Photo: Pug Father
The Academy Award winner for last year’s best documentary was The Cove. I recommend it to each and every one of my readers – it is a combination of a government conspiracy theory, undercover espionage, and educational-activist-type documentary. The film focuses on a small fishing village in Japan that kills over 20,000 dolphins a year.
I won’t give much away, but I wanted to write a little bit about the films main character, Ric O’Barry. Ric was the person that made dolphins famous back in the 1960’s – he was the trainer for the 5 dolphins used on the TV show Flipper. He also went on to become the most outspoken critic of dolphin captivity.
Why the change of heart? In 1970, the main dolphin used in Flipper committed suicide. Wait… what? Ric O’Barry was very close to the dolphins he trained and maintains he could tell their emotions through body language. The dolphin swam up to Ric that fateful day, looked him in the eye, and took her last breath, deciding not to take another. He believes the dolphin committed suicide because of its depression living in captivity.
How likely is this? Keep in mind we are not talking about humans who breathe unconsciously. Dolphins don’t always have access to air to breathe – they spend most of their time under water, unable to take in oxygen. They must consciously return to the surface to breathe. Thus, this is certainly plausible and I am inclined to give Ric the benefit of the doubt.
If dolphins (and whales for that matter) have to consciously tell themselves to take a breath when they are out of air, how do they sleep? My guess would be that they would draw in a large breath and take a quick nap before returning back to the top for more air. But how what if they don’t wake up in time? DEAD! Turns out they have a “semi-sleeping” state where they effectively shut off half of their brain at a time. They are still conscious enough to rise to the surface for a breath, but asleep enough to rest. Dolphins spend roughly 8 hours a day in this state.