Dolphins are not healers

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IImagine this. Jay, an eight-year-old autistic boy, whose behaviour has always been agitated and uncooperative, is smiling and splashing in the pool. A pair of bottlenose dolphins float next to him, supporting him in the water. Jay’s parents stand poolside as a staff member in the water engages him in visual games with colourful shapes. She asks him some questions, and Jay, captivated by his surroundings, begins to respond. He names the shapes, correctly, speaking his first words in months. With all this attention Jay is in high spirits; he appears more aware and alert than ever before. A quick, non-invasive EEG scan of his brain activity shows that it is indeed different from before the session.


Jay's parents, who had given up hope, are elated to have finally found a treatment that works for their son. They sign up for more sessions and cannot wait to get home and tell their friends about the experience. They are not surprised to find that dolphins have succeeded where mainstream physicians have not. Everyone believes that dolphins are special — altruistic, extra gentle with children, good-natured. And any concerns the parents might have had about the welfare of the dolphins have been allayed by assurances from the trainers that they are happy and accustomed to the role they are playing. After all, as the parents can see for themselves, the dolphins are smiling.

‘Jay’ is a composite character drawn from the dozens of testimonials that appear on dolphin-assisted therapy (DAT) websites, but stories like his, stories about the extraordinary powers of dolphins, have been told since ancient times. Much of our attraction to these creatures derives from their appealing combination of intelligence and communicativeness, and the mystery associated with the fact that they inhabit a hidden underwater environment. Dolphins are the Other we’ve always wanted to commune with. And their ‘smile’, which is not a smile at all, but an anatomical illusion arising from the physical configuration of their jaws, has led to the illusion that dolphins are always jovial and contented, compounding mythological beliefs that they hold the key to the secret of happiness.

Written By: Lori Marino
continue to source article at aeonmagazine.com

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  1. ” Dolphins are not healers “

    Of course not, they are aquatic mammals.

    Does anyone know what the latest info is on the mirror test. I am vaguely aware that it was being challenged by some people for something I have, of course, forgotten. .

  2. There is a fascinating video called The Horse Boy about Rupert Isaacson taking his autistic son, Rowan to visit shamans in Mongolia. You can see the dramatic changes. I could not figure out what the shamans did, but they obviously had some way of connecting with him.

    It is arrogant, simply because the mechanism escapes you, to presume no healing happened or to pretend you know with 100% certainty the mechanism. That in reminiscent of the bishops refusing a peak through Galileo’s telescope because they are so sure what they will see.

    Dolphins can sonogram you. That gives them an edge in monitoring your emotional state.

    I wish everyone who pontificated about dolphins, would at least swim with them first. Failing to do so is like a child telling adults what sex is like.

    • In reply to #2 by Roedy:

      There is a fascinating video called The Horse Boy about Rupert Isaacson taking his autistic son, Rowan to visit shamans in Mongolia. You can see the dramatic changes. I could not figure out what the shamans did, but they obviously had some way of connecting with him.

      I thought the mother’s perspective (especially as a psychologist), that it had more to do with the calmer surroundings and the fact that he was getting their attention 24/7, was probably the better explanation for the shift in his behavior.

    • In reply to #2 by Roedy:

      I wish everyone who pontificated about dolphins, would at least swim with them first.

      Why? And if no one has done any legitimate testing what for? Bunions, Bi-Polar or is it only Autism?

      Perhaps we could just get a whole bunch of sick people and throw them in a pool with a pack of dolphins and ask the relatives of the ones that come out if they think the dip made their ill friend feel moderately, but not absolutely, better or am I missing something?

      I don’t think you “pontificated about dolphins” enough for me to understand what you mean or were you swimming? I like my therapy with a soupson of evidence do you have any that might help me understand which pontificators I should be behind, them or you?

      • In reply to #6 by alaskansee:

        In reply to #2 by Roedy:

        I wish everyone who pontificated about dolphins, would at least swim with them first.

        Why?

        Because most of what you will read about dolphins was written my someone who has never been within 10 metres of a dolphin..
        It looks like the author of this article did all her research by reading websites. They have never interacted with dolphins. Once you have had the experience yourself, you will better recognise BS.

        Dolphins are completely unlike any other animal.

        There a another reason. I worked with Dr. John Lilly on communication with dolphins. One day I asked Dr. Lilly what he thought dolphins did with their large brains. He said “something else”. “Is there any way I can find out what that might be?” “Yes, swim with them.” I did. It was an experience unlike anything else. Unfortunately, I cannot explain what happened, (though I have some conjectures) or even accurately describe the subjective experience. However, I later discovered it happens to almost everyone. I wrote an essay about some of my dolphin experiences on my website. My experiences may have been different because I knew both dolphins Joe and Rose before hand. RDF rules prohibit a link.

        To test if the author’s conjecture is correct, she should try a dolphin, pig and dog to see if the “dolphinness” matters. She just assumed it was and presented it as fact.

        • In reply to #2 by Roedy:

          Because most of what you will read about dolphins was written my someone who has never been within 10 metres of a dolphin..
          It looks like the author…

          I’ve been in the water with dolphins – it wasn’t mystical or magical.

          I have spent a lot of time interacting with orcas. They are incredible, brilliant animals. One of them would spend a lot of time looking at photographs of other orcas, and would indicate when she wanted the page turned. You could see her eye scanning the images intensely.

          Another would ask me to play with him whenever he saw me, giving a whistle to signal he wanted to be chased. I spent a lot of time with him as well.

          While I still love them greatly, and I loved the time I got to spend with them, I can’t condone keeping them in captivity any longer, largely due to the lack of concern for maintaining proper social groups. The one who looked at books was moved to another facility, along with her daughter, separating her from her mother and brother because the other park needed a waterwork animal. The cries they made on the day of their move were incredibly distressing. Trainers didn’t get in the water with her mother for a week due to concerns that she would act aggressively toward them as a result of losing her daughter.

          She had her own daughter sent away yet to another facility that needed animals for shows, even though her daughter was very young. They would have been together for life in the wild. Her daughter was put together with three other juveniles, which was a recipe for disaster. In the wild, there would have been a matriarchal female – she would’ve been a part of a family unit. She has been pregnant twice at a very very young age and has abandoned both of her calves, having no female role model to learn from. All of these juveniles have been deemed unsafe for trainers to work with in the water because they’ve become so aggressive. One of them slammed into a trainer so hard that the guy had his chest cavity completely crushed as he was driven to the bottom of the pool.

          The first one I mentioned, the one who looked at books, was then moved to another park, separating her from her second calf, also at a very young age.

          Then you have the other male who killed a trainer, brutally tearing her apart. They had to force strand him and pry his mouth open to get her arm out of it. He spent the first few years of his life constantly harassed by two females. At night, he was kept in a small container with them, with no way to avoid them. After a trainer drowned, all three of them were sold and the park closed. Now he spends all his time alone, mostly floating at the surface. This is not a happy animal. (The day before this trainer was killed, a friend and I were talking and saying that we were surprised somebody hadn’t been seriously injured, just because they were acting so relaxed around him. I was stunned when she texted me the next day to say he had just killed one of the trainers.)

          The result of that trainer’s death is having the one pool with some rock features completely stripped. Why? They needed to put in an emergency lift in the bottom so that OSHA will let them swim with orcas again. Zoos have been working very hard to give their animals enriching environments to stimulate their minds. Cetaceans are generally kept in barren enclosures and the one interesting thing these orcas had underwater is now gone, simply so the show can resume.

          This is the orca who crushed his trainer’s chest – tell me what they’re doing isn’t horrific. I knew him when he was younger, and he spent a month kept in the same pool with his older brother and a younger male, prior to a move to another park. He and his older brother didn’t know they were related – his older brother was taken away from their mother when he was only a year and a half old, while she was pregnant with the younger brother. He would become very frustrated as he and his brother tried to both establish dominance, slapping each other with their flukes. When he got really angry, he would chase the younger one away from me and then slam his head or flukes against the window where I stood.

          I don’t have much respect for Lilly. Giving drugs to dolphins and keeping them in a box just large enough to contain them isn’t ethical. His ventures into contacting the higher universal consciousness are pretty out there, too.

          A study done with DAT using a robotic dolphin has found it to be just as effective as using real dolphins. It seems that having positive reinforcement as a motivating factor is key, not an actual dolphin. Once that stimulus is removed, then you are right back where you started, while parents are out thousands of dollars. What’s really worrisome is how many of these facilities have popped up all over Eastern Europe, some of the worst places for a cetacean to live. They’re keeping belugas in water far far too warm for them, but hey, it turns a profit.

          Sure, some facilities are better than others. I’ve never been a huge fan of bottlenoses, but I think some do okay. I appreciate the places that keep males in their pair bonds. I’m not a fan of those who move their animals about based on what is most convenient to the show with little regard to their social needs.

        • In reply to #13 by Roedy:

          You seem to be missing the point of the article and this web site, I sincerely hope dolphins can cure everything but until you have proof that they can cure anything you have nothing. Nothing at all, except your fun anecdote, which was nice but certainly didn’t contribute to the question in hand.

          Why so convinced yet unable to prove anything? You appear to have been in the position to do some investigation and research, it is indeed a great shame if you could do something to strengthen you incredible weak case and you did not. Perhaps less casual swimming and more work (which may include swimming with dolphins but not you) might have been the way to go.

          If the defense of your position relies on ignoring research and holding hope close you have nothing to offer. The world does not work with hope just reality.

          In reply to #6 by alaskansee:

          In reply to #2 by Roedy:

          I wish everyone who pontificated about dolphins, would at least swim with them first.

          Why?

          Because most of what you will read about dolphins was written my someone who has never been within 10 metres of a dolphin..
          It looks like the author…

    • In reply to #2 by Roedy:

      It is arrogant, simply because the mechanism escapes you, to presume no healing happened or to pretend you know with 100% certainty the mechanism.

      If you give a captive Polar Bear a red ball to play with, it extends their life. If it is asserted the presence of animals and children benefit the residents of old-folks homes, no one questions that or desires proof. We can’t evaluate the mechanism, but the idea is intuitive. I think what you are pointing out is when things don’t appeal to intuition people become incurious and even contemptuous. This intuition is purely a cultural thing.

      It’s my experience that some people have better rapport with autistics, schizophrenics, or even people with eating disorders or depression. Rapport is very therapeutic, and if that can come from a dolphin or shaman in unique circumstances, I’m not at all surprised.

  3. Excellent article. It should be called ‘The truth about dolphins’. While swimming with dolphins can be a wonderful experience the mystical nonsense is just silly. And they charge money for doing it! Giving human characteristics to other animals is very common of course, particularly amongst ‘spiritual’ people.

    • In reply to #3 by finchfinder:

      Excellent article.

      All this article did was mock the parents. It offered no evidence the treatment did not work. It just sneered at the possibility it might and then concluded it could not possibly. That is not science.

      On the other hand, parents don’t need proof the treatment will work. It is pleasant event for both parent and child in any case. Almost nothing works, so even a long shot has value.

      • In reply to #14 by Roedy:

        All this article did was mock the parents. It offered no evidence the treatment did not work…

        I didn’t detect mockery, but maybe I missed something. Did you have a particular phrase/passage in mind?

        As for offering “no evidence that the treatment didn’t work”, isn’t it up to proponents of “the treatment” to show that it does work, especially considering they are charging a fee for it?

        Regarding your personal experiences of the qualities of dolphins, you seem to accept that people might also have those experiences with other animals (including humans)? I would be surprised (though intrigued) to discover that transcendent experiences of the kind you find difficult to describe with dolphins came from anything more than a combination of excitement, cultural conditioning and engagement with a relatively intelligent non-human creature.

        It would seem unlikely, given some of the comments by other users, that the ineffable experiences you mention have their source in the dolphins rather than in the humans reporting them.

      • In reply to #14 by Roedy:

        In reply to #3 by finchfinder:

        Excellent article.

        All this article did was mock the parents. It offered no evidence the treatment did not work. It just sneered at the possibility it might and then concluded it could not possibly. That is not science.

        On the other hand, parents don’t need proof th…

        It’s obvious you’ve got some emotional blinkers on with this issue about dolphins, to the point that you discount someone’s analysis of the problems of DAT on the grounds that they haven’t swum with dolphins themselves. Quite apart from the obvious point that the burden of proof lies with the DAT promoters, how can you not hear the defensiveness in your own replies? I haven’t eaten albino flesh to gain magic powers, but is this necessary for me to understand that the whole enterprise is bunk?

        From the article itself:

        DAT facilities will often post testimonials from enthusiastic parents on their websites, some of which are recorded just minutes after the session ended, when parents are feeling most hopeful. These websites attract other parents who are desperate to find cures for their own children. They come away impressed with the ‘evidence’ that DAT can improve their children’s lives, and the apparently scientific approach of the staff. It all looks so promising, and so they figure it’s worth the plane fares, the time off work, and the high price tag.

        Meanwhile, many of the parents featured in the enthusiastic testimonials return home to renewed disappointment. Their children fall back into their regular routine, and fall silent again. At first, cognitive dissonance will not allow these parents to consider the possibility that they’ve wasted their money. But later they recognise that nothing has changed, and that the initial improvement was due to the excitement of the trip, and all the personal attention their child received. Many families visit DAT facilities and end up gaining little more than they would have done from interacting with a puppy.

        The impression I got was that the author was not mocking anyone, but was trying to convey a serious point. It was very sympathetic towards the parents:

        DAT clients are often among the most vulnerable members of society, so the industry takes advantage of them. The pseudoscientific patina and untested testimonials serve to reel in desperate parents and people suffering with severe anxiety or depression who will do anything to get some relief. They are persuaded by words such as ‘treatment’ and ‘therapy’ and by the misuse of scientific methods, such as EEG to measure brainwave patterns, which suggest scientific legitimacy.

        The consequences are potentially dire. Despite the mythology, dolphins can be aggressive. Even Lilly acknowledged that their teeth were sharp enough to snap a 6ft barracuda clean in two. A number of participants in SWD and DAT programmes have been seriously harmed by these large, wild predators, sustaining injuries ranging from a ruptured spleen to broken ribs and near-drownings. In one example from 2012 at an Isla Mujeres resort, off Cancún, one of the dolphins in a SWD programme bit a woman who was on honeymoon. ‘I felt the dolphin had my whole thigh in his mouth and then I realised I had been bitten, and it was very painful,’ Sabina Cadbrand told reporters when she got home to Sweden. Two other people were bitten in the same incident, including a middle-aged woman whose wound went right down to the bone.

        The ones getting “mocked” are the ones who believe the feel-good stuff about dolphins:

        Though it might not chime with New Age dolphin lore, the reality is that dolphins, even those born in captivity, are wild. Parents who would never place their child in a cage with a lion or an elephant seem to think nothing of placing them at very real risk (of both injury and disease) in a tank with a dolphin. Only last year, an eight-year-old girl had her hand bitten at Sea World, Orlando, while feeding a dolphin.

        Dolphins are products of the same amoral evolutionary forces that produced humans, a species that ranges from saint to psychopath. From that angle, ideas that dolphins are nature’s moral exemplars – much less human healers – are to be regarded with utter suspicion.

  4. I live near the beach in southern California. Whenever a herd of dolphins appears offshore (which is quite frequently), I’m always amused at the people who immediately jump in the ocean and swim towards them, only to find that the dolphins have dispersed like a flock of birds and are nowhere to be seen, once they reach where they used to be. From what I’ve observed, in the wild, dolphins are only interested in edible fish, not people. The only way to get their attention is to bring something they find appetizing, which is how some folks in small boats occasionally manage to interact with them.

  5. Excellent and moving article so poignantly summed up in the last sentence. It reminds me of a film I saw called “The Cove”.

    This is a very real problem of exploitation which, like so many things, people are quick to defend without giving real thought or consideration to it.

    Even in the case of “friendly” creatures like dolphins, It never ceases to amaze me that people will believe, given the choice, these animals would rather spend their time pissing about entertaining humans.

    Sadly, this type of exploitation is not exclusive to dolphins by any stretch of the imagination. Unbelievably, a guy who sits nearby me in the office has a picture of him wrestling a tiger and hand feeding it meat. It serves to enhance his macho image, as intended. Maybe it wouldn’t so much, if there was a ‘before’ picture, showing the tiger getting the crap beaten out of it and being sedated.

    If only us humans could have a fraction of the intelligence of these creatures who we apparently respect.

  6. Humans think they have the right over all animals, just because we have a desire to know everything….Its always a one way street…the animals dont get to choose…captivity or freedom….erm…. thats a no brainer…Scientists should develop fairer ethics around the study of animals….perhaps being non invasive to their bodies would be a start and not keeping them forever in captivity, they should be studied only in their own wild habitats……of course endangered animals need to be protected…but old style zoos are not animal friendly they were mostly for human entertainment and profit….. its quite disgusting and Its so sad that we make the animals depressed by captivity…like we do to ourselves… and ignore their plight to escape from us….if you love something set it free…..

  7. If I remember correctly, there has been research showing that a person’s heart rate relaxes when they pet a dog. I’m not doubting that swimming with these critters helped this boy, but there are similar anecdotal stories of autistic kids with cats, horses and rabbits. It might just be that they connect better with a non-verbal creature than with other humans.

    i also have to wonder about the “level” of autism we are talking about. Is this non-responsive severe, or just the very awkward?

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