Wild Dolphin Play

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    What a magical start to the new year.

    A pod of seven spinner dolphins twist and play with each other off Lana'i in Hawaii. When they get bored with me, they wander off, but when I dive back under water, they take a new interest, as if to show off their tricks and see what I can do. It wasn't until I spent about 4 hours swimming with them and seeing them spin and flip above water that it occurred to me to try some better tricks than floating like a dead fish on the surface. When I simply pointed head down in the water and spun around as fast as I could, it seemed to really catch their interest, and large groups of them would circle around me and come up to arms reach for a closer look face to face.

    Here’s a short Video of Pod 7 where you can see their interest return when I do a simple dive. From their energetic swirling dance, I got the sense these were the adolescents of the pod, in contrast to mama-baby pair at the end of the second video.

    The dolphin antics remind me of a talk I heard Dr. Stuart Brown give at a Play Date at the Stanford Design School. He started with a fascinating series of photos of animals playing – ravens sliding on their backs down an icy slope, monkeys rolling snowballs and playing leapfrog, and various inter-species games.

    “We are designed to play. We need 3D motion.
    The smarter the creature, the more they play.
    The sea squirt auto-digests its brain when it becomes sessile.”

    And sure enough, as PhotonQuantique pointed me to, playing with dolphins is an active area of research. This passage resonates with my experience looking back at the 40 videos I took of the dolphins: “Often, in our games with dolphins, there is so much activity going on all at once, that we only notice what is right in front of our dive mask. It is only later when reviewing the video that we fully grasp the depth of the dolphins' willingness to engage us.”

    Tomi Tapio, the other Martin Taylor, and 28 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    1. Tomi Tapio 64 months ago | reply

      Congrats, it musta been great out there!
      Cool shot.

    2. drona 64 months ago | reply

      Absolutely phenomenal! It's always amazing to me how deeply you analyze the nature around you...

      Happy New Year!

    3. pegleg000 64 months ago | reply

      Great shot and videos! Congrats!

      I especially liked the part with the Great White circling just at the edge of visibility... ;-)

    4. Lochithea [deleted] 64 months ago | reply

      Hi, I'm an admin for a group called Chariots of Nature / Post 1 & Comment 1, and we'd love to have this added to the group!

    5. jurvetson 64 months ago | reply

      Thanks drona, pegleg et Tomi! It was very exciting. In my first video, you can hear my rapid breathing conveying my surprise when the clicks I heard in the murky distance materialized into an armada of dolphins gliding all around me. 60 to 80 of them at a time...

      Oh, and I just remembered another reason the playful dolphin pod reminds me of the innocence of childhood...

    6. kirainet 64 months ago | reply

      the videos are awesome. I'm wondering if "the more intelligent a human is the more childish he or she behaves" ;)

    7. jurvetson 64 months ago | reply

      Yes, it sure seems that way, especially in the arts and sciences, perhaps not judged by raw intelligence, but by making a difference: Einstein, Newton, Feynman, Watson, Picasso, Gandhi...

      And then, there is the interesting theory that humans are primates with an extended childhood. John Smart writes:

      “the neotenic hypothesis states that humans are, at least in their cranial anatomy, biologically juvenile (or "neotenic" ) forms of today's chimpanzees. In other words, developmental genes and growth processes of various types have been deliberately stunted in the human being, producing a less mature form by comparison to our close chimpanzee relatives….

      In its divergence from our chimpanzee relatives, our species made the evolutionary choice to become less developmentally differentiated at birth, possibly as our most easily accessible way of gaining greater behavioral capacity and lifespan brain plasticity. The other alternative, changing our basic brain plan to achieve greater intelligence and learning capacity, was simply not available to us, because that developmental lineage is a legacy/path dependent system. Development can add new structures on top of the old (like the cortex added on top of the midbrain), and experiment with stunting or accelerating the growth of developed structures (this is called "heterochrony", or development at a different time/rate). It can also experiment with developing structures at somewhat differing locations within the organism (this is called "heterotopy" or development in an "other place"). But development cannot reinvent the organism from the ground up, as it has all kinds of legacy structures that must be preserved for life to continue….

      We probably achieve these feats mostly by slowing down and delaying closure of several neural developmental processes that both run faster and finish earlier in chimpanzees. In effect our brains have taken a developmental step backward (less neural differentiation early on in the life cycle) by comparison to our ancestors, and this involves "hetero"-crony, or the choosing of an "other"-time to finish a developmental process.”

    8. Vanita 64 months ago | reply

      This is so overwhelming, I'm gobsmacked.

    9. breic 64 months ago | reply

      If you find a large leaf, the dolphins love to play with them, too. Spin it around and they'll chase it, hand it off from one to the other, etc.

    10. jurvetson 64 months ago | reply

      they just love goofing on original sin

    11. kirainet 64 months ago | reply

      thanks a lot for the explanation, learned the new words heterochrony and heterotopy :)

      Yeah, Einstein and Feynman were childish but there were and there are also many geniuses who were not childish at all, sometimes even too serious and boring. But maybe on average: the more IQ, the more probabilities to be childish.

      I'm wondering if there is a study trying to correlate "Childishness" with "IQ", we should start creating a "Childiness Test" (You have to be older than 30 to do the test). First questions could be: Do you still play with LEGO?

      When I think about the smartest people I've ever met, and the smartest friends I have... maybe around 50% of them are VERY childish, 20% are childish, 10% are "normal" (It is difficult to find "normal" smart people :)) and 20% are serious. But this is just from the people who is popping up in my mind now.

    12. bcg~art 64 months ago | reply

      lovely graceful photo, and what an opportunity you had. have always wanted to cavort with dolphins...

    13. cureanything 64 months ago | reply

      Looks like they are having fun!

      Seen in the Weekend Showcase at
      The World Through My Eyes

    14. avlxyz 64 months ago | reply

      wow... that is definitely different from swimming with a school of fish :)

    15. purplume 46 months ago | reply

      Great photo. I used it in my blog.
      jbvadeboncoeur.info/2010/07

      Thank you so much for sharing.

    16. Lara-queen 29 months ago | reply

      This photo is a good sample in the flickr. It is awarded the flickr Award!

      flickrAward (post1 – award 5)
      Please Tag your photo with “flickrAward” and visit the flickr Award Gallery
      Please post the photo to flickr Award 5+ thread if you received 5 or more of this award

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