Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Turisops truncatus) grow seven to thirteen feet long in the wild. They can travel 2,600 miles during seasonal migrations and indeed, except for its polar regions, the whole of the Atlantic comprises their range.
They are social beings, living in pods of two to 20 individuals when closer to shore, sometimes 20 to over 100 when far at sea, where greater numbers afford more protection from predators and the benefits of coordinated, cooperative hunting.
Their family dynamics and friendships are more fluid, more loosely structured than those humans adhere to, with separate maternity and bachelor pods providing the framework individuals connect through across vast leagues of ocean.
Their sociability is not limited to their own species… as ship wreck survivors, lost and injured surfers and even pet dogs…
and cats will attest…
Their brain size is larger than a humans *…
…though that doesn’t necessarily equate to what humans deem a capacity for “intelligence.” The dolphin’s echolocation abilities and the other forms of spatial reasoning required to negotiate an environment as dynamic as the ocean may require that extra acreage, for all we know… for we aren’t as smart as we like to believe.
Because if we were, would we consign the beings described above to the confines of a public aquarium tank, or even the comparatively spacious lagoon-style pens that abound in the Florida Keys?
The current largest tank in America, housed at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, contains 1.8 million US gallons (6,800 m3) of “controversial” water.
The lagoons at Marathon Florida’s Dolphin Research center boast a purported 90,000 square feet of swimming space.
That sounds like a lot…except it’s not when you consider dolphin minds and bodies evolved to negotiate an ocean of rich complexities, both dangerous and wonderful.
And that’s a lot to think about as you wade into the Dolphin Encounter Experience at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, Florida. It’s what I thought about, even as I stood in line for my ‘dolphin kiss.’
A kiss on the cheek. Am I a hypocrite?
I’ve been fascinated by dolphins all my life. Even managed to stroke one, once, by permission of a kindly trainer who indulged my obviously genuine curiosity after the official show was over.
But to know what it’s like to be in the water with a dolphin? To swim with them and engage with them?
I can’t say an orchestrated, clock-work “dolphin emersion” experience offers more than the barest glimpse into the cetacean soul… perhaps more into those of the humans who take part in it? It’s our longing that keeps the dolphins captive.
“Perhaps measuring animal intelligence by comparing it to human intelligence isn’t the best litmus test.”
T. truncatus has a bigger brain than humans. Numerous investigations of bottlenose dolphin intelligence include tests of mimicry, use of artificial language, object categorization, and self-recognition. This intelligence has driven considerable interaction with humans.
Dolphin Lagoon and Dolphin Interaction Line-up photos taken by Frans Jurgens at Dolphin Research Center, Grassy Keys, Florida … courtesy: DRC http://www.dolphins.org