The Healing Effects of Dolphins & Whales
Everyone loves seeing dolphins and whales. Have you ever noticed that you cannot help but smile when you see a dolphin, even if only in a picture or on TV?
That effect is magnified if you can see cetaceans – the family of marine animals that includes dolphins, whales and porpoises – in the wild. If you are lucky enough to actually swim in the same waters near the dolphins and/or whales, the effect is even greater. It is an incredible experience to be in the sea with the dolphins or whales and hear their clicks and high pitched whistles all around you, or hear the mighty humpback whales sing their little-understood, melodious song.
Swim programs with both captive and wild dolphins have demonstrated their healing effects on autistic and mentally handicapped children. After swimming with dolphins, the children come out more relaxed, happy and communicate more both verbally and through eye contact.
There is one account of a woman who was swimming with a captive dolphin which rammed her hard in the chest, leaving a serious bruise. Everyone, including the dolphin’s trainers, were shocked by this abnormally aggressive behavior.
The woman went to the doctor to get checked out. It turned out that she had a tumor in her chest directly under the bruise, one that had been growing undetected for some time. Because the dolphin could “see” or sense the tumor with it’s sonar, he knew it was there. Hitting the woman and leaving a bruise was his way of making her aware of the dangerous threat growing in her body. As a result of the dolphin’s actions, the tumor was successfully treated. Had the dolphin not “discovered” the tumor, it might have turned out otherwise.
A man named Horace Dobbs took several clinically depressed people to swim with a wild and very friendly dolphin who frequented a bay in Ireland. After only one experience with this lone dolphin, people who previously were too depressed to function properly and hold down a job were able to go back to work and live a normal life!
Whales are the largest animals on earth and have the strength to easily do harm to humans. Yet even after many years of people hunting and persecuting them, it is extremely rare that they attack or defend themselves against whalers. In fact, like dolphins, whales have been known to actually help lost ships and guide them to safety. Orca whales often hunt adult baleen whales, yet there has never been a recorded attack of a wild orca whale on a human being. In Mexico’s San Ignacio lagoon where gray whales go to give birth and breed, the whales often seek out contact with humans in boats and even allow and enjoy being touched and rubbed by enthusiastic people.
There are many reports, some dating as far back as ancient Greece, of dolphins leading or carrying drowning or tired swimmers to safety. There are also stories of swimmers who have been protected by dolphins against sharks, including great whites.
What is it about dolphins and whales that affects us so positively? How are they able heal people after a brief encounter with them? Why do they even care about us humans who, as a race, have treated them so poorly and still hunt them? It is not easy to answer these questions, except to say that it is all true.
I attended a school, Dolphin Heart World, taught by Linda Shay and David Rosenthal, that teaches people how to incorporate the life skills of dolphins and whales, such as living in joy, flow, play, community, transparency and most of all love, into their human lives.
We were taught an exercise to locate the source of an issue in our lives and release it from our bodies. Through this dolphin living skill, I was able to release an intense anger that had been manifesting itself in my life. After one simple exercise, I felt perceptibly lighter in weight. I could feel myself releasing the anger. That was six years ago, and the intense anger I felt before has never returned.
I recently had a magical experience with about 40 spotted dolphins and four humpback whales in the Pearl Islands in Panama.
I had been working for several months straight with very little rest, and was both physically and emotionally exhausted. One day, I broke down crying for hours and could not imagine going to work. I arranged for another tour director to take over my work for a few days, and booked a flight and hotel in the Pearl Islands near Panama City, where I live.
I spent the first few days just relaxing and catching my breath at the Contadora Island Inn, and exploring the Pearl Islands. Then one day, I hired a local boat captain and asked him to find the dolphins.
As we headed out to search for the dolphins, waves of sadness washed through me. Though I knew that happiness and joy attract the cetaceans, I also knew that I needed to let my emotions flow naturally and not keep them bottled up. As sadness and frustration went through me, we saw no signs of life, other than a few sea birds.
After about 20 minutes of allowing the sadness to flow, it started to abate. I felt better, but kind of numb. I then started thinking about how much I wanted to see the dolphins and whales, and how that would make me feel so much better. I had learned that the best way to find dolphins is to be in your own joy and not want too much, nor focus on the need to see them. So I let go of the wanting to see the dolphins and focused on feeling grateful to the ocean, and sending it my love and appreciation.
After about five minutes of shifting from want and need to gratitude and love, the boat captain shouted “Whales!” I stood up and sure enough there was a whale spout, then several more. As we got closer we also saw about 40 spotted dolphins in amongst the whales.
The dolphins came to swim in the bow wave of our boat and did so for about 15 minutes. It was incredible to see them so close. I was laughing and shouting for joy. Then I looked at the captain and asked him “What would you say if I got in the water with them?”
He shrugged his shoulders and said “I don’t care.” So he stopped the boat and I gently slid into the water with my swim goggles, to see underwater.
Sometimes dolphins are not comfortable with human swimmers and leave the area. Not that day. The dolphins swam all around me, coming within ten feet. The water was a crystal clear, deep turquoise color. I could see them easily. I could also hear their squeaks, whistles and clicks everywhere. It was incredible! Seeing the dolphins swim in perfect synchrony in small groups under and all around me was like hearing a symphony while watching a perfectly choreographed ballet.
The humpback whales were not close enough to see underwater, but when I looked from the surface they were less than 100 feet away. Just knowing they were there was much like the feeling of comfort and support I felt growing up in the northwestern U.S., with the Cascade Mountains and Mount Rainier always watching over me from nearby.
I had no face-to-face encounters with dolphins or whales on that day. But later that evening, as I was sitting in bed working on my computer, I realized I felt extremely happy. In fact, I felt completely empowered, as though I could face and handle anything life had to throw at me. I knew that no matter what happened, I would be just fine. In fact, I would be happy and have a great future. It was an inner knowing and feeling of empowerment and confidence that gave me a deep sense of peace.
I also knew that this newfound feeling was made possible by the healing effect of swimming with the dolphins and whales. There was no way I could have shifted so drastically from sobbing uncontrollably just a few days before, to feeling completely at peace and deeply happy and content with my life, by myself. I cannot tell you exactly how the dolphins and whales helped me make this shift in feeling. I just know they did, and I am extremely grateful to them for it. I feel truly blessed and honored to have the dolphins and whales in my life.