Dolphin Cognition and Behavior: A Comparative Approach

By Ronald J. Schusterman; Jeanette A. Thomas et al. | Go to book overview
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the sequence of "noise, conditioned reinforcement, signal for tail-lift, tail-lift, and reinforcement" several times. It then swam to the other side of the tank, but without apparent agitation, so I took advantage of the pause in the proceedings to put my arms in the water and rinse the fish juice off my hands.

As I was doing this, the dolphin came over, and with one flipper stroked my arm up and down, very vigorously, an affiliative signal frequently seen between dolphins but never, in my experience, from dolphin to person. In this context it might be loosely interpreted as "Okay, stupid, I understand what you mean now, and you're forgiven" ( Pryor, 1974).

This kind of event, a real communication, can be an emotional experience for man and beast alike. When this individual, Malia, later to become a rather wellknown research and performance animal, rubbed my arm, I was touched, and dumped all the rest of the fish into the tank. However, this and all similar anecdotes are not so much an indication of some quasi-human capabilities of an animal or a species, or of the sentimentality of porpoise trainers, but of the enormous potential of interactive training as a window into animal behavior and potentially into animal consciousness.


Traditional animal training can also develop a situation of rapport and communication between trainer and subject. Traditional training, however, of dogs or horses, say, requires the patient acquisition of physical skills, sometimes at considerable risk. Just learning to ride a horse involves more time and physical effort than most people care to spend, and that is nothing compared to the physical skills and risks involved in training a horse. Thus the "glimpses through the window" afforded to the traditional animal trainer are not available to most people; and those who are both traditional trainers and convincing communicators are few.

Here, slightly paraphrased, is a statement from a professional writer who is also a trainer:

These are beautiful, marvelous creatures, whose responses and instincts work on a plane as different from humans as water and oil. . . . Insight into their senses and consciousness is like a half-opened door or a half-learned language; our comprehension is maddeningly balked by not having the right sorts of hearing, or sense of touch; or maybe good enough telepathy. The feeling of oneness I have sometimes had with them has been their gift to an inferior being; but maybe my passion to [find out what we can accomplish together] has been my gift to them. ( Francis, 1976)

This paragraph was not written by a dolphin trainer, but by Dick Francis, a horse trainer and steeplechase jockey. The oneness he speaks of is the learned interaction of horse and rider in a race. It's a communication not available to


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Dolphin Cognition and Behavior: A Comparative Approach
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