People are attracted to dolphins for many reasons, from their intelligence and friendliness to their ability to communicate. Rachel Smolker, a psychobiologist with a special interest in animal communication, turned her longtime fascination into a groundbreaking project. In 1982, frustrated by the limitations of observing dolphins in captivity, Smolker moved to Monkey Mia, a remote beach on the west coast of Australia where "tame" wild dolphins regularly interact with humans. Gradually, Smolker and a team of fellow scientists extended the human-dolphin community to encompass dolphins that did not come toward shore. By 1990, the could recognize and chart the behavior of more than 250 individuals.
Smolker's magnificent chronicle of her experiences in Monkey Mia, To Touch a Wild Dolphin, unravels many of themysteries about these appealing animals. It offers an up-close look at their society and the diversity of characters that that inhavit it. From the intriguing differences between the sexes to the nature of mother-infant relationships, to the wide repertoire of sounds used for social communications, the author reveals the inner workins of dolphin life. In delightful portraits of individual dolphins, she profiles personalities ranging from the playful to the moody to the incredibly silly.
Smolker is widely recognized as one of the leading authorities on dolphins, and her fascinatingand sometimes troublingrevelations about them greatly enhance our understanding of these magical creatures.
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About the Author
Exclusive Author Essay
I've never met anyone (here in America at least), who didn't profess to adore dolphins. They seem to be so intelligent and friendly and happy. We've all heard rumors about their capacity for language and their emotional sensitivity, and that they save the lives of drowning seafarers. But for most people, all of these rumors and myths and assumptions remain just that. I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people on earth, because I actually had the chance to explore the lives of dolphins up close and personal. To Touch a Wild Dolphin is the story of that experience.
I, too, had heard lots of intriguing stories about dolphins, but in addition, I had learned a lot about evolutionary biology -- about how the forms and lifestyles and even the social behavior of animals could be explained ultimately as adaptations coming about through the process of natural selection. I wanted to understand the behavior of dolphins, and I especially wanted to know what they use their big brains for out in the wilds of their natural ocean environment.
I heard about a unique place in Shark Bay, West Australia, where wild dolphins came into a shallow beach to interact with people. They let people touch them and took fish from the hands of human visitors: wild, but friendly! What better opportunity to learn about them. A fellow biology student and I decided to take a trip to see these dolphins with our own eyes, and so began my career of dolphin watching.
I would never have guessed what sorts of things we would discover -- or how much hard work it would take to make those discoveries. But gradually we put together a picture of dolphin life that revealed them to be among the most socially complex and fascinating animals on the face of the earth. Beginning with a long period of learning to recognize more than 400 dolphins individually, we then realized that they formed sex-segregated groupings, that males formed alliances that cooperated and competed with one another in remarkable ways (for the purpose of mating with females); and we also learned about the many extraordinary ways dolphins hunt for fish, including tail whacking, kerplunking, snacking, bottom-grubbing, and a form of tool use called sponge-carrying. Along the way we came to know the tame Monkey Mia dolphins personally and witnessed the many triumphs and trials of which their lives are composed.
I wrote this book because I wanted to share with everyone not only the discoveries we made, but also the stories and anecdotes and adventures that went into it. Like I said, I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people on earth. Becoming familiar with a nonhuman creature of any sort is an electrifying, consciousness-expanding experience. It teaches us about ourselves in a way that no other experience can -- especially when that creature is both so similar to and so vastly different from ourselves. (Rachel Smolker)