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Trust. Possibly unquantifiable. Hard to earn. Extremely easy to lose.

This female White-Sided Dolphin [ the one in my pictures ] had picked up the habit of nipping at the fingers of people who were trying to feed her. Perhaps she had a mean streak, not every dolphin is as friendly as portrayed, though it's mostly captive ones that get a 'tude. Perhaps she had been poorly treated in the past and she simply distrusted humans now. Maybe another game, scare the human. Whatever the reason, this caused people to drop the fish they were feeding her in the water. She would then quickly pick it up and swim off.

I never saw her actually bite anybody besides me.

I had intentionally not pulled back as she expected and she wound up getting two of my fingers. I could feel the points of her teeth but she did not break the skin. Not that hard, about what I would think it would take to hold a struggling fish. My hand twitched at the contact and I think this surprised her as she quickly let go and swam off. Dead fish don't move on their own. I didn't pull back, I kept my hand where it was. The "bite" was accidental and unintentional. She swam by several times observing me. We had good eye contact. She tried couple more times to get a reaction out of me by acting like she was going to bite my fingers still failing to the reaction she expected out of me. She then started playing what I now call "The Keep Away Game". That staying just exactly one inch from my fingertips no matter how much I stretched out or pulled back. I had played this game with many other Dolphins by now and I had learned to hold my reach back just a bit and on the her next pass, I quickly closed the gap and touched her with one fingertip down her side as she swam by. Game won, first round. It apparently surprised her as she twitched slightly but didn't break stride swimming by. It's not easy to surprise a Cetacean when they can see you coming with their sonar.

A couple of passes later with some good eye contact from them, she finally came closer and pressed against my hand as she swam by. A nice long rub from just above her pec down her side to her flukes and off. This continued for a couple of minutes

Everyone, no matter the species, has that "One Spot" that they just cannot scratch when it itches and the love it when someone they trust knows what to do. Cetaceans seem to have several, around the base of the Dorsal Fin, where the Flukes join the tail, the corners of the mouth, the spot behind the Pectoral Flipper which also seems to be ticklish.

She began slowing down as she passed allowing more contact time. Trust was growing faster than usual it seemed this time. Perhaps she felt a bit guilty at having bit me and was trying to make up for it now that she realized I was one of the good guys.

On her next pass, she pressed her melon against my hand as she swam slowly by and stopped when my hand reached her flukes. There are several places in this area that are problematic for them to rub against to get rid of dead skin. The buildup even gives it a different feel than the rest of the body. I've learned the difference over time. I started rubbing one of the areas to get rid of the old skin, she went totally limp and just floated there. There is only a slight current in the tank but it is enough to cause her to drift away which she did. Even after I stopped because she was out of reach, it seemed to take her a few seconds to recover and be able to swim off for a moment and come back for more, like she was waking up from a trance or something. This went on for some time, I don't know how long, 10-15 mins maybe longer.

On her next pass she rolled over belly up and laid her flukes in my arms. A very vulnerable position for her. Trust was growing very rapidly. I must have made her feel real guilty about biting me with this quality of attention. This went on for several minutes. I stopped to give her a chance to roll over and breathe. She didn't move for about 10 seconds, then her pecs began waving a bit but slowly as she tried to roll over. I applied a gentle twisting motion to her flukes to which she pushed back. I pushed a little harder to give her leverage and she slowly rolled over to take a breath and without stopping continued the roll right back over for me to continue. Conservation of Energy and Momentum. Nice.

This continued for several more minutes. I again stopped so she could breathe. This time, 10 seconds and no movement… 15 seconds… 20 seconds… Now I start to panic a bit. Cetaceans are conscious breathers. This means they have to think about taking a breath, like a Human would have to think to hold their breath. Unconsciousness means they don't breathe and die. Did it feel so good she passed out? I reached down and rolled her over right side up and held her at the surface waiting. After what seemed like an eternity, she shook a bit and finally took a breath. She was still shaking a bit and stayed in my arms. I was so relieved I pulled her closer to give her a hug and a kiss on the melon.

I just stayed there holding her letting her recover. It was at this point that the other White-Sided came over. He came up between us and pushed her out of my arms. My arms were still in the water somewhat around him and I knew enough at this point to not move. He did a couple of jaw snaps underwater and I could see the whites of his eyes as we made eye contact. He was clearly upset at me with all the attention I was giving to the female. They were the only two White-Sides in the tank at the time. Mates perhaps? Does he see me as a rival or possible challenge to his authority? Got to be careful here. The female was bobbing on the other side of him rubbing against him occasionally with eyes wide as well in apparent concern of what he was doing as well. Perhaps trying to tell him she's ok and I'm one of the good guys. This tableau continued for a few seconds as I decided what to do while we stared at each other. So I reached around him and gave him a hug to say thank you for allowing me the encounter and began rubbing him under the chin showing him I'd gladly share the attention she was getting with him. All the while keeping eye contact. He tensed for a moment as this apparently caught him by surprise. Then he closed his eyes and relaxed in my arms letting me continue rubbing him under the chin. After a bit he let me move onto his Dorsal Fin and then Flukes. Giving him some of the same attention I'd been giving the female. He reacted the same way, seemingly taking a moment to recover and swim off when I stopped then turn around and came back for more. The female seemed relieved by this turn of events and began rubbing against his side again. This went on for a minute or two and then I had to say my goodbyes to them and leave for the day.

They were always glad to see me after this.
  • Listening to: Dustwave
Dolphins do have the concept of possessions.  Just because they have something you might not think they should have, don't try and take it away.  Margret Howe learned this with Peter when for a time he took possession of her diving mask.

A quiet day at the petting pool.  Not too many people around.  It was foggy and wet today.  Good for me, few people around the tank.

One of the younger Dolphins swims up and drops a penny on the underwater ledge in front of me.  Where did he get a penny?  Did some other visitor drop one in on purpose?  Cetaceans are sometimes trained to bring any trash in the tank up to staff.  They are given fish for bringing it in.  Does he consider me staff because he knows me almost as well?  Or is this another game?  Some people might be worried he could swallow it.  I know they're smarter than that.  He's floating there in front of me about two feet away looking at me, waiting for me to do something.

I had to be very discrete about this.  If another visitor or staff saw the penny it could be a big problem.  

I could just remove it.  No, it's his possession, can't do that, he brought it to me.  Can't let staff walk by and see it there, then they'd think I put it in.  I swish my hand in the water to wash it off the ledge and into deeper water.  He gets excited and watches the penny float down a few feet then swims after it.  He brings it back up and drops it on the ledge again.   I swish my hand again and wash it off again.  He goes to get it and brings it back again.  Ok, could be a game, or he could still be trying for a fish.  He's not opening his mouth like he's expecting a fish, so it must be a game.  I pick it up and hold it in my hand out of the water.  He continues to watch me, so I try to make up a new game.   I put my hands together out of the water so he can't scan them and switch the coin to my other hand.  I make two fists and put them back in the water.  He moves a little closer and I can see his head moving left and right as he looks at each hand and presumably scans them with sonar.  He moves in to touch his beak to one hand.  The hand with the penny.  I open my hand to show it to him and drop it in the water off the ledge.  He seems happy with this.

He swims down to get it and brings it back again.  I randomly choose a hand and put two fists in the water.  Again he picks the correct hand.  Time after time he picks the hand with the penny.  Simple to do with sonar.  Maybe not the best game but we were having fun.

One time instead of picking it up I washed it off the ledge while acting like I was picking it up out of the water as usual.  I made my two fists and put them back in the water.  Scan Left.  Scan Right.  Wait, What?  Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right.  He seemed confused as he couldn't find the penny.  I opened my hands.  He turned so he could see my empty hands.  He looked from one to the other, then turned a bit more to survey the ledge around us, then back at me.  I laughed to myself and reached out and pointed down over the ledge.  He dove down.  Shortly he came back and dropped the penny on the ledge again.  He glared at me a bit when we made eye contact again.  I think still a bit confused about how it happened.  How did I fool his sonar and how did he miss that?  A few rounds later I tried this again.  This time as soon as he scanned both hands and found no penny he dove down the wall and quickly came back up with the penny.  He dropped it much further back on the ledge than he normally did which was normally just a few inches.  We made eye contact and now it's like he knows what I did.  Can't hide from the all seeing sonar.

We go through a few more rounds and I try it again.   I don't know if he saw it or sonar gave it away but as soon as it cleared the ledge and started down he turned to follow it down without scanning my hands.  Almost as if to say "Aha, I caught you".  He didn't even drop out of sight before he stopped and came back up with the penny, having grabbed it before it hit bottom.  I tried several more times and only managed to fool him once more.  Sonar is hard to fool.  Nothing hidden.

This game had been going on for a while now and I was getting a little concerned.  While I knew this was a harmless game, staff would go ballistic about a coin in the tank.  He wouldn't stop bringing the coin back now that he found someone who would play with him with it.  There was no way I was going to take his coin away now.  I needed a break so on the next round when I dropped the coin and he swam down to get it I just walked away.  I hated to do that but it was the only think I could think of to satisfy all sides.   Let someone else incur his wrath for taking the coin.

I wonder what he would have done if had a second penny to put in the other hand.
  • Listening to: Dustwave
For Cetacean enthusiasts here are two site created by Sea World trainers who have worked with the Orcas.  Some insider information that should be of interest to everyone concerned with Cetacean welfare from those who know.…

Informed choices are the best choices.  Spread the word.
  • Listening to: Dustwave
I have always considered Cetaceans of intelligence at least equal to that of Humans or even possibly superior.  They've been around 25 Million Years in their present evolutionary state and Humans have been around a paltry 100 Thousand.  We should learn from that.

I never fed the Dolphins I've gotten to know.  I did not want to be associated with being a food source and the control issues that raises.  Tactile interaction only.

I was well known by all these Cetaceans before any these incidents, having spent so much time at the pool.  We knew and trusted each other very well.  When you can't talk to each other, all that is left is eye contact, body language, and actual touch.  Having a good "Poker Face" is also important.  By that I mean the ability to stand your ground, be calm and in so doing show your trust.  Not just look calm but be calm.  Some of the tests of your trust can be nerve racking.

Always have your fingernails well manicured.  A rough nail can cause problems and be misinterpreted by them.

Never forget it's an entirely different culture.

different rules
different laws
different taboos
different beliefs

Somethings they do may be personally shocking at first.  Don't forget you're dealing with a totally alien culture.  They are more open about somethings than humans usually are.  They are not doing it to insult or shock you.  It is just how they do things.

My usual stance at the pool is with my arms in the water most of the time.  Reaching out offering my hand underwater where they can see and sonar it.  You have to get wet if you're gonna work with Cetaceans.  I do this to give them the choice of contact or not.  It is also a show of my trust of them.  

The development of mutual trust is a progression. One level of trust leading to a higher level of trust and so on.  Letting them lead the way.  It must progress equally on both sides or it will not progress at all.  I just kept reaching out to show I was ready and they would swim by, maybe close enough to touch, maybe not.  It was like a game.  No matter how far out I reached, they could always stay just one inch further out.


A Bottlenose Dolphin had given birth in the petting pool.  The park, probably having realized too late she was pregnant, was probably afraid to move her out fearing a miscarriage.  Eventually she began showing it off by swimming close by the edge of the tank with the calf riding along in mom's slipstream on the side towards the edge of the tank.  Always just out of reach as usual.  Another game ?

On one pass, the baby pooped as it was passing front of me.  I thought to myself "why you little stinker, that's not polite".  I reached down and gently caught its right fluke in the web of my right thumb for a split second and pulled away.  This extra drag caused him to drop out of mom's slipstream and stop moving.  This startled him as he froze for a moment and then with a couple quick tail pumps was gone.  Mom immediately spun around and came up over by my left arm in the water.  I could see she was a bit upset with me when I made eye contact and she proceeded to do a mock rake on my left arm to show her displeasure with me at what I had done.  

I knew to keep completely still at this point.  To try and move away while she was doing this meant risking turning my arm into hamburger.  Remaining still showed her I trusted she would not actually hurt me.  She stopped moving with her mouth open and my elbow halfway in staring at me.   I put my elbow all the way in until it touched the teeth at the back of her mouth to show I understood and submitted myself to her reprimand.  This surprised her as she quickly backed up [ not something easy for a Cetacean to do ] and got completely off my arm and just stayed there staring at me.  I looked back to my right and the calf had returned was hovering out of reach nearby watching.  Mom is still hovering off to my left watching us.  I slowly reach my right hand out toward the calf.  Then I felt something grab my left hand.  I stopped and looked over and it is mom holding the palm of my left hand in the end of her mouth looking at me.  I gently closed my hand around her lower jaw so there is no accidental slippage and scratch her under the chin with my right letting her know I understand.  I reach back over towards the calf and waited.  It [ I never learned the sex of it ] hovered about six inches away for a few seconds then slowly approached.  I gave it a melon rub and a gentle scratch under the chin.  

This went on for a minute or so and then the calf swam off.  Mom opened her jaws to let me go.  I pulled her a bit closer and gave her a few good rubs to show my appreciation at what she had done.  I opened my hand and she swam off.

"Dumb Animals" my Gluteus Maximus.  What other captive animal would act this way if you messed with it's child despite how well you might know each other?
  • Listening to: Dustwave
I'm not used to speaking [ writing ] in public.  I've seen some apparently conflicting information on the web and in the press and I have to say something about it.  Sorry if this is too long, but I got the urge to finally write some of my experiences so far to document them and once I started it flowed for a while so it may appear to jump around to different things.  Hopefully it makes sense to everyone by the end.  It does cover a lot of ground.

comments / opinions welcome

First some backstory to use a more modern term.

I've always been good with animals.  Dogs, cats, horses, reptiles, they all like me.  However, I could see from my first encounter with a Dolphin years ago that it was to be different with them.  Eye contact got a seemingly deeper connection.  Deeper than I get with other animals.   I visited the local marine park as often as I could just to spend time at the petting pool getting to know the individuals and provide an interesting diversion for them for a while to alleviate some of the boredom.

Then, while in college in San Diego, I was shocked to see upon my revisiting Sea World that there were also two young Orcas in the public access petting pool.  This was some years ago and things were different at the parks then.  The public was allowed to be much closer to Cetaceans than they are allowed now.  I was told by the attendant that they were 4-6 years old. So this meant to me they were fairly new captures.  Years later when I met someone who could identify them from pictures I had of them.  I learned their names and that they had been in captivity around two years at that time.

This is one of them :…

The four Orcas I got to know are:

SWC-00-7801 - Kotar - male
SWC-00-7804 - Kasatka - female
SWC-00-7806 - Katina - female
SWC-00-7705 - Canuck 2 - male

This was a dream come true for me because at that time I did want to be a trainer, though not anymore now.  

I spent hundreds of hours at the tank getting to know them, despite the weather.  Rain or shine, I was at the tank every weekend all day both days, or for as long as I could stand the cold and wet, even with my partial wetsuit under my clothes.  I was there for the interaction, not to trick them over with fish.  Earning their trust, friendship, and my place in their social structure.  I showed them that I trusted them not to hurt me, and they tested me on this trust often and in many, many different ways, and they reciprocated showed their trust of me in many different ways as well.  Over time, this grew so that we both trusted each other fully as was possible within the limits of the location.  Up to allowing them to grab my arm in their mouth up to the elbow while they let me scratch their tongue.  I became so well trusted by them that they would sometimes lay their flukes in my arms for a rub down.  

One even demanded a blowhole massage once and this was one area I was always careful to avoid ever touching.  He would swim slowly by and press against my hands and then stop whenever one of my hands passed over his blowhole area.  I would then move my hand forwards or backwards off of it and continue rubbing his side.  He'd stay a few moments then swim off and come around and do it again.  After a few cycles of this he began to gently bump my hand whenever I slid it forward off his blowhole area.  I recognized his hand bump [ what Sea World refers to as a "pre-cursor" ] as a "you're not getting it" signal I had gotten from interactions I have had with other Dolphins.  On the next pass when he stopped under my hand, instead of moving off it, I gently went in circles around it still keeping clear of the actual opening.  He began pressing a little harder against my hand indicating that is what he wanted.  I kept ready to jerk my hand back if he took a breath not wanting to interfere with his breathing in any way.  My concern was unfounded as upon his next breath he simply rolled away so my hand was well clear and took a breath then rolled back for me to continue.  I knew then to simply stop whenever he started to roll away.  It was at this point that I notices his blowhole area formed a slight depression when closed.  He had no way to rub against anything in the tank to slough of the dead skin from that area.  This was the purpose of this whole chain of events.  He wanted me to groom that area for him, so I did.  I have no idea how long this continued, maybe 10-15 minutes, he did roll away twice to breathe.  When he'd had enough, he rolled away and swam off.

Several conclusions come from this :

1. He trusted me enough to allow me to touch a very sensitive and personal area.

2. He used the approximation training method to get me to do a specific behavior he wanted.  Groom his blowhole area.

3. He got me over my concern about touching that area of his body.

4. He demonstrated his trust of me by training me to touch his blowhole area.

5. This shows a level of higher thought equal to humans.  He had to plan this out just as a human trainer would.  He may have leaned this from him being trained specific behaviors.

6. Time to reconsider who is training who.

On more than one occasion they even tried inviting me into the water.  This invitation was accomplished by gently grabbing my arm in their mouth and gently pulling.  One one occasion, two tried this at the same time and almost succeeded.  It was very hard to say no to them but going in would have meant being permanently banned from the parks.  At no time was I worried that they would intentionally harm me.  I say intentionally as they are bigger and stronger than humans and could accidentally injure me as has happened in the past with other dolphins I've gotten to know over the years. I made mistakes along the way and have scars to show for it.  It was a learning experience for both sides.  They tested me often and I was able to teach them about how fragile humans are compared to them.  When one grabbed an arm up to the elbow in his mouth testing my trust, I was able to teach him how much pressure I could stand and what level I was comfortable with.  Afterwards I was never grabbed harder than the comfort level I had established, by *any* of them, so they obviously were able to exchange this information amount themselves.

How is it that without Sea World's "special training", which I'm sure was different back then from what it is now, I was able to bond with four of their orcas without getting seriously hurt or killed *if* they are as dangerous as is being claimed by OSHA?   There is a deeper story here that's not being told when a simple visitor to their park can develop a seemingly deeper relationship with *four* of their Orcas in three months than their "trainers" [ more actors in a show really ] can who supposedly spend more time with them than I have and have had Sea World's "special training" in order to work with the Orcas.  It is clearly obvious to me, from my experiences with the four Orcas I got to know that the relationship with Sea Worlds "trainers" is not as good as what is portrayed in the shows or by the parks.  It also makes me wonder just how effective and good this "special training" really is.

It has been stated repeatedly by experts that Orcas only attack humans in captivity.  Is this the same for any other animal we keep zoos like this?  Lions, Tigers, Elephants?  Or are they just as "dangerous" in the wild?  Treat an intelligent animal like a dumb animal long enough and it will start acting like a dumb animal.  Maybe it's Sea World's "conditioning" that is the issue more than captivity.  I knew these four Orcas before they were subjected to the majority of this "conditioning" and had no problems with them.  They were happy, joyful and playful and loved the interaction and sought it out.  When one grabs an arm in their mouth up to the elbow to test your trust level, there are plenty of opportunities for problems to arise and none did.  On the copy of their records I have seen are listed several times where Katina and Kasatka have 'mouthed' a body part of a trainer for various reasons but did not seriously injure the trainer. Is it a result of my earlier teaching them about human frailty?  Perhaps, I'd like to think so, or it at least shows considerable intelligent restraint on their part.  Would they remember me after 32 years of this conditioning?  I would hope they would, I still remember them.

What has changed since that time to the present?  Was Sea World risking the public by putting Orcas in such an open access display?  Is it the decades living in a cement swimming pool compared to the open ocean that has made them aggressive?  Is it the fact that the humans disappear at night and return in the morning which upsets the cetaceans cultural norms?  Separation in the open ocean usually means death.

I am not pro-captivity.  No facility currently has a tank that is comfortably large enough for them.  A tank 200M x 300M x 30M would be a good minimum to start with though.

I am not pro-release.  Cetaceans currently in captivity, weather born into captivity or not, are not all fit for release.  Would you send your grandmother to Wendy's without her dentures?

I am pro communication.  We need to be able to communicate with them.  Much of current research is just a rehash of earlier completed research.  How is repeating 30 year old [ or more ] research "new research"?  How many researchers have to repeat teaching a parrot to say "polly wants a cracker" to know that they can mimic human sounds ?  The hand signal and keyboard communication research has been rehashed to death over the past 30 years and is obviously now not the right path to communication with Cetaceans.  We need a fresh approach.  We need to think "outside the box" of conventional research in this area.  I have not found any communication research being done on Orcas, just the smaller dolphins.  Could there be a similar difference in ability between bottlenose Dolphins and Orcas as there is between Chimpanzees and Gorillas?  Both were taught human sign language and could request things with it.  Only Koko the Gorilla though made up her own sentences and was not simply mimicking and even developed a hand sign or two on her own to get a new concept across.


I've been involved in three different interspecies communications projects in my life, and have many hundreds of hours of hands on experience with them.  I can say with confidence that Cetaceans are intelligent and do have a language.

The problem with Cetacean communication is *frequency* not language.

The majority of their vocal range [ up to 250 Khz for some species ] is above the human hearing range [ tops out at 20-22 Khz ].  Humans are simply not designed to hear what Cetaceans are saying.  Because of this some technology, i.e. computers, are required for effective and useful communication to take place.  Back on JANUS, the computers being used then [ 1985 ], a DEC PDP-11 and two Apple II+s as terminals were simply not up to the task of analyzing the dolphins sounds despite being state of the art at the time.  Now, decades later they are.  

Being able to talk to Cetaceans would be what SETI has been trying to do for years by looking outward find an Alien Intelligence.  Perhaps they should turn inward and look to Cetaceans? They certainly have the computing power that would be necessary for realtime two way communication.  I've been working on the specifications and design of such a system.  A prototype system could be built without too much difficulty.  Some of the hardware that was required in the past can now be done in computer software making it cheaper, easier and more adaptable as well.

But is the Human Race ready for such a breakthrough?  That is questionable.

Would an "Alien Intelligence" be more acceptable to the Human Race if it came from home [ Earth ] instead of "Out There"?  I think it might.

What would human race do if we cracked the communications barrier and Tilikum said "You guys used to get in the water and play.  I'm sorry, it was an accident." That would certainly alter the perspective of the issue at the very least.  Hopefully it would also mean we stop hunting them for "Scientific Research".

Would the Human race be able to share this planet with another intelligent species?  Looking at how we can't even share it with others of our own species, it sadly seems doubtful, but I try to remain hopeful.

Humans have been mostly limited to the land [ 25% of the planet ] for most of history, so who is to say that an intelligent species did not develop in the remaining 75% over the history of the planet?  Especially when the territorial ranges don't overlap, at least not until recent history.

There needs to be a new term in the human lexicon.  Someway to define intelligence with out prejudice.  I think I have it.

I think that IBI for Intelligent Biological Individual fits very nicely.

It's pronounced "I Be" which also fits in it's own way.

Thank you for reading this.