Feb 24, 2015

Dance to a Dolphin's Song

by Horace Dobbs

Dobbs was a scientist who studied dolphins. In the 1970's, several wild dolphins were observed off the coast of Wales and Ireland, which would curiously approach humans in small boats. Dobbs noticed the strong emotional impact that contact with a wild dolphin had upon people, and began to wonder if it could help individuals overcome depression. He invited "depressives" to come out and meet the wild dolphins, under his supervision and the eye of a film team. He wanted to find out as objectively as possible if contact with dolphins really helped people, so he filmed the encounters as a record (and made a documentary out of it all that appeared on british television). After two years of frequent interaction with one particular wild dolphin near a fishing village in Pembrokeshire, Wales the dolphin broke contact (which was always completely voluntary) and never reappeared. Dobbs and his team heard of another dolphin in Dingle Bay, Ireland that also approached boats, so they went there to continue the experiments. They not only tried different methods of attracting the dolphin's attention and enticing it to stay, but also approaches to filming underwater. The book is just as much about the filming effort as it is about the dolphin-human interaction, and the descriptions of underwater scenery and the ocean environment are riveting. It's amazing the trust and deep emotional pull people felt towards the dolphins- many of those who traveled from afar to have a dolphin encounter had never been in the sea before, some didn't even know how to swim. Others were so eager to jump in with the dolphins they didn't even wait to put everything on. Dobbs describes four individuals in particular who came several times to see the dolphins, and how they responded. One woman became part of his film project and the dolphin in Wales (called Simo) took a particular liking to her. He would tow her far out to sea, miles from the boat, to keep her attention to himself it seemed. I have to wonder at the animals' motives; reading between the line, the crew did not really seem to know much about dolphin behavior. It appears these were juvenile animals- were they out looking for adventure before settling down to adult life? ostracized from their pod? or just happened to be curious individuals, lacking normal fear of humans? Who knows.

What does seem certain is that close contact with the wild dolphins had a profound effect upon people (although there were a few individuals whom the dolphin ignored or spurned, and they felt the trip was a waste of time and money!) Many called it a life-changing event, most felt lifted out of their depression by it. Dobbs capitalized on this, founding an organization to bring people to the dolphins, producing various books and films about the encounters and creating recordings of dolphin sounds mixed with Australian aboriginal music. He asked people to listen to the tape and record their responses to see if that, too, could lift moods. The last few chapters of the book aren't about meeting the dolphins, but about the author's speculations on what contact with them can do for people. He briefly describes travelling to other locales around the world where close connections with wild dolphins were reported, and mentions other things like midwives who not only assisted women giving birth underwater, but in the sea with dolphins, and therapy groups that brought autistic children to meet dolphins as well. Pretty interesting stuff overall.

Note added 2/26/15 I forgot to mention this curious line on the publication page: Horace Dobbs has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work What does that mean? was the authorship in dispute? I'm curious, but doubt I'll ever find out.

Rating: 3/5     192 pages, 1990

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