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Getting a sense of porpoise

January 20, 2009

One of the discussions that occurred while socializing at ScienceOnline’09 regarded my personal feelings towards dolphins. Not surprisingly, whenever non-marine people find out I’m a marine biologist, the conversation always turns to dolphins, after which the person is surprised (shocked, appalled) by my lack on fondness for the sea beasties. The excessive hearting of charismatic megafauna is a pet peeve of mine, with a particular focus on the ocean’s most fawned over denizens.

This article got me thinking about why I hold such apparent animosity towards marine mammals.

Now, let me be perfectly clear. I don’t hate marine mammals. I don’t get particularly excited over marine mammals, but then again, most people don’t get particularly excited over chytrids so it doesn’t bother me that different people love different things. What does bother me is the cult of dolphin worship that has sprung up around them. Ask most people if the bottlenosed dolphin is endangered, and they’ll probably say yes. It isn’t. In fact, at this point it would probably make more sense to be eating tuna safe dolphin. And, while many marine mammals are threatened, endangered, and critically endangered, there is a widely held belief that marine mammals deserve more protection that other organisms.

But all of that is neither here nor there. The fact is, we protect what we love, and if dolphin worship is bringing people closer to the ocean, that’s great. But if we’re drawing people closer to the ocean, should we not be educating them about it as well? That’s why I always get whipped into a frenzy when people start asking me about marine mammals. It’s fine to start with marine mammals, it really is, but more often than not, the conversation never goes beyond them. It’s as if they were the only creatures in the sea.

So this article gets me worked up. Because the cult of the dolphin is so strong that people refuse to accept that sometimes nature isn’t really that pleasant. That it isn’t all like a Disney Movie. That we don’t always know what’s best and we can’t always intervene. Yes, some dolphins might die in a New Jersey river, but they aren’t dying from boat strikes or gillnets or pollution. They’ve wandered into a sub-optimal environment and are being selected against.

The quotes from the dolphin worshipers are revealing. “They’re like children… They’re frightened.” Dolphins are not like children. Dolphins are nothing like children and they’re not human beings and we have no idea what they’re thinking or feeling. These are sleek, deadly, organic machines engineered by millions of years of natural selection to dominate their environment. Instead of making emotional appeals, we need take the time to understand our world.

It is necessary to love the things we need to protect. But I think it is naïve and patronizing to think that people will only love something if we reduce it to a cartoonish caricature of itself. Emotional appeals take advantage of ignorance to force a point. It’s the reason why Americans get disgusted when other cultures eat dog or horse or guinea pig, while we see no problem eating beef. They preclude thoughtful introspection and investigation.

This is not a rant against people who study marine mammals, people who work with marine mammals, or even people who just plain love marine mammals. This is a rant against the end result of dogmatic dolphin worship. People like Joan Ocean* who takes thousands of dollars from innocent dolphin lovers to give them deep, spiritual, telepathic experiences with spinner dolphins in Hawaii, while basically harassing the dolphins and disrupting their natural behavior. A professor and great marine mammal biologist of mine once described these trips as “having 30 strangers surround you while you’re sleeping and whisper ‘I love you, you’re beautiful’ all night.”

This is about people who demand we save dolphins from that New Jersey river while NOAA is trying to tell them “that actually trying to move them can cause fatalities rather than improving their prospects for survival.”

This is really about resisting dogma, forcing people to confront information that challenges their beliefs, to question ideas and explore the possibility that we are wrong. And that while stopping at the water’s edge may provide a nice comfortable view, the deeper you dive, the more glorious the ocean becomes.

So when people ask me at a bar how I feel about dolphins, I try to bring them a little further into my world.

Shifting Baselines has a good post on why some marine mammals need more protection than the science indicates.

~Southern Fried Scientist

*for more on the wonder that is Joan Ocean, check out her experience forging a telepathic connection with a tribe of bigfoots.

  1. Jason R permalink
    January 21, 2009 9:56 am

    Quote: “Dolphins are all smiley and frolick-y and shit on TV, where they solve problems, rescue kittens and do flips. In the wild, they’re as big as Volkswagens and twice as fast. Not to mention totally evil and smart enough to really fuck with you.”

  2. Malcolm J. Brenner permalink
    January 21, 2009 11:47 am

    The trouble isn’t with dolphins, it’s with us. We’ve been personally disempowered by an authoritarian culture, which tells us we are inherently “fallen” (most patriarchal religions) and evil, or at least defective (psychology). So we look for validation outside of ourselves. Those who get past obtaining their validation from “God” sometimes look for it from other sources, which they naturally want to place on a pedestal as models of good behavior. Ergo, dolphin-worshippers. In the same way, we want to demonize other animals, ergo, shooting wolves a la Sarah Palin.

    I’ve had personal experience with dolphins. They are creatures capable of great love and also appalling savagery. In short, they are JUST LIKE US in that respect. That’s not anthropomorphism, it’s convergent mental evolution.

    It is possible to know what another animal is thinking and feeling. You know what your dog is feeling when it scratches at the door, right? Sometimes an animal will tell you what it’s thinking in terms so unequivocal you’d be putting your life in danger to ignore her! I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to say I made love with the dolphin in question. In fact, I’ve been trying to publish a novel based on that experience for years, with no success. Publishers can’t seem to figure out how to market it.

    And with all due respect to SFS Andrew, I know the dolphins’ health depends entirely on the health of the oceans and all the organisms in them. So thanks for your study of chytrids… whatever they are.

  3. January 21, 2009 12:38 pm

    This came up at the Science Fiction & Science panel, when someone asked me why I don’t use scifi in my science outreach. Two words: PSYCHIC DOLPHINS. Oh, god, there’s so many %^#&@*@# psychic dolphins in scifi. I was thinking of writing a scifi short story featuring real dolphin behavior, what with the forced copulation and the turtle drowning and the fighting.

  4. January 21, 2009 1:25 pm


    Thanks for reading and commenting. Ours is a fundamental disagreement that I doubt can find resolution. To wit, I’ve also had personal experience with dolphins, as well as whales, porpoises, manatees, and one unfortunate incident with a bull sea lion in the Galapagos. The totality of those experiences have led me to believe that not only are dolphins not like us, but that it isn’t possible to know what a creature that experiences the world in such a profoundly different way thinks or feels. Yes, I have some inkling what my dog wants when it scratches at the door, but then I let him into the house, he runs around the kitchen island then immediately back out the front door again, so what was he thinking?

    But, this is all part of my point. You and I are two members of the same species and yet, for the life I me, I find myself incapable of comprehending how you think the way you do. How could I possibly assume I know what a member of a different species is thinking?

  5. January 21, 2009 10:13 pm

    Andrew, dude, you’re debating acumen rocks!

    And I totally agree with everything you said.
    Conservationists are to Dolphin-worshippers as the ASPCA is to PETA.

    And where exactly can I get some of that tuna-safe dolphin? It sounds delicious.

    In the unlikely event you haven’t seen it, look here.

  6. January 22, 2009 1:02 am

    Thanks for your response. I’ll give you a serious answer. I think the way I do because of my experiences, and my reflection on my experiences, and comparing my experiences to those of others and to the acknowledged laws of nature.

    Just because an experience is rare or extraordinarily unusual doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, the more unusual an experience is, the more information can be gleaned from it. I wish I could convince some marine mammalogists of that.

    You don’t understand why I think the way I do because you haven’t had my experiences and interpreted those experiences in the context I did. My interpretations would be subversive to your dominant paradigm. You would probably check into a psych ward and ask for anti-psychotic drugs and counseling.

    To be really, really Skinnerian, you and I can’t even tell what the other is thinking, under normal circumstances, all we can do is interpret each other’s behavior. If we interpret correctly, then we understand the other’s thoughts to the extent that our different experiences will allow. Even if I ask you what you’re thinking, you might lie! So each of us is apparently trapped in our own 3-lb black box, the brain.

    If think if you’ll re-read my post carefully, and realize that I am being literal, not metaphorical, you’ll have a better understanding of the highly unusual nature of my experience. This dolphin (a trained captive with access to free-release) and I spent a lot of time getting to know each other. She moderated her behavior in response to my human limitations. I began having what seemed like telepathic experiences with her. These were sometimes quite disturbing and made me question my sanity; however, they were almost always followed by a distinct change in her behavior that, oddly enough, reflected the content of our “conversation.”

    What did I do differently from every marine mammalogist and every other dolphin trainer in the world? Very simple: I didn’t approach the dolphin with an agenda. I let her determine the agenda. (For an example see my excerpt in “Mind In The Waters,” pg. 183, or “Making Waves” in the Nov. 1978 issue of Penthouse.) As psychologist Philip Zimbardo clearly established in the 1960’s, our attitude toward a subject can act as a limiting or controlling factor on that subject’s behavior. (See Lilly’s “A Feeling of Weirdness” at

    After several months of this type of communication, as well as her courtship behavior, my definition of what it means to be “human” got rather plastic. It has little to do with DNA or opposable thumbs, and a lot to do with self-awareness, other-awareness, communication, imagination, empathy and foresight, all of which the dolphins possess.

    Descartes was utterly wrong; he was also inhumanly cruel, vivisecting animals. Their screams of agony, he said, had no more meaning than the squeak of a rusty nail being pulled from a board. Science is slowly coming around to the realization that animals are not insensate machines. They have internal lives.

    In his book “Thinking Dolphins, Talking Whales” Frank Robson, trainer for Marineland, Napier, NZ states he trained all the dolphins there by telepathy and he explains how he did it. Ric O’Barry told me he telepathically trained the dolphins for the TV show “Flipper” because the shooting schedule didn’t allow time for classical behavior modification! I have documented more anecdotal experiences but there’s no space for them here.

    It’s understandable that scientists reject notions like telepathy, contaminated as they are with centuries of mystical and religious overlay. What I don’t understand is why they reject the objective study of it! I don’t find it incomprehensible, I think it’s a biological function of the quantum effect known as “electron tunneling” wherein an electron “tunnels” through an insulator without actually moving through it.

    But I’m no physicist, not even a biologist. My BA from New College of Florida is in Communications. I’m a former investigative reporter, now a freelance writer/photographer. I don’t consider myself mystical or metaphysical or even religious. I’m an atheist. The intensity and duration of my experiences with this dolphin were unique. I’ll be happy to discuss them privately with you if you’re interested.

    Mystics like to believe that everyone has latent “psychic powers” or ESP which just need to be “awakened.” That’s nonsense. It’s genetic, and you don’t have the right genes. If you only saw in B&W, like a dog, I might try all night to explain color to you, but you might conclude I was crazy or BS-ing you. I have the same problem trying to explain my experiences with the dolphin, with the added complication that a lot of the experience was non-verbal. Words, by their nature, convey only crude analogies of such an experience.

    I encountered the same communications difficulties you’re having in trying to talk to marine mammalogists about Dr. John C. Lilly’s work. They couldn’t discuss him impartially and objectively. They would curse him, denounce him, tell me I was an idiot for reading his books and then walk away. Scientific objectivity? I think not. Such rudeness, combined with my lack of math skills, turned me away from being a professional scientist. I regret that to this day.

    Some dolphins do try to communicate in various modalities but since we’re not listening they give up and earn their fish. Are you aware it was a dolphin in Marineland that taught a human – Adolph Frohn, the night janitor – to play catch, not the other way ’round? Nobody thought dolphins were even trainable until then (~ 1935). Frohn took all the credit and went on to become a famous dolphin trainer. What happened to the dolphin who trained him? Who knows? Who cares? It was just a dolphin.

    Your dog? Sounds like he’s playing a game with you! Have you thought about following him outside? Maybe he has found some interesting smell he wants to share with you! Oh, but you’ve got that useless human nose, haven’t you? Never mind!

    Thanks for studying chytrids. Frogs need you. – Malcolm

  7. whysharksmatter permalink*
    January 26, 2009 8:41 pm


    John Lilly was a quack. The man believed that taking LSD improved man’s ability to talk to animals. I’ve never tried the stuff but friends tell me it also improves man’s ability to talk to furniture- or at least to fervently believe that furniture is talking to you. I’m never a fan of rudeness, but I think the scientific community was right to not take Lilly terrible seriously.

    If the night janitor is taking all the credit for training the dolphin, how is it that you know that “the dolphin trained him”? Did the dolphin tell you while you were on LSD? To quote Pirates of the Caribbean, “No survivors? Where do all the stories come from, I wonder?”

    Also, chytrids aren’t frogs. They’re fungi.

    Look, I’m an animal lover too (though I use that term in a different way than you do, apparently), and it’s tempting to think that you can understand them. No one’s saying that dolphins are stupid, but the notion that we can understand anything they are “saying”- and vice versa- has been thoroughly repudiated by all respectable scientists for half a century.

    • Tony permalink
      January 4, 2010 7:49 am

      Lilly a quack? The scientific community didn’t take him seriously? Where do you get your information? His admirers in the scientific community included NASA officials and Nobel Prize Laureates. He invented the Peak Flow Meter and was the world’s foremost authority on dolphins and their brains. His contributions to science and medicine are too long to list here. So he took LSD. Who didn’t back then?
      At least he was being paid by the National Institute of Health to do so. Crazy like a fox is a more apt adjective!

      • whysharksmatter permalink*
        January 5, 2010 10:51 am

        John Lilly believed that taking LSD made it possible to communicate with animals. I really don’t think I need to say anything more than that to demonstrate that he was a little cuckoo.

      • January 5, 2010 10:55 am

        Most people didn’t take LSD.

        Regardless of his eccentricities, one of Lilly’s “experiments” was to trap a dolphin in a 24 inch deep tank for weeks with a trainer and try to force it to speak English. Not only is that not a rigorous nor scientifically valid test (what was he measuring, what were the results, who was overseeing the methodology) it was also unbelievably cruel to the animal.

  8. February 5, 2009 11:04 am


    I knew chytrids are a fungus that ATTACKS frogs because I looked it up. That’s why I wrote “Frogs need you,” I was trying to be complimentary, but apparently you are biased against me because you mis-read my statement, either intentionally or deliberately.

    When you start throwing words like “quack” around, it’s a signal you want to end reasonable discussion, scientific enquiry and civility in general. I knew Dr. John C. Lilly personally; you never even met him. I’ve read almost all of his work; have you even read one of his books? Just one?

    Lilly was a brilliant man, unorthodox, opinionated and eccentric. He had numerous scientific achievements in high-altitude medicine, neurophysiology and physics before he began study dolphins. NOWHERE IN HIS LITERATURE does he claim as you do that “LSD improved man’s ability to talk to animals.” He used LSD when it was still a legal psychoanalytic research tool. I’ve taken LSD about 40 times (so now you can disparage me if you want, too) and because it reduces threshold potentials at the synapse, it can lead to the temporary emergence of new neural pathways. It lowers the barriers our minds erect to filter the flood of signals coming into them, which can lead to receiving previously undetected stimuli from the environment. But I’ve never had the furniture, or any other inanimate objects, talk to me. That’s a pretty cheap shot – and you know it.

    You should really know something about a subject before you make an ass of yourself. Then at least you can claim to be a well-informed ass! Talking to your hippie friends doesn’t make you an expert on LSD, or even slightly knowledgeable on the subject.

    The statement I made about the dolphin training the janitor is I believe from Dr. Ken Norris’ autobiography “The Dolphin Watcher,” but as I don’t have a copy here I can’t look it up. Maybe you’d care to disparage Dr. Norris, too?

    “All respectable scientists” are not in agreement about the impossibility of human-dolphin communication as you claim. That’s an untenable blanket claim, and you know that, too! It’s the kind of thing pompous personalities say when they’re sure they’re right but too lazy to do the real work of looking up who actually said what.

    Dr. Lou Hermann has conclusively demonstrated that they can utilize grammar and syntax, one of the few non-humans to do so. And he has said “Humans and dolphins process information in the same way.” “Respectable scientists,” as you put it, are far from consensus on this issue. They keep being amazed when a dolphin shows some new cleverness, like de-boning cuttlefish, while I’m not. On the contrary, I expect it.

    Have you ever even met a dolphin, Andrew? Gotten any closer than the cheap seats at Sea World? Yet from your ivory tower of ignorant erudition, you choose to belittle me and my experience. You aren’t responding to my statements of fact because you have nothing, no experience, no resources, with which to challenge my 35 years of study in this field. So you resort to disparaging me and making snide remarks. How objective! How impartial! How SCIENTIFIC of you – NOT.

    I really don’t need your contempt, Andrew. It’s a bad habit that suggests you have some unresolved self-image problems. I suggest you deal with them, before they adversely affect your career and your personal relationships. Sorry to call you on this but you obviously need somebody to put you in your place and if the gods have selected me to do that, so be it. Stick to your area of competence, frog-eating fungi, and leave dolphins, LSD and other “fringe areas” to those of us with the courage and the self-confidence to face the truly unknown.

  9. whysharksmatter permalink*
    February 5, 2009 11:10 am


    Intrigued by your comments, I looked up some of the things you wrote on other blogs.

    I think this is my favorite, and it’s comments like this that make people not take you seriously.

    “After my dolphin lover died, I channeled her for a while, caused me a lot of mental problems because although I still loved her she was, uh, dead. I found her to be a lot more convincing while she was still alive and could push me to the bottom of her pool if I refused to let her masturbate on my sneakers.” (from the website

  10. February 5, 2009 11:14 am

    Hi Malcolm,

    You actually didn’t have my contempt. Maybe before you start throwing stones you should check your aim. Your area of expertise seems to be making ill-informed, judgmental, and poorly-articulated rants. Take some time to read what you write before you decide to broadcast it.

    Regardless, you now have my contempt.

  11. February 5, 2009 11:22 am

    Re: dude’s “dolphin lover”.

    I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

    An instant classic, that one.

  12. February 5, 2009 12:17 pm


    I’m being honest about my experiences, which were admittedly rather unusual. Should I be ashamed of them or hide them for that reason? On the contrary, I think I have something original to contribute. Dolphin researchers and trainers talk about these things in back rooms at scientific meetings; I would rather see them discussed on the floor. It would be healthier for us and for the dolphins.

    I think the main problem you have with me is that I’m not embarrassed enough to shut up, as most people would be. In fact, I’m quite proud of the relationship I had with that dolphin. We shared a profound trust, and our actions were based on love and mutual respect. I knew that much without having to talk to her.

    I never said I accepted “channeling” as proof of the post-mortem existence of the dolphin; in fact, I don’t believe in “life after death” (what an oxymoron!). That didn’t prevent me from having the experience, which I finally had to resolve by letting go. You have no idea what I went through. I was chronically depressed, and sometimes suicidal, for five years afterward. When you lose someone you love deeply, it really doesn’t matter if they are a different species, you still grieve, and that grief can affect your reason. That’s the point I was trying to make.

    Andrew, you still haven’t answered any of the points I raised in my earlier statement. You’re really resistant, aren’t you? I can see I’m getting nowhere; you haven’t even checked the link I gave you to Lilly’s excerpt, or if you did you don’t mention it. Obviously you don’t think anything I’ve raised or mentioned is worth the waste of your precious time.

    Nothing I have written here qualifies as a “rant.” You call it a rant because you’re contemptuous of me and dismissive of my experience. When you start asking me sarcastic questions like “Did the dolphin tell you while you were on LSD?” that’s contempt. I knew you were being contemptuous of me before you did, so I don’t feel I’ve lost anything.

    As for you, Irradiatus, you have no concept of what true love is. True love is when you bare your innermost self to another and feel unconditionally accepted. I don’t think you’ll ever know, either. To you it’s just a smutty little joke, so have a laugh at my expense. I can afford it. And if you stop eating shit, you won’t throw up when you read something that disagrees with you.

  13. February 5, 2009 12:40 pm


    Again, you need to figure out who’s saying what before you make your attacks. If you were to actually read the comments, you’d realize that I was nothing but polite to you until you began verbally abusing my friends.

    As for not responding to your second comment, you should realize that as the administrator of this blog, I have the power to have the last word in any debate. By choosing to let your comment stand as the final word, I was showing you respect – respect for your beliefs and for your willingness to voice them in a public forum – and allowing my readers (who are largely sympathetic to my viewpoint) to make a judgment of your opinions untainted by my commentary. Since you have so demanded it, here it is:

    Yours is the argument made by every pedophile and rapist the world over – “If she behaved like that, she must have wanted it.”

  14. whysharksmatter permalink*
    February 5, 2009 1:26 pm

    The notion that humans and dolphins might be able to communicate isn’t totally preposterous- which is why it was originally investigated by real scientists (I do not include “Dr.” Lilly in that group). It was repudiated thoroughly decades ago.

    The notion that humans can communicate with dolphins TELEPATHICALLY, AFTER THE DOLPHIN IN QUESTION IS DEAD, is preposterous.

    I don’t care what you’ve gone through, dude- that’s out there. I’ve lost loved ones- loved ones who were human and actually capable of loving me back. It sucks. But I have never resorted to psychic communication with the dead. Let me tell you what got me through it- talking it out with other people who cared about me. I seriously recommend that you do the same, it helps.

  15. Irradiatus permalink
    February 5, 2009 1:37 pm

    LOL @ Malcolm re: “you have no idea what true love is.”

    My wife, lover, and best friend would beg to differ.

    That’s one person by the way (so far as she knows).

    Nice handling, SFS and WhySharksMatter!

  16. February 5, 2009 2:17 pm

    My argument? My argument about WHAT? You have lost me.

    Do you realize what you are saying? Why are you descending to ad hominem attacks on me? Are you seriously saying I have the mentality of a rapist or a pedophile, or are you just trying to get my goat? I honestly don’t know any more.

    I am neither, and I am profoundly offended. I am a victim of child sexual abuse, by a TRULY quack pseudo-scientist, I might add. I would never perpetrate that on anyone, I would kill myself first. I had false allegations of child abuse brought against me once, and I cleared myself. If you had been through that terrifying ordeal I doubt you would cast those aspersions with such little concern for the enormous damage you can do.

    I realize now it was David who made the comments about Lilly, not Andrew, and I apologize for the mistake. But you both claim authorship of this blog, and the original article, above, doesn’t bear a byline. So pardon me for being confused.

    Andrew, exactly what is your motive? What are you trying to accomplish? Is your administration of this blog more important to you than the damage and pain you can cause real people? Are abstract ideas or proving yourself right more important than anything else to you?

    This started out as YOUR complaint about “dolphin worshippers.” I made a comment that the problem wasn’t dolphins, it was the fact that we worship anything at all. And I disagreed with your opinion that we can’t know what another species is thinking.

    That was an honest and sincere disagreement. When you asked how I could hold such an opinion, I answered you rationally, and in great detail. I brought up Lilly in a failed attempt to find some common ground, to relate your problems communicating with me to my problems communicating with some scientists.

    You did not let me have the “last word;” David responded by calling Lilly a quack. That was a diversion and a provocation. It had nothing to do with the points I’d raised.

    Since neither of you acknowledge any familiarity with Lilly or his work I concluded you were just parroting somebody else’s opinion. So far you’ve given me no evidence to the contrary. That makes you – pardon me – ignorant on the subject.

    Ignorance is a bad thing only if you don’t acknowledge it. I wouldn’t dream of challenging you on chytrids, or sharks, or of calling your authorities quacks.

    I have read every word both of you’ve written here, and thought about them. I started out trying to challenge some of your assumptions using my own experiences and citing references to prove my point. Instead of showing me the same respect, David asked me if the furniture talked to me on my acid trips, which revealed more of his ignorance, as well as his glowering contempt for me.

    Why is it that discussions in blogs always end up in personal attacks? I wanted to challenge your ideas and concepts in a measured, reasoned way, not to launch personal attacks on you, and I didn’t do so until David began addressing me in what I felt to be a snide and contemptuous tone. Do you deny it? All you have to do is go back and read everything in order, as I have done now several times. If you are the administrator, Andrew, you could have let my comments stand. As it was, you chose to let your partner take some cheap shots at me and MY friends.

    And yes, I got upset, mainly because I expect better out of people who call themselves “scientists.” I am once again profoundly disappointed in people who profess to be more lucid, more rational, and better-informed than we “laymen.”

    As for the dolphin, she repeatedly made her desires unequivocally clear. If you think a man in the water can rape a dolphin, I urge you to perform the experiment yourself and see how far you get. Practice holding your breath, you’re going to need it.

    I have no more time to waste on this. I am sorry now that I ever tried to enter into a rational discussion with either of you, it is apparently impossible. If your intention was to anger, frustrate and disillusion me, you have succeeded. If it was to humiliate or belittle me, you have failed. As Jacques Vallee says, “Since when has ridicule been part of the scientific method?”

  17. February 5, 2009 2:36 pm

    “she repeatedly made her desires unequivocally clear”

    ridicule is not part of the scientific method – it is reserved for those who foist pseudoscience up as the real thing.

    You have interpreted an animals actions through your own anthropomorphic filter, claiming she “loved you” – this is not science. Nor is it a rational argument upon which a “rational discussion” can be had.

    I have a special bond with my cat – but I wouldn’t dare try to label its emotions or the motivations for its actions, whether he likes my warmth or knows I’ll give him food if he acts all cute. It is certainly not love in the pure human sense – he is not a human.

    And telepathy with said dolphin? Does that even really need to be touched? Do you really think that is a good basis for a “rational argument” in a science blog?

  18. February 5, 2009 4:11 pm


    The sexual exploitation of someone who is incapable of giving consent IS rape. This is why I said in the beginning that we have a fundamental philosophical difference that cannot be resolved.

    To claim that you only got offended because of Dave’s comments is ludicrous. One would have to have the intellectual fortitude of a 3-year-old to suddenly become deeply offended by sarcasm and a bit of wit. Get over yourself. You came here looking for a fight so that you could validate “the man” keeping you down. When no fight appeared, you left, then came back a week later and tried to start one. “The man” isn’t keeping you down, you are.

    The original article is signed by me, as all our articles are signed by the writers, as are all our comments. Don’t make excuses for being sloppy. And don’t make excuses for being lazy. We read the Lilly link and were unimpressed. Suck it up and get over yourself.

    There are plenty of calm, rational debates going on all over the web. This was one until you got involved. If you think that all internet debates result in ad hominem, then perhaps the common denominator is you. If I were to make an ad hominem attack, I would imply that you were an intellectual abortion, that you fail at a basic level of human decency, that you deserve nothing but scorn. But I don’t, nor do I believe those are true. What I do believe is that you have a profoundly warped view of the world. If you can deal with that then quit whining, if you can’t good bye.

    Suck it up and get over yourself. You won’t be missed.

  19. whysharksmatter permalink*
    February 5, 2009 4:22 pm


    I just want to remind you again that the dolphin he was attempting to communicate telepathically with was no longer alive at the time of the attempt. I really think that this is an important detail. We’re not only talking about telepathic communication with an animal- we’re talking about BEYOND THE GRAVE telepathic communication with an animal. Seriously. Wow.

  20. February 5, 2009 7:00 pm

  21. February 6, 2009 4:46 am

    Andrew: You wrote,
    “The sexual exploitation of someone who is incapable of giving consent is rape. This is why I said in the beginning that we have a fundamental philosophical difference that cannot be resolved.”

    I accept the first sentence at face value. It is, in fact, part of my own ethics.

    So please answer the following true/false question:
    “Since all female animals are ‘incapable of giving consent,’ all acts of mating in the animal kingdom are rape.”

    T/F You only have two answers.

    Now, explain your answer in 50 words or less. Cite relevant published sources or documented personal observations to support your opinion. These will not be included in the 50 word count.

    I am not going to let you get away with this, sir. I don’t need you to like me, I don’t care if you approve or disapprove of what I did, and it may be beyond my ability to change your morals.


    I AM NEITHER, and since you have made the false accusation I request the right to defend myself. My self-defense starts with you answering the question above.

    I DID NOT come to your site “looking for a fight,” as you impute. I run a Google alert that sweeps up everything with “dolphin” and several other marine mammals. I came here as I do to most of the hits it returns out of curiosity, the desire to learn and the desire to keep up with the latest in marine mammal news, research and opinion.

    I came back after a week because unlike some people I have a life outside the Internet and blogs, which occasionally demands my attention.

    I have never claimed to be anything other than an amateur scientist. The original meaning of “amateur” is “one who does something for the love of it.” I wanted to be a professional scientist, but I lacked the mathematical ability, the patience and the temperament to do so. However, I have retained an avid interest in science since my youth. If I address you using scientific terminology, it’s not out of an attempt to pass myself off as a “pseudo-scientist,” it’s an attempt to speak to you in your own language. (I am a journalist – a professional communicator – by trade.)

    I was raised in a family that lived and breathed “pseudo-science” and you have no concept of what it was like… unless, as I suspect, you come from a Southern Baptist or other repressive, dogmatic religious background. If so, you have my sympathy.

    I acknowledge your experience with marine mammals, but it was with wild marine mammals, not ones that have been trained to tolerate and work with humans. The dolphin in question was exceptional in that she was at the time the only dolphin outside the U.S. Navy trained to work in the open ocean as part of her performance.

    WhySharksMatter: Your last statement is PATENTLY WRONG. You have not acquired a full data set, and you have thus jumped to an erroneous and premature conclusion. The apparent “telepathic” communications commenced approximately 18 months before the dolphin died. I never said I “believed” what happened after she died. I didn’t. That did not prevent the experiences from happening! On the contrary, I sincerely doubted my sanity even before she died and wrestled long and hard with the question of what was happening to me.

    I am an atheist, and I try not to “believe” in anything. I consider “beliefs” to be an unsuccessful attempt to plug holes in our knowledge and understanding of nature with fantasies. I would rather accept “unknown” or “unknowable” than a belief.

    Irradiatus: Yeah, this is a science blog but the topic of this thread was people’s irrational beliefs about dolphins. Is that the subject of scientific discussion? I never pretended it was. As such, I felt I could add my 2¢ worth. I have a truly unique viewpoint, but none of you appreciate it. Neither do the mystics and “psychics” on the other side. That leave me feeling pretty goddam lonely.

    Do any of you think for one instant that I would bother to try to tell this story and subject myself to scorn, ridicule, hostility and false allegations of being a rapist if I didn’t think it was critically important for me to do so?

    I don’t care if you guys like me, you obviously don’t, but your stereotypes are showing, gentlemen. I am not who you apparently think I am. And while I won’t and cannot force you to like me, I want you to understand my experience for what it was. Perhaps, if you are as truly open-minded as you pride yourselves on being, you will learn something, if that is still possible. And I want the chance to recover your respect. I think I deserve that, at least.

  22. March 15, 2009 5:11 am

    Ooooh-kay… I think others have responded to MJB better than I can from the middle of Illinois. That was an interesting aside.

    Anyway, I wish people would stop to think; dolphins are top predators, like bluefin tuna. The fact that there are millions of them suggests they’re living on something and that eventually, something lives on them. Focusing on one large charismatic organism misses the point that there’s a whole ecosystem that needs to be protected, and it ain’t because of Karma, it’s to save our own asses in the long run.

    One example, and please correct me if I have this wrong. I read somewhere that cruise ships are required to grind up their plastic trash below a certain size before dumping it at sea. Presumably this is to protect larger sea creatures. But doesn’t that just endanger smaller sea creatures? The ones the larger sea creatures live on? Shouldn’t we be protecting whole ecosystems?

  23. March 25, 2009 2:20 pm

    Hey, is there a section just for latest news

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      March 25, 2009 10:31 pm

      Um… the main page is organized so that the latest posts appear at the top.

  24. Jambo permalink
    April 28, 2009 12:15 pm

    Re: communicating with dolphins

    I know it’s not nearly as interesting as the debate above but from what I have read about Lou Herman’s work in Hawaii we can at least communicate with dolphins in one directions. He and his staff taught a number of captive dolphins to respond to hand signals representing fairly complex communication. eg determine if an object was or was not in their pool, retrieve object A, take object B to object C etc.

    Humans and dolphins were not talking back and forth but I think that qualifies as real communication, don’t you?

    • April 28, 2009 12:34 pm

      Sounds like training to me.

      • Jambo permalink
        April 28, 2009 1:00 pm

        Training? As in the sense that when I ask my daughter before she goes to bed “do you have your blankie?” I’ve trained her to say yes or no? I think that’s more than just training. As I understand it the dolphins can recognize syntax, like the difference between “Take A to B” and “Take B to A.”

        But maybe you are using a more restrictive definition of communication than I am. Do you consider what Koko the gorilla does communicating?

  25. May 22, 2009 11:23 pm

    southern stfu and malcom u r right in every way while i have never mated with a dolphin or even been around one if the dolphin show signs of sexual interest than it’s sort of a DUH!!!!!! she is interested in you so shut up southern and you go malcom thank you.

  26. June 9, 2009 9:08 pm

    Wow. Just wow.

    After reading Malcom’s experiences with his female dolphin lover, I’m somewhat confused as to who may have been taking advantage of who.

    His *girlfriend* apparently would try to drown him if he wouldn’t let her use him for pleasure…

    Dolphins = evil sonsofbitches.

    If your interested I found More dolphin vs unicorn pictures here

  27. Tony permalink
    January 5, 2010 10:00 pm

    Lilly haters always try to diminish all of his contributions to science and medicine by saying things like that he thought he could communicate with dolphins with LSD, or that he was cruel to the dolphins in the beginning.

    They fail to tip their hats to the Father of all dolphin research and the man whose work inspired the creation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

    As of this writing, a group of scientists are calling for dolphins to be considered “non-human persons” requiring elevated rights. They have also moved them up in the intelligence level to second to human (I disagree) .

    At any rate it’s nice to see that Lilly’s work is being validated all these years later and it’s nice to see science pissing on the trite and jealous.

    • January 5, 2010 10:23 pm

      Lilly’s actual and legitimate contributions to medicine and physics predate and are not related to his work with dolphins. Being a good scientist in one field does not make you a good scientist in all fields, just ask Linus Pauling.

      Lilly’s work with dolphins, while well funded, yielded few results, and the results he did report have so far been un-reproducible. He is perhaps the father of botched dolphin research. While his psychonautic adventures may have yielded some truly bizarre videos (and you can find those on youtube) to say that the current generation of Marine Mammalogists is validating his work is a very great stretch.

      • Tony permalink
        January 5, 2010 11:02 pm

        Linus Pauling was vindicated by the National Institute Of Health and the Mayo Clinic in 2007, I believe. Ironically enough the person in charge of the study was the one who led the charge against Pauling’s claims about Vita C and cancer years ago.

        Results of the findings that when given IV, ascorbic produces hydrogen peroxide and the rate of tumor destruction was something like ninety-five percent.

        Regarding Lilly’s pioneering work with dolphins, you don’t to be able to even credit him with starting it all. And how exactly did he botch his work? He wasn’t able to establish two-way communication with dolphins?
        What about all of the data he put together regarding the dolphin body, brain, and behavior?
        I think you are throwing the dolphin out with the seawater a bit here.

        typo fixed as per request

      • January 5, 2010 11:19 pm

        Interestingly, I was referring to Pauling’s much less credible claim the high doses of Vitamin C in a regular diet boosts the immune system. A claim that was obviously extrapolated from his cancer work but was never actually tested by Pauling. Despite a half century of “common knowledge” there is no correlation between taking more than an FDA recommended daily allowance of vitamin C and enhanced immunity.

        Lilly didn’t start it all. He started at a time when science was becoming a public commodity, so his work got attention, but there are studies of marine mammals from before the Challenger Expedition, from the Voyage of the Beagle, from Scammon’s work in the Sea of Cortez, from the unfortunate curse of Stellar (why is it almost all marine organisms named Stellar’s something-or-other went extinct shortly after discovery?). If his great dolphin contribution was that he observed dolphin behavior and measured physiology, I think you’d be hard pressed to argue that that gets him on the pedestal of scientific greatness beyond the pioneers who created those fields.

        What would have gotten him there was if his work with dolphin communication (which was a novel and very progressive idea at the time) had actually panned out. But, of all the results he published, none have been reproducible. That’s what makes them botched. Negative results are fine, but if you say we did X, the results were Y, but no one can replicate the results under the given conditions, then either the experimental design is bad, your method of detection is flawed, or your data has been falsified. And believe you me, people have been trying to reproduce those results for the last 40 years.

  28. Tony permalink
    January 6, 2010 12:09 am

    As an aside, I find it interesting that a major discovery regarding Vitamin C and it’s affects on cancer cells has fr the most part been ignored. I do remember the folks at NIH complaining about lack of funding. One of many promising cancer treatment discoveries that I’ve read about and watched fall by the wayside.

    Regarding the immune system, I am not aware of any serious studies any significant amount of C to discount Pauling’s claims. This was the same problem with the cancer studies, although there it was discovered that a steady state was needed via IV.

    Lilly didn’t start animal research, but he did foster a new area of investigation and popularized the notion that cetaceans are another intelligent and sentient species on the planet.
    I believe that one of the reasons that no one has replicated his results is because of the terrible way he initially used when working with the dolphins. Much to his credit he realized his treatment as cruel and spent much of the remainder of his life making up for it, in my opinion.
    Any attempt at duplicating his results using the same methods in today’s world would most certainly result in charges of animal cruelty. But in fairness to Lilly, back in the day animals did not have nearly as much respect and rights as they now.
    As dolphin research is logistically and financially a disaster it isn’t fair to say that people have been trying to get the same results for forty years? Under what conditions?
    We also have no way of knowing how far the Navy has gone in this area as they went classified in the 1970s.

    Essentially the jury is still out. You might enjoy this article:


  29. Malcolm Brenner permalink
    January 11, 2010 10:13 pm

    My novel “WET GODDESS: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover,” is now available at linked removed – we are not free ad space. Cut the shit and read it for yourself; I don’t expect to convince you of anything, but at least the arguments you make will be informed ones. Both of your moderators have made irresponsible and false statements about the contents of my novel without even having read it. “Scientific method” be damned, IMHO you’re a couple of bigoted bullies with advanced degrees.

    • January 11, 2010 10:24 pm

      For the record, at no point anywhere in this comment thread has either myself or WhySharksMatter made ANY comment regarding the content of Malcolm’s novel. All the comments are plainly visible for anyone to read for themselves.

    • whysharksmatter permalink*
      January 11, 2010 11:30 pm

      Malcolm, I can’t help but notice that your “novel” (which I actually considered buying for the humor value before I saw the exorbitant price tag) is listed as FICTION.

      The bigoted bullying that you accused us of was basically us saying that there is no way that your story about having intercourse with a dolphin was factually correct.

      You said that not only was it true, but you had written a book about it (as if telling the same ridiculous story in longer form means that it is suddenly true).

      Now, apparently you aren’t even pretending that the story is true anymore. You’re marketing the book as FICTION.

      Please knock the persecution complex crap off.

      • Malcolm Brenner permalink
        January 12, 2010 12:17 am


        Without having read my book or knowing very much about my experiences you accused me of “the moral equivalent of rape,” ignoring the purely physical fact that it would be no more possible for a human to “rape” a dolphin in the water than it would be to rape an unrestrained tiger or a gorilla on land.

        There is a lot of humor in my novel. Parts of my experience were in retrospect very funny. My experiences, which are true, are the novel’s basis. The reasons for publishing as fiction were many, including legal, artistic and journalistic. I’m not going to bother to explain them here, however, if you submit a polite, legitimate question to my web site, linked removed – we are not free ad space, I might add it and an answer to the FAQ’s (under construction).

        Not having, or being willing to read my book you are arguing from a position of ignorance; since you are calling me a liar, please explain why it would be “factually” impossible for a human male to have sexual intercourse with a female dolphin. Be as explicit as you want, or can be. You can’t possibly embarrass me.

        If you think $14.95 for a 300+ page trade paperback novel is “exorbitant,” perhaps you need a better job. Or visit a bookstore some time soon, check out the prices of new books.

        I don’t have a persecution complex; I have been persecuted by far worse than you. You, OTOH, have a superiority complex, a snotty, bullying attitude and unresolved issues about your religious upbringing, not to mention your sexuality. See how easy it is to throw insults? Can’t you find a more productive way to frame this discussion without defaming, slandering and attempting to publicly ridicule and humiliate me, or do you feel justified in doing so because I made a claim you disagree with? I will repeat, “Ridicule is not part of the scientific method.”

      • January 12, 2010 12:49 am

        Malcolm, the comparison made was that by arguing that you are capable of assuming consent from something not capable of giving it is the same argument used to justify rape. It has nothing to do with the physical reality and everything to do with the assumption of consent. I don’t believe you can communicate with dolphins. Nothing you have presented here has been in any way convincing.

        At no point was anyone talking about your book. You’ll find that neither of us even responded to you after you posted the link, we responded to the issues you raised right here.

        You are incredibly arrogant. We didn’t seek you out, you came to us. Your comments weren’t well received and you flipped out. You are the one who began the ad hominem attacks, the insults. You are the one who escalated every step of the way. All you have to do is re-read the thread. It’s all there. We never censor content, and when we do remove comments (except in the very rare case where personal information is being revealed against someone’s wished) we leave an explicit statement as to why the comment has been removed. Any “bullying” you think you’ve experienced has been the product of your own creation.

        It’s clear that you have no desire to engage in any sort of discussion. We are not here to cater to your vanity. I am deeply sorry but I am going to remove the links to your book – we are not here to provide free advertising for you. The original angelfire link is substantive content and will remain. Anyone truly interested can google your book’s title and find it.

  30. Malcolm Brenner permalink
    January 12, 2010 12:36 am

    Incorrect, untrue and patently false statements about WET GODDESS made by the moderators and their friends:


    I just want to remind you again that the dolphin he was attempting to communicate telepathically with was no longer alive at the time of the attempt. I really think that this is an important detail. We’re not only talking about telepathic communication with an animal- we’re talking about BEYOND THE GRAVE telepathic communication with an animal. Seriously. Wow.” – David. << FACTUALLY INCORRECT, but they won't even admit they've made a mistake.

    "Re: dude’s “dolphin lover”.

    I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

    An instant classic, that one." – Irradiatus << Just a snide wisecrack from a hack scientist. Sorry.

    • January 12, 2010 12:56 am

      Neither comment was in response to your book.Nice try though. The second one wasn’t even by me or David. Are you suggesting we should censor commentors?

      • Malcolm Brenner permalink
        January 12, 2010 3:32 pm

        Why not? You censored me, didn’t you? Hypocrite.

      • January 12, 2010 7:01 pm

        None of your comments have been censored. We removed the free advertising to your book you were attempting to spam this thread with, with a full notice as to the rationale and instructions on how to find it if anyone really wanted to. You are a fool if you think that is censorship. Please point to any substantive posts that have been censored in any way.

    • January 12, 2010 3:00 pm


      If you are so concerned that they are making false statements about your book without having read it, why not send one of them a copy to read and review? That way they can get their facts straight from the source. I could be wrong, but I bet either of them would be willing to give it an honest read to better understand your perspective of what happened between you and Ruby.

      • whysharksmatter permalink*
        January 12, 2010 3:10 pm

        Christie… once again, the book he’s marketing is listed as FICTION. He’s not even pretending anymore.

  31. Malcolm Brenner permalink
    January 12, 2010 3:31 pm

    I never was pretending. I’m still not pretending. Would it make any difference to you if I said my book was a factual autobiography? I think not, because I don’t have the quantitative data you require.

    Given that, why do you give a fuck whether I wrote a novel or not? Nothing could matter less to you, aside from beating me down. That seems more important to you than whether you can learn anything interesting about dolphins, or humans, from my experience.

    I’ll be happy to describe my experience in utterly factual terms with any bona-fide scientist who cares to listen. That would exclude you, David & Andrew.

    • January 12, 2010 7:22 pm

      You’re right one one point, beating you down couldn’t possibly matter less to us. No one here cares about beating you down. Dave’s concern is that while you assert that your work is truth, you, yourself, Malcolm Brenner, are calling it fiction. If it’s truth, then why is it not called truth?

      You come here spouting lies, verbally abusing myself, my colleagues, and my commentors. It’s clear that you have absolutely no respect for my peers, myself, or the truth. Your blatant disregard and willingness to manipulate the truth here, in this thread alone, would lead any rational person to question whether anything presented in a work you describe as fiction could possibly be trusted.

      You have not ever been censored on this blog, and to suggest otherwise is a blatant lie.

      You may, however, find yourself permanently banned from posting here, in which case we will close this thread to future comments, provide a link to your own blog (not commercial website), and block you permanently from posting anywhere on Southern Fried Science.

  32. Malcolm Brenner permalink
    January 12, 2010 7:48 pm

    I wish you would, this is a big waste of my time, it’s rather like a pimple on my ass that I can’t reach.

    • January 12, 2010 8:49 pm

      Malcolm Brenner has been permanently banned from Southern Fried Science by his own request and with the overwhelming support of both the moderators and commentators of Southern Fried Science.

      This thread is now closed to comments.


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    The Southern Fried Scientist

    Andrew is a graduate student in North Carolina studying deep sea biology. When not in the lab, he spends his time out on the water, usually swearing at his boat while simultaneously sacrificing some important tool to Poseidon in a desperate attempt to make the motor start. That is, assuming he can get his truck running long enough to actually put the boat in the water. He enjoys long walks on the beach, by necessity. Follow him on Twitter @SFriedScientist.


    David is a graduate student in South Carolina studying shark conservation. He is the author of the upcoming book “Why Sharks Matter: Using New Environmentalism to Show The Economic And Ecological Importance of Sharks, The Threats They Face, and How You Can Help”. His time is divided between educating the public about sharks, spending days at a time at sea playing with sharks, and eating horribly unhealthy foods. Follow him on Twitter @WhySharksMatter.

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