It may sound like science fiction or even sheer fantasy, but there is a nearly mystical aspect to the relationship between dolphins and human beings. Long ago sailors were the first to take notice of this. Dolphins were often found swimming alongside ships, guiding them to areas of better fishing, and even rescuing those who fell overboard–especially if sharks, the dolphins’ enemies, attacked. Military use of these gentle and benevolent sea creatures has also taken advantage of their apparent willingness to aid humans and communicate with us–unfortunately, not in keeping with their nature.
Back in the sixties, however, scientists studying dolphin communication realized that there is a natural therapeutic result from interaction between their species and ours. One psychoanalyst in particular–Dr. John Lilly–was a leader in such research. Following his work, numerous other resesarchers developed projects to further explore this subject. It has been found that various types of human suffering can be alleviated by contact with dolphins, usually by patients swimming with them. Early on, groups of cancer patients–provided they were up to such activity–traveled to locations like Florida to partake of sessions with these large swimming partners. Many reported feeling better, although certainly no disease was cured. It did, however, relieve them of some of their nausea and discomfort from chemotherapy and other treatment.
The most significant work, though, was with children who had conditions such as autism and other developmental problems covering a broad range. Much of the credit in this field is due to the work of Dr. Betsy Smith, a pioneering scientist who saw the effect interaction with dolphins had on her disabled brother. Since the dolphins make an effort to communicate in the water with the kids, who have difficulty in relating to others of their own species, there seems to be an almost magical effect. Certainly, many people of all ages feel less threatened by animals than by white-coated professionals who are doing a job which often may cause them misery. An animal who is friendly, non-abusive, and non-judgmental can entice them to open up, relax and engage in activities including communication. If someone who experiences even non-verbal rejection due to being different is suddenly encouraged to let go and freely express feelings, it will only be a matter of time before progress is achieved. Dolphin assisted therapy has accomplished such things in less time than human therapists have been able to imagine.
On a purely clinical level, studies have shown how dolphin assisted theapy, or DAT, actually works. Blood samples have been taken both before and after therapy sessions to examine any possible biochemical reactions. Following these treatments, patients had higher levels of endorphins–the “feel-good” hormones–and T-cells, which are an important strengthener of the immune system. As well, the children scored higher in tests of motor skills, cognition, and verbal skills in general. Alpha brain waves were more frequently found instead of beta waves, too, indicating a more relaxed condition. It really doesn’t take a scientist, though, to figure out that people of all ages and conditions will relax, have better health, and enjoy life more, when they are simply having a great time. Swimming with these playful marine animals, or feeding them, dancing in the water. or even getting a ride on a dolphin’s back, are all experiences these children will never forget enjoying. When you have such a terrific time and look forward to your therapy, you’re bound to increase in wellness in multiple ways. It can only be hoped that the dolphins, too, have happy encounters and are well-cared for, to have only good memories of their work with humans.
The nearest DAT available in the Los Angeles area is at San Diego’s Seaworld; see http://seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-sandiego/Attractions/Exclusive-Park-Experiences/Dolphin-Interaction-Program for information. On the other hand, for those who frequent our own local beaches, you may see wild dolphins from time to time, even close to the shoreline. Surely these friendly animals won’t object if you swim close to them and try to make some form of non-threatening contact. At Santa Monica and Venice beaches in particular, they can often be seen. Just be sure to always follow the directives of the local lifeguards wherever you swim. Also please keep in mind that dolphins are highly-developed sentient beings and don’t deserve any disrespect or abuse. Treat these other creatures gently and you will get the same treatment in return in this case.