Dolphins: The Truth About Our Friends From the Sea

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Growing up, in film, TV, and books, I learned that dolphins often help out humans in scary situations such as shark attacks. They will bump the shark away from the human. Other times, humans have been towed nearer to shore by a dolphin or two. Flipper. He was fantastic. Right?

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A few Christmases ago, my bro & sis-in-law bought me a very meaningful gift: a "Fearlessness" necklace (by Me&Ro) from Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation, whose mission was (and is) " . . . to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues." The necklace I received cost $100, most of which went to fund the foundation. As a survivor of sexual assault, I LOVED (and still do) the gift because it represented my role of Survivor as well as helped other survivors in their healing process.

The Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by Hartigay, began in 2004 as a way to help sexual assault victims in New York heal. Survivors participate in week-long healing expeditions in Kona (Hawaii) and Bimini (Bahamas). At the time of its inception, the main attraction during these excursions was swimming in the ocean with dolphins.

Current Retreat Locations:

  1. Bimini (Bahamas) - Encounter Bottlenose & Spotted Dolphins
  2. Kona (Hawaii) - Encounter Bottlenose, Spinner (Hawaii's hybrid dolphin), Rough-toothed & Spotted Dolphins

In 2004, I read on their website about the healing properties of swimming with dolphins and immediately wished I could be a part of that healing process.

Reading testimonials like this one made me want to swim with dolphins even more:

"The next day we went out to swim with the dolphins again and what happened then is a little hard to describe. They were circling us and I felt this light go through my body and warmth and ease and peace. They swam next to us and I was started laughing and crying underwater in my snorkel mask. I felt what it was like to play again- to embrace gentleness and tenderness and love, not because they were safer than fear or guardedness, but because it felt better, and because I could choose it. Dolphins have scars and have every reason you would assume to fear humans but they swim right up to you and seem with all my heart to be smiling and playful. It gave me an idea- to love myself and protectively embrace all the parts of myself that are afraid and angry and doubtful, and to take the leap when it feels good, to love and to play and to live, despite everything." ~Anastasia Webb

What I gathered from all I read was that gentle, calm, loving dolphins are very helpful to sexual assault survivors in teaching them to trust again and to accept comfort and love without fear. Fast forward to 2008 and a fateful trip to Walt Disney World.

My mom and I were waiting to watch an indoor dolphin show at one of the parks. Before it started, we were talking to the show's announcer. He said that he was worried that the dolphins weren't going to follow directions and cooperate for the planned show. He explained that they were in mating season (Disney had the males & females separated, so we'd only be viewing the males) and that the males sometimes had a mind of their own during that time. He reminded me that dolphins are mammals just like us and that male dolphins (particularly Bottlenose) are known to rape and gang rape their female counterparts. YES. The SAME dolphins that are spreading healing power to women on these sexual assault retreats are also capable of gang rape within their own species!

Are you with me now?

Bottlenose dolphins are also known to participate in porpoise massacres, prostitute their women to other male dolphins and to commit infanticide amongst other activities.

From Wikipedia:

"Controversial interpretations and implications aside (see Sociobiological theories of rape), sex in a forceful or apparently coercive context has also been documented in a variety of species. A notable example is bottlenose dolphins, where at times, a herd of bachelor males will 'corner' a female.[49]Furthermore, in a zoo where it is common practice to put newly captured dolphins in with dolphins who are established in their enclosures, other species of dolphin are never put in together with bottlenoses because the bottlenose dolphins frequently torment and rape them.[50]"

From a National Geographic Special: Dolphins: The Wild Side

But beneath the harmony lies a darker side of dolphins. Gangs of strong males pick on younger or smaller dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins are even known to kill for reasons other than hunger.

Cinematographer Paul Atkins, diving in the Bahamas with wild dolphins, heard the first sign of trouble before a particularly intense fight. “Jaw clapping” is a bone-chilling, audible threat to those around. The encounter that ensued–including head ramming, biting, and blows from powerful flukes–is surprisingly violent.

In another hemisphere, Dr. Richard Connor, studying dolphins in Shark Bay in Western Australia, has documented cases of males kidnapping and holding females captive, sometimes for months at a time. “Dolphins are complex, intelligent, social animals and that carries with it a range of behaviors from the nice to the not-so-nice. Just like in our own species.”

Dr. Connor is especially intrigued by relationships between the males. To him it’s like cracking the code of a secret society. These alliances can last for a dozen years or more. The strategy is designed to keep females from mating with other males so that the alliance will have the most offspring.

You can purchase, "Dolphins: The Wild Side", a National Geographic expose, on Amazon.

Now that you've read the above information, what are your thoughts on the helpfulness of dolphins in the healing process for sexual assault survivors? What are your thoughts on dolphins in general?

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