Land & sea

Stupid people are a danger, chiefly to themselves. But smart people are a danger to the whole community.

I was reminded of this recently, when idly studying the dolphins. They are generally credited, by human naïfs, as perhaps the smartest of the marine animals: highly intelligent, sophisticated social life, known linguistic ability. I, personally, would try to converse with an elephant, before mixing socially with a bottlenose, or a chimpanzee (at the low end of this intellectual pyramid). But that is because I am also perilously naïve. (Have you ever seen an elephant having a temper tantrum?) All three creatures can be dangerously clever, certainly compared to snakes, and poisonous frogs, who tend to mind their own business. But dolphins socialize back, as we learn on the sight-seeing expeditions. They not only mix, but are extroverted.

Dr Chantel Elston, my favourite marine biologist on the U-Boob, studies stingrays in her native Cape Province, South Africa. She is also informative on other marine topics, and it is from her that I have learnt of the bottlenose dolphin’s propensity to purposely-organized gang rapes, and their many other incidents of aggression and violence.

Infanticide, for instance, is among their disagreeable habits. So advanced is their understanding of genetics, that the males know how to pick out the children of questionable paternity. Nature requires mothers to defend all of the babes, but allows fathers to be selective. The dolphin calves, like young humans presently, are responsively suicidal. They often beach themselves after such an assault has broken their backs and cracked all their ribs. It’s not easy, coming of age as a dolphin. They must wish their fathers were slower-witted.

Don’t kid yourself: emotional intelligence is actual intelligence, and like the other forms, is minacious, as any persecuted husband or boyfriend will tell you. (Human males are, of course, much less intelligent than the females.) Dolphins, indeed, are among the most emotional animals. They have mastered cute and cuddly, when swimming with people, as an act to get food and snacks, but may with little warning switch to another mood, in which they bite viciously, ram, and attempt to drown their companions — unlike the dim-witted sharks, who only want more food (and may go about choosing it unwisely). For the emotional are subject to strange hungers, that can never be satisfied; whereas a stupid creature can just eat something, then be at peace.

Dolphins kill porpoises gratuitously, as individuals when they dislike a face, or collectively when the dislike is for another pod or tribe. They have complex inter-personal relationships, and as gentle reader may know, politics and war follow from that.

They also call each other by name. As our knowledge of marine biology increases, we are bound to discover satirical intentions.