Outside Online Archives

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Profiles Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Murder Most Fish

Something had to be done. While human swimmers were taught the essentials of dolphin etiquette, a dive instructor named Dean Bernal began swimming with Jojo every day in an effort to convince him that humans do have some manners. There have been no more human injuries, and Jojo has since been named a national treasure of the Turks and Caicos.

Still, all is not well. Speedboats, jet-skis, and other watercraft from beachfront resorts make swimming dangerous for both humans and dolphins. An eight-year-old girl was cut by a propeller, and Jojo has been hit eight times. Two of his deep propeller cuts were life-threatening. ("Human Merrymakers to Jojo: It's Payback Time, Tuna Breath.")

The sequences of Dean and Jojo swimming together are easily the most popular among test audiences who have seen a rough cut of the IMAX documentary. It really looks like two mammals at play: Dean blows an immense air bubble, which expands as it rises; Jojo follows it to the surface and then scoots back to Dean as if to say, "Do it again, do it again!" In another scene, Dean and Jojo are perfectly vertical in the water, with Dean pumping his arms back and forth, as if dancing, and Jojo mimicking Dean with his pectoral fins. It is as if each mammal is looking into some strange, shimmering mirror.

In the matter of the mirrored relationship between dolphin and man, a scientist and poet named Loren Eiseley contemplated a world in which humans lived the life of dolphins (in the manner of his day, he called them porpoises). "If man had sacrificed his hands for flukes, the moral might run, he would still be a philosopher, but there would have been taken from him the devastating power to wreak his thought upon the body of the world," Eiseley wrote in his 1972 book The Star Thrower. "Instead he would have lived and wandered, like the porpoise, homeless across currents and winds and oceans, intelligent, but forever the lonely and curious observer of unknown wreckage falling through the blue light of eternity.... It is worth at least a wistful thought that someday the porpoise may talk to us and we to him. It would break, perhaps, the long loneliness that has made man a frequent terror and abomination even unto himself."

This long loneliness, it seems to me, is the foundation of all human science and philosophy. It is why we set up radio telescopes to scan the stars for evidence of life on other planets and why we want, so desperately, to communicate with the dolphin. We imagine that the dolphin is peaceful, loving, joyous, and wise, because these virtues are the sum of our yearning. But dolphins are neither wise nor cruel. Not in the human sense. They are wild and free, and the lesson we might learn from them cannot be encompassed in any presently known language. Given this, the desolation of our singular awareness, the most depressing headline I can conceive of might read, "Dolphins: Only Human, Fully Comprehendible."

Back to Adventure Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!