate the debate. There we were, a small group of tourists or visitors sharing the experience of swimming with dolphins and, of course, the trainer. At the time of exchanging opinions on what had happened, I was, as always, asking uncomfortable questions.

The coach’s response amazed me. As it was obvious, he began by saying that no animal should be confined in a cage or in a pool no matter how big it is, that everything we see when a trainer teaches a dolphin, are not new routines that the dolphins must learn, they are behaviors that occur naturally for the dolphins and have to do with communication, play and the way they relate each. That the orders that are given are to “innovate” and only reward them when they do a pirouette or some grace that they had never done. He explained to us that the dolphins were very frustrated at first, but later, they quickly understood that what they are asked is not to do what the trainer wants, but to do what they want. That what the coach does is establish a conditioned training, where if he does a certain action or behavior, he receives a prize. That despite the performances for the recreation of the public, they are there to help understand the need for the conservation of dolphins.

However, many other studies maintain that this type of activity implies having them locked up, and for this purpose, these magnificent animals, are hunted and kept in captivity, which makes them live less than if they were in the wild.

It is always interesting to listen to all the arguments and then define a position, a way of seeing life, and in this case, that of dolphins. Even so, after this great first time with them, from literature and personal experience, I certainly still think that these animals should be free.

So, I started to wonder again if they are as smart as they say… why don’t they jump to escape captivity or escape from floating fishing nets?

We know that dolphins are the champions of jumping into the sea, but they are unable to jump to escape floating fishing nets or natural pools. Some believe that these animals jump out of the water for fun as an expression of joy or as a game, but they are not able to use these jumps to escape from the nets unless they are trained to do so.

When I was in Cuba, they told us that several of them had been released, but that every afternoon they returned to the same place. Is it because of the scarcity of fish in the seas that they return to feed in the dolphinarium? Could it be that they are smarter than us and instead of hunting they go in search of the easy food that humans provide them? Or are they so sad that they can’t make a simple jump?

And so, I keep wondering if those who are still in captivity still choose to stay there? I am very surprised to learn that dolphins cannot escape from a net… a simple net… where they only need a jump for freedom. Or maybe they are the ones who are teaching us, and we are the ones who have something to learn?

On many occasions I had the opportunity to see them free, choosing to accompany us, with the simple task of greeting us, jumping next to the boat so happy so free… we saw them before or after a dive.

I remember one morning that we were going with SCUBA IBIZA, a diving center that is located in the Marina Botafoch in Eivissa (Ibiza city), we were going with a group of students from the PADI Advanced Open Water course and a group of certified divers. Each group with their instructor on the way to Es Vedrá, in the western part of the island of Eivissa, we had quite a few minutes of travel so that each instructor took the opportunity to give their respective “briefing”. That day the sea was like a plate, ironed, serene, and very calm … every time I see the sea in these conditions, I alert all divers to pay attention because they will surely have the opportunity to see dolphins.

And so it was, almost as if they, from the bottom of the sea, had listened to me. After a few minutes, someone shouted “DOLPHINS !!”. There they were, jumping on the bow of the boat, waiting for everyone to take out their cameras to be portrayed, a group of 3 dolphins that, because of their sizes, we think was a beautiful family, mom, dad, and a cute baby dolphin.

I have not been lucky enough to dive with them yet. However, I am fascinated to hear from my colleagues who did have that privilege and who count it as a unique experience. Being surrounded by a group of dolphins, seeing, and hearing them, witnessing how they communicate with each other. A magical moment that is not forgotten, where they had the feeling of being observed instead of being “the observers”.

I read that Polynesians say that dolphins are the “memory of the sea”, if so, why do they keep approaching us? What will they look for in us by having us so close? Do they know that it is proven that we are a species that mistreats them? Perhaps the Greeks were right when they said they were the only animal known to save humans before they drowned. They also said that they were known as the only creatures capable of loving a person without expecting anything in return.

Undoubtedly, there are many unanswered questions about this incredible and wonderful animal that inhabits our seas and oceans.

Perhaps one day we will be surprised to learn that dolphins know something that we do not yet know.

Let’s stay tuned …

Observe the oceans, fix your gaze on the sea, feel it, breathe … it provides us with half the oxygen we breathe … where legends come to life and reality becomes a fable. Unknown worlds, unknown stories, only guarded by a raging and defenseless sea.

Carla Villari.

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