Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Our gardens were fertilised by whales..."

Another beautiful piece on the intelligence and, yes, I"ll say it: spiritually, of whales and dolphins:Joy, grief, altruism... these extraordinary mammals show 'human' feelings and could even have their own religion by Philip Hoare.
Experiments conducted around the world have shown that they cannot only respond to spoken commands, but (almost uniquely among the animal kingdom) can recognise themselves in a mirror, and even in pictures held up against the glass wall of aquariums.
This displays a degree of intelligence and self-awareness that is truly awesome - and raises awkward questions about the morality of keeping animals such as these in cramped water parks, where they have no freedom to express their natural behaviour, however miraculous it may be to observe.

I have been privileged enough to see that intelligence on display in the wild. For the past eight years, I've watched and studied whales for my book, Leviathan. I've seen many different species, from the tiny harbour porpoise, barely bigger than a rugby ball, to the huge fin whale, which, at 85ft, is only just smaller than a blue whale.

I've seen humpback whales leap into the air, launching their entire 50ft bodies out of the water. I've even swum with sperm whales, close enough to feel their sonar (the sound waves they emit) reverberating through my skeleton like an MRI scan. It was almost as if they knew their place in the world - and mine. And that may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

Most recently, the world's greatest expert on sperm whales, Dr Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University, Canada, has come to some stunning conclusions.

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