BOOKS: Dolphins and Their Power to Heal

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1993:

Dolphins and Their Power to Heal, by
Amanda Cochrane and Karena Callen, Healing
Arts Press (1 Park St., Rochester, VT 05767), 1992.
182 pages. $17.95 paperback.
The title of Dolphins and Their Power to Heal is a
little misleading. Yes, the authors, who practice alterna-
tive healing in London, explore reports of dolphins’ influ-
ence on our physical and emotional well-being. But they
move quickly beyond these anecdotes to consider the wider
implications of the mutual attraction between two such dis-
similar species.

For the most part, Cochrane and Callen attribute
to dolphins no more than an ability to inspire us “to explore
our own healing potential.” In much the same way that pet
therapy works for many people, dolphins seem to soothe us
with their unconditional love and acceptance. Other possi-
bilities are mentioned: some theories hold that dolphins
diagnose by echolocation, others that dolphins heal by
telepathy. The evidence ranges from stories of chance
encounters with wild dolphins to experiments at various
research centers.
Realizing the potential for exploitation inherent in
the latter scenarios, the authors insist “the last thing that we
want to encourage is captive dolphins in every institution
and hospital, or an increase in the number of dolphins taken
from the wild.” They cite several “quite ridiculous” and
pathetic situations in which captive dolphins are regularly
forced to interact with ailing humans. While the book does
include information on commercial dolphin programs (for
healing and entertainment), its evaluations are always
based on the dolphins’ welfare. They note that, “Even in
the right hands, such programs serve to perpetuate a domi-
neering and manipulative attitude toward nature.”
Herein lies an interesting paradox: why do mod-
ern humans, otherwise almost completely cut off from the
natural world, still share an ancient bond with these marine
mammals? Cochrane and Callen delve into natural history,
ancient texts, and the frontiers of archeology for possible
explanations. They survey the ongoing debate over the
“aquatic ape” theories of Alistair Hardy and Elaine Morgan,
who postulate that humans may have evolved in parallel cir-
cumstances with dolphins. They also reexamine aboriginal
and classical myths of human/dolphin interactions in the
light of modern discoveries.
While ancient civilizations and primitive cultures
shared deep (if occasionally tragic) relationships with dol-
phins, our culture’s fascination with these beings is a fairly
recent occurrence. In a few all too brief chapters, the book
traces this redeveloping bond through two distinct trends.
The first is the commercial success of captive performing
dolphins as epitomized in the television series Flipper. The
other is the publicity surrounding unforced if often romanti-
cized friendships between wild dolphins and humans.
Many of the accounts here, however, are firsthand, includ-
ing interviews with nearly everyone who has been closely
involved with dolphins, from John Lilly to Richard
O’Barry, whose Dolphin Project is to receive a portion of
the profits from the book.
Inevitably, the story of dolphins and humanity
leads to the numerous ways in which dolphins suffer from
our activities. Whether investigating the military abuse of
these harmless creatures or describing the horrors of drift-
nets, the authors treat the issues with a minimum of rhetoric
and sensationalism. Indeed, they demonstrate an unusual
reluctance to place indiscriminate blame or to indulge in
gory details.
Readers who have studied the plight of marine
mammals will find little new here. While the book men-
tions various conservation efforts, they are considered in
context and with recognition of their limited effect. Nor is
the book an argument for a New Age human/dolphin spiri-
tual reunion. It is remarkable more for its well-balanced
ethical and historical perspective, achieved through the
careful compilation of exhaustive research.
––Cathy Young Czapla
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