By Phyllis Kennemer
Dolphins are the most attractive and intriguing form of marine life.
Although Jacques-Yves Cousteau garnered a lot of attention for his work with dolphins, he was not the first to become enchanted with these amazing creatures. Dolphins have held fascination for people since prehistoric times. They appear in ancient myths, literature and art. Archeological findings dating back to 14,000 BC depict dolphins as sacred animals. Mythologies originating in many cultures feature dolphins rescuing people, aiding fishermen and forming friendships with humans.
Dolphins often appear to be friendly toward humans and swim close to the shore as though inviting interaction. Because of this phenomenon, people began swimming with dolphins, first in their own habitats in oceans, and eventually with captive dolphins in specially built tanks for this purpose. Most swimmers reported pleasurable feelings as a result and the Swimming With Dolphins (SWD) industry expanded.
As the popularity of SWD increased, new business ventures evolved offering Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT). Parents of autistic children and others with a variety of disabilities are drawn to these healing programs. Sessions are generally administered by medical professionals and most include consultations with doctors, health assessments, relaxation therapy and recommended life style adjustments — in addition to interaction with the dolphins themseves. The treatment period varies in length. The one-day offerings are similar to the more general SWD. Most therapeutic programs extend over several days or weeks.
DAT healing programs are offered throughout the world in such places as California, Florida, Hawaii, Mexico, Israel, England, Australia, the Bahamas and the Ukraine. Costs are high, running into thousands of dollars and requiring additional expense for travel and lodging. A few sites offer therapy with dolphins in the wild, such as Water World in Florida, but the vast majority use captive dolphins in confined spaces. Most of the establishments make promises that border on the miraculous. A sample composite statement incorporating assurances from various websites follows:
A guaranteed outcome is the feeling of joy and harmony that occurs during the treatment sessions in the hearts of children, their parents and the support team. Contacts with the friendliest creatures of the sea and therapy sessions are like a game for patients and others. Treatment therapy changes the person physically and mentally. Both sides of the brain are synchronized into an uncommon neurological state that increases awareness and learning ability. Dolphin Assisted Therapy opens the internal power of the patient’s personality.
Most therapists using techniques associated with dolphins are close to oceans, but some land-locked counselors offer services that are dolphin related. Dr. John DeLuca, a licensed psychologist with the Caritas Center in Boulder, uses recordings of the sounds of dolphins and whales with people searching for deeper meaning in their lives. He believes that the act of swimming with dolphins affects brain waves and that a similar effect can result from listening to the sounds they make without actually getting into the water with them.
A Dolphin Wave session is about deepening spiritual understanding and thus is not therapy in the usual sense. Dr. DeLuca explains that listening to the cetacean sounds increases brain synchronicity, which helps a person hold a deep consciousness and enter into a creative meditative state. He helps clients choose intentions for the sessions. Some select an exploration of past life patterns as aids in understanding present situations. Others choose to connect with spiritual guides. Some opt to tap into akashic wisdom (a collective of spiritual consciousness that contains a vibrational record of every soul and its journey).
Once the intention is set, Dr. DeLuca attaches nodes to the client’s head in order to observe the changes in brain waves as the meditative state deepens. Headsets provide the recordings of the dolphin and whale sounds along with a soothing background of ocean waves lapping against the shore. The session concludes with a discussion of insights gained during the meditation and an observation of the changes in brain waves.
Praise for DAT is not universally shared, however. In spite of the glowing guarantees and elaborate promises, there is no scientific evidence proving that the therapy has long term effectiveness, nor that it offers advantages over therapy techniques with domesticated animals, such as dogs and horses. Anecdotal praise usually occurs during and immediately following DAT sessions. Researchers attribute these seemingly positive results to other factors, such as the excessive attention given the patient, the novelty of the experience, swimming in salt water and simply the placebo effect. There are few, if any, documented cases of long-term healing.
Many animal activists are also opposed to DAT. They remind people that dolphins are wild creatures with their own specific lifestyles and family attachments. Placing dolphins in tanks, which are essentially cages, and separating them from their families is cruel. There is no evidence that dolphins are happy in captivity. They are not smiling at humans, as some would like to believe. The “smile” is an anatomical illusion based on the configuration of their jaws and is not an expression of an emotion. Some activists also point out that dolphins in captivity are not always docile. They remain wild creatures and there have been instances of harm and injury to people in the tanks with them.
The fascination with dolphins has persisted throughout the ages. Many people continue to express the desire to have interaction with these intriguing creatures. Decisions about possible healing experiences and ethic considerations concerning the welfare of the dolphins are personal and must be based in the individual’s own belief system.