Have you ever wondered how dolphins breathe? Well, Yes, we all learnt that fishes have gills which they use in taking-in the oxygen from the water for their respiration. But those are the regular fish, not marine mammals. Whale and Dolphins are mammals, and by definition, they can’t breathe in water. This means just like humans, they have to inhale air (oxygen) from outside the water, otherwise, they will drown! So generally, such Marine mammals will timely move to the surface of the water and inhale some oxygen from the gaseous environment, then dive back into the ocean for a swim.
All that is fine with me, but then, how will they sleep? will they die once they fall asleep? or they put their ‘noses’ out to the air? First of all, the nose is located at the wrong place (don’t get me wrong, it just confuses me) the nose is not in the elongated part of the head as generally perceived, but in the middle of their head. Anyway, Scientists have found that dolphins cannot go into full deep sleep, otherwise they will suffocate. However, what they do is to let one half of the brain to sleep at a time, and the other half will keep them half-conscious to observe incoming predator, and to let them move to the surface every now and then for breathing. This ‘half-brain-sleep’ mode is called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep; the dolphin generally swim very slowly during this period. At this time, a half of the brain hemisphere will be inactivated and the opposite eye to that hemisphere will also be closed. Neuroscientists have reported that in a day, each half of the brain gets to sleep for about 4 hours, but there is still contradiction on whether or not these Marine mammals dream and how their REM (rapid eye movement sleep) activities are.
I’ve had these questions in my mind for quite a while now. In the words of Michelangelo, if you want to know a person, ask them. To be honest, I paraphrased that for effect. Michelangelo actually said: “If a person tells you who they are, believe them”. Since Michelangelo didn’t specify to only humans, I decided to apply his logic and ask a dolphin myself about their lives.
So I decided to visit an aquarium where some dolphins are housed. I was fortunate to meet a very beautiful and loquacious dolphin whom I named Ben, The Dolphin. He was of the bottlenose specie -the dominant species in Europe- and although the species vary from place to place, dolphins live in almost every ocean around the world but the Antarctic and Arctic Oceans.
It was a cold weekend, and the aquarium was opened till late hours, I arrived at around 2pm. Upon reaching the glass aquarium, I sat by a pedestal for I was sure it was going to be a long day. I observed the aquatic habitants carefully as they moved in different directions, everyone minding its business. Suddenly, I noticed a dolphin swimming slowly and inactively through the waves. “It is sleeping!” I exclaimed: thinking to myself, I had finally seen a sleeping dolphin. I waited patiently until it approached the glass from where I was observing, and then I noticed something peculiar -both the eyes were open. I was a bit disappointed.
I greeted the dolphin and asked for his name. “I don’t have a name”, replied the dolphin, “we dolphins use a sonar-type of communication, i.e. by whistling, we can identify one another and hunt for prey. It is called echolocation”, explained the dolphin. “Shall I give you a name?” I asked, and the innocent dolphin responded affirmatively. “I shall call you Ben” I said, and that marked the beginning of an interspecies bonding.
Ben is a European and has a Schengen passport, I am still not sure of the gender of Ben, so I will be switching the identity between male and female throughout my conversions as I want to be politically correct.
Just like any other dolphin, Ben used to live in ocean’s continental shelves. In his own case, the North Sea, a marginal sea located between Great Britain and the Scandinavian. She expressed her worries about BREXIT and how it could eventually affect migrating dolphins. I told her not to worry, the BREXIT camp doesn’t really have a plan. She said that’s the exact reason why she’s very worried. Her mother is from Ireland – where the most bottlenose dolphins are found. So for Ben, immigration would not be an issue, but if the British government decided to close coastal boarders, then other European dolphins might undergo litigation and strandedness at the territorial waters. From our conversation, I could understand that she’s a fan of the former Prime Minister, David Cameron although, she hates the Tories; she expressed her support for the Labor party however.
I told Ben that recent research has shown that dolphins have the best memory amongst animals; they can memorize the signature whistle of a dolphin up to 20 years after separation. She was happy to hear that and I can see her nose turning pink.
“You are blushing”, I said, “Your nose, it is turning red”. Ben did not get the joke, but she used the opportunity to start explaining to me a different species of dolphin called the pinked-nose dolphins. They are a rare species and generally found in the Louisiana Lake. I had a little disagreement with Ben there, because I read that the pink dolphins in Louisiana Lake were in fact albinos. Albinism is a genetic trait and it is still unclear to scientist as to the type of albinism the animal inherited.
After about an hour into the conversation, we got interrupted by a security guard, who thought I must have lost my mind. I explained and reassured the guard of my mental fitness, and persuaded him that it was for the benefit of science; moreover, the dolphin seemed very happy with his new friend.
It’s already late, I completely lost track of time but before I leave, Ben had requested a favor from me, to compose a poem for him. I used the limited time to sing the following couplets for my friend.
Wallow through the depths of waters O poor Ben
Swirl to the ripples of the ocean
For your magnanimous avatar stands unmatched
Whistle out loud, like the cadence of the music
For your spirit is all but inept
Lee through the Galicia, your nonchalance is pride
While some see fun, I see chivalry at its best.
I learnt a lot from Ben that day, and I will surely find time to visit my friend again. Speaking about time, I will like to finish with another saying by Leonardo da Vinci, I’ll try not to paraphrase anything this time. He said: “In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with time”