Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dolphin Dancing

On California mornings, the surfers dot the ocean like dolphins. Nearsighted, it's hard to tell the difference. It is fun to watch them, poured into their wetsuits, emulating sea animals, straddling their boards in anticipation of a big one. One seems always to be waiting in California, or at least it appears that way to a New Yorker. It is great to slow down in the summer, but it might be too late for me to ever slow down year-round. I'm fearful that the frenetic neuroticism of NYC is in my bones, in my brain. I take it with me wherever I go.

I did slow down, though, on morning walks along the beach. At the end of the pier in Huntington, for example, before the fake-breasted babes were awake, there were only cloaked Chinese fishermen and fisherwomen casting their rods against the wind, a few rows of patient surfers, and dolphins.

As I leaned against the railing, I caught sight of movement in the water, a ripple, another ripple, a fin poking out, then a whole dolphin and then another, dancing in the waves. A bird followed their flight, landing on the water just around them as they played, watching enviously. I was envious too. It's hard to find an easy playmate. There is a dance we all do and finding others who can follow, who want to, is no easy feat. Is it like that for dolphins, I wondered? How do they decide who they will sail off with, away from the pack, to prance and play with? Do they stick with the same partner for life? Do they switch often depending on their mood? Is the decision made by a wise old dolphin leader? Likely we will never know. Scientists might try to understand animals' mating rituals but they are only guessing. Like human relationships, so much is likely inexplicable, innate, instinctual.

The Internet is always rich with answers, offering research that can prove whatever theory one might espouse. In a description of bottlenosed dolphins, a site offers that though they "are gregarious by nature...In some near-shore societies, they appear to stay together for life." Elsewhere, though, another site suggests dolphins are players, spending the summer months wantonly displaying their affections with whomever they might encounter via wrestling, leaping out of the water, even doing forward and backward flips in the air.

"When dolphin are in the intense throws of passion, their white underbellies turn bright pink," says. "They become very playful and swim excitedly and mate indiscriminately."

If this were an article for a magazine, my lead would lean toward calling dolphins promiscuous rather than monogomous, as my haphazard two-minute online research efforts support this and it is probably as close to the truth as one is going to get. acknowledges that no one knows for sure, but suggests promiscuity looks most likely based on the bulk of scientific evidence. The site offers that "the key to learning more about reproductive habits, as with other social behavior, is the identification and sexing of individuals and long-term monitoring."

What can be said of us two-legged land dwellers? Hard to know, really. Long-term monitoring has proven nothing. We often move so far from our instincts in order to create societies, in order to defer to the greater good, the continuation of mankind. Sometimes it is tiring to move along with the pack. I sometimes want to break free like the dolphins and dance among the rippling waves. Who would go with me? So many profess their desire to dance but can't, say they want to go but won't. Hell, I am often afraid myself. What will people think? How will I look? I'd like to think that dolphins don't worry, they just act. They are driven by their inner core to speed along and, every once in a while, to jump. The fact that they so often jump in unison speaks to their societies' superiority to ours, their ability to let go of their own egos and just move, connect, to really act together. I wish I could have jumped in to the ocean and given them gold stars. They deserve them.

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