Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dolphins

Dolphins
© 1975 Jacques-Yves Cousteau
304 pages

In every color, there is the light. In every stone sleeps a crystal. Remember the shaman, when he used to say -- "Man is the dream of the dolphin." - "The Dream of the Dolphin", Enigma

"It is obvious that dolphins are often motivated by curiosity, and especially by curiosity about man. One can literally see it in their eyes. This is a fact that can be doubted only by someone who has never really looked a dolphin in the eye. The brilliance of that organ, the spark that is so evidence there, seems to come from another world. The look which the dolphin gives -- a keen look, slightly melancholy and mischievous, but less insolent and cynical than that of monkeys -- seems full of indulgence for the uncertainties of the human condition. Among primates, one sometimes detects what appears to be sadness at not being human. This sentiment is alien to the dolphin." - pg. 27-28

Back in 2007 I read Cousteau's Whales, consisting of recollections of his years spent on the open seas tracking whales (organized topically) replete with plenty of pictures. Dolphins is very much the same: like Whales, it's a translation from the original French and consists of informational recollections about dolphins. There isn't an obvious organization behind the way chapters are arranged: a chapter on dolphin biology may be followed immediately by a chapter recounting human-dolphin interactions throughout history. Nothing other than the subject (and the binding) holds the book together, but given how interesting the subject is to most people, I doubt that it is very much hurt by this.

Despite how familiar dolphins seem, Cousteau writes, we know very little about them. What little information we posses has been collected by observing dolphins in captivity, where their behavior has been "deformed", to use the word his translator likes to use so often. There's a lot of information in here, especially in the chapter focusing on historical interactions between humanity and dolphins. A story from Pliny detailing how fishermen used to fish with dolphins, allowing the dolphins to drive fish toward the shore is followed by Cousteau's account of visiting a tribe in Mauritania that has subsisted on fish caught with the aid of dolphins for untold generations. This section has some of the more interesting pictures, in my view: historical depictions of dolphins. Apparently Jesus has been presented as a dolphin before.

Although the book's subject is interesting, some of the information contained therein might be dated: this was written in 1975, when technological limitations made it impossible to gather detailed information on dolphins in the wild. Today, palm-sized cameras and equipment like this probably make marine biologists' jobs a lot easier.

2 comments:

  1. In 1967, when I was in the fourth grade (my favorite year of school ever) we were studying the sea. My teacher (a BRILLIANT instructor) invited those of us who didn't have a color television (my purist parents!) to her home to watch a Jacques Cousteau special. It was fascinating and all of us were inspired. I love John Denver's song Calypso. Thanks for the memory.

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  2. That was nice of your teacher! My parents banned television from our home, so watching movies at school was a treat for me -- especially the educational ones. Thanks for the Denver reference -- I've never heard of it. :)

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