Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dolphins and Animal Assisted Therapy

Author: Joy Cagil

Some scientists who work with dolphins believe that these sea-dwellers show a sense to the disability and physical trauma associated with function and pain in humans, therefore making the cranio-sacral therapy possible. Dolphins, with their internal sonar or echo-location can feel where the person hurts the most and are able to gently nudge and play without hurting the person.

Once, two dolphins saved a writer while he was swimming far off the coast of California. The man was a good swimmer and swimming had become his daily routine. One day, far away from the shore, he felt very tired, too tired to lift his arms or kick. Suddenly, two dolphins came to his rescue. They swam with their bodies touching him and they propelled him forward by fastening their nose under his arms to keep him afloat, until they came close to the shore where there were other people. By this time, the writer had regained enough strength to swim a few more yards to safety. He says the dolphins didn't leave immediately. They kept leaping off shore to make sure he made it to land safely.

Many incidents of dolphins saving people at sea have been reported. Some time ago, it was in the news that a pod of dolphins defended a group of swimmers by circling protectively around them to fend off the attack of the great white shark. The swimmers were on a lifeguard training swim about hundred yards off the shore. At first, the men didn't understand that there was a shark. One of them swam away but was pushed back into the circle by the dolphins. At that time he saw a nine-foot shark two yards away from him. The men spent about forty minutes before in that circle before the dolphins let them swim back to the shore. Since sharks are dolphins' greatest enemies, it is possible that they protected the men as if the swimmers were their own offspring.

There are many different species of dolphins. A familiar one is Flipper's kind, the bottlenose dolphin. One of the world's most endangered species is a dolphin called by many names such as Beiji; Pai C'hi; Chinese River Dolphin; Yangtze Dolphin; Whitefin Dolphin; Whiteflag Dolphin. It inhabits the Yangtze River in China. It is said that these animals are very close to being extinct since there are only 5 of them left, whereas in 1984 there were 400.

Warm-blooded like men, dolphins are mammals, not fish, and they give birth to one baby at a time, nursing their young up to four years. They live in social groups called pods and interact with each other very closely. These pods' make-up can change, since dolphins interact with dolphins from other pods from time to time. A lone dolphin that has lost his friends at sea can easily be adopted by another pod.

Dolphins have powerful tails that not only help to steer them in water, but also signal annoyance or danger. Just like humans, dolphins like to gesture when they interact with each other. To communicate, they use body language or they whistle and they stroke one another with their fins as if bonding socially. When they swim together as friends, they move synchronously leaping in and out of the water. When they are angry or aggressive, they open their mouths or clap their jaws violently.

Dolphins can dive to great depths and also can leap high over the water. Being mammals, they need to breathe, but unlike humans their breathing is voluntary. They breathe through the opening on the top of their heads. It is possible that dolphins can drown. When that happens other dolphins come to the drowning dolphin's aid, supporting his body in such a way that his blowhole stays above the water.

To sleep, dolphins have to shut down only half of their brain, which probably means that they are always alert to danger. Dolphins also take short naps as they float just below the surface. Yet, unlike humans, their most active feeding time is the night, although they spend a good amount of the day looking for food.

One of the best dolphin research centers is located in the Marathon Key, Florida. Here and at other dolphin centers around the world, the project of aiding handicapped children with Dolphins is carefully investigated, with the therapy based on the dolphin's natural desire to come into contact with humans. Through interaction with dolphins, children with Autism, Down's Syndrome, anorexia, depression, cancer, and learning disabilities have exhibited positive results by calming down and showing a better sense of importance and self-confidence.

There are, however opposing views and theories. In 2003, a report by WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society) and HSUS (the Humane Society of the United States) claims that the risk to dolphins overweighs the positive effects of their interaction with humans in dolphin-petting zoos. Dolphins become obese with the excess feeding by the public and extended exposure to humans subject the animals to stress and injury. Also some children, even if very few, have been reported to regress in their development from being pushed by their families and the fright of the animals or the water.

Given the positive use of dolphin and human contact, more research is needed, and attention to the dolphin petting areas and more closely observed rules of hygiene and sanitation are in order, so that both species can continue to benefit from each other.

About the author: Joy Cagil is an author on a site for Writers (http://www.Writing.Com/) Her training is in foreign languages and linguistics. In her background are varied subjects such as psychology, mental health, and visual arts. Her portfolio can be found at


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