Dolphin and Whale Magazine :  January issue 2011
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Reviews of Books and Films

“The Cove”
Why dolphin intelligence and intentions matter
by Randall L. Eaton, Ph.D.

Within the last year or so there have been three very important films: “Avatar,” which points us back to a sacred life close to nature; “Invictus,” which masterfully presents the power of forgiveness; and, “The Cove,” about the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins at Taiji, Japan.

Like many people I suppose, I held off watching The Cove because I knew what it was about; I already was well versed in similar events on Iki Island. But The Cove is powerful indeed. Provocative, masterfully crafted, dramatic and suspenseful, and heart wrenching.

The Cove presents persistent themes of dolphin lovers since John Lilly, such as, “They’re smarter than we think.” For proof we are shown that dolphins are self-aware, meaning they can discriminate themselves from other dolphins on TV. One of the criteria for cognitive study and ethical treatment of animals has become self-awareness.

Why intelligence or self-awareness should entitle any creature to more rights is not made clear in the film or by many groups fighting for cetaceans and the seas. Three years after I started studying orcas I attended the annual Animal Behavior Society conference at University of Washington where I spoke with John Eisenberg ,a Smithsonian animal ecologist, about the advanced intelligence of the orca as a justification for protecting it. He said simply that intelligence should not be a criterion for protecting anything.

Ric O’barry, original trainer for the Flipper TV series, stars in the film. After one of the Flipper dolphins named Cathy died in his arms, he was inspired to liberate dolphins.  Elsewhere he states the dolphins he trained for Flipper behaved as though they could read his mind, something corroborated by dolphin trainers and many others save scientists for whom telepathy is taboo (see interview in this issue of Rupert Sheldrake). I wonder why telepathy with dolphins is not mentioned in the documentary?

Click here to watch the movie trailer

Later we hear that, “They’re always trying to communicate with us,” and that “It's not about intelligence, it's about consciousness.” I am absolutely convinced that dolphins and whales make extensive efforts to communicate with us. So do millions of cats and dogs. I have been arguing with mechanistic-minded scientists since the late 70s that judging from their behavior many animals are conscious. If the New Physics is right about Bell’s Theorem, then even electrons are sentient.

A Tibetan lama once said to me, “They don’t get it. It's all consciousness.”

The Cove makes many solid points including: interspecies communication research with dolphins has fallen short owing to the short-sighted assumptions of scientists; dolphin meat is highly toxic due to extreme levels of Mercury, but its danger to the Japanese people has been kept quiet; and, the Japanese defense of killing dolphins and whales because they take too many fish is bogus.

Several times in the film our heroes challenge Japanese fishermen and bureaucrats’ justifications for killing dolphins, and their response was that they kill and eat dolphins, we kill and eat cows. Boy do we ever! A medicine man I know says that the cow is the  most abused animal on earth. The chicken must rank right up there, too. How many of those who claim to love animals including dolphins take steps to stop industrial farming and the heartless slaughter of chickens and cows?

A former delegate to the International Whaling Commission suggests that the Japanese insistence on continuing to kill dolphins and whales is really about national  pride.

As further justification for stopping the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji a TV ad featuring many celebrities states repeatedly that dolphins are our friends and that dolphins save people. Dogs and cats certainly are friends to us, but that doesn’t prevent millions of them from being “euthanized” – a euphemism for killing – because they haven’t got a meal ticket or a tag around their neck. Dogs also are famous for saving human lives of civilians and soldiers, but when the U.S. withdrew from Viet Nam the canine corps that fought valiantly alongside our forces were killed rather than brought home.

I am not saying that the dolphin slaughter should continue. I am suggesting that it is important to clarify why dolphin intelligence and intentions matter. What is intelligence anyway? We humans worship intellectual prowess – intellectualism – but intelligence is “knowing what is appropriate to do.” Though we nurture intellect, we are failing miserably to be wise. Polluting the oceans of the world, for example, could be a far more serious threat to all life on earth than global warming. That is not intelligent.

And what intelligence is there in industrial birthing of babies? Which may interfere with bonding between infant and mother and therefore promote insecurity, egoism, crime, drug addiction and broken homes. And what of bonding with nature? If civilized humanity suffers from anything it is fear. Defensive ego-consciousness lies behind the fragmentation of society and family, dis-ease, war and destruction of the environment. Civilization promotes ego-intellect and amounts to war against the human heart.

So when we speak of the intentions of dolphins and their intelligence we must do so with the understanding of their authentic importance to us in the midst of a global crisis we made. Dolphins exhibit intellectual prowess comparable to our own, but where they excel is intelligence: knowing what is appropriate to do. They sometimes exhibit limited aggression to one another, but unlike us and other terrestrial predators, they do not make war. They are surprisingly tolerant of us. As powerful, swift predators capable of killing sharks why do they not resist the humans who slaughter them and their babies? Apparently turning the cheek. Now there’s a mystery the scientists conveniently ignore.

The playful, joyful, friendly and surprisingly peaceful nature of dolphins is as well known and admired as their altruistic intentions regarding humans. Is it possible that dolphins and whales are teachers for us? Are they models of intelligence? Can we be more like them? More present, joyful and playful, more cooperative and compassionate? Do they offer us a choice between remaining on the ego-driven path of self/world destruction and living from the heart?

If so then perhaps it is time to vote out ego-intellect and elect heart-intelligence as the chairman of humanity’s psychic board. Perhaps then we may better serve life
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