Art-appreciating dolphins

Here’s the dolphin’s eye-view of our boat. As you and the dolphins can see, we adorned it with an enlarged line, taken from a painting of mine. We hoped to make it a distinctive craft. The squiggle work’s in place of a name, just like the singer who once tried the same.

The curious thing is that whenever we’re visited by dolphins while out sailing, they display what can only be an interest in the art.

Anyway, instead of the usual coming from behind parallel to the boat’s course and surfing in between the hulls on the pressure of the combined waves from both bows, since the painting the dolphins streak in from the side, and at the last moment turn on their sides to have a good ol’ dekko at the line. The graphic is in dark red, so it could be they see an alluring and interesting splash of blood – they are top-end predators after all. Or maybe they like the work? Maybe these are dolphins with an advanced art appreciation – an artist is always seeking affirmation, even if from another species!

The artistic visual world of the dolphins must be somewhat limited: blue, deep blue and more blue. With occasional fish. Which must be eaten.

So perhaps they make their own art out of streams of bubbles. Or one could say they do aerial (and underwater) gymnastics, with the way they frolic. Perhaps they even have competitions, with controversies over rigging of scores, favouritism, and what ‘artistic interpretation’ really means. Just like we do at the Olympics. They seem to take synchronised swimming seriously – or at least build it into their daily workout regimes.

Scandal with a full crew aboard.

But does my anecdotal evidence stack up? Here’s a special example. Off Tikitikiatonga Point (near Horuhoru/Gannet Rock) a wee while ago, three dolphins came past and took a look at the line. Swish, flip, splash, pffht! (blow) and again. They were distinctive, being big dad, medium-sized mum, and small baby, sticking close. They hung around for a minute or so, doing the ‘looking at us from the sides’ thing, and then I imagine the littlie’s attention wavered and they wandered off. I invited them back anytime, by calling to them when they last surfaced. I hoped they heard.

Sure enough, five minutes later, they returned with about 20 mates. We recognised the original three among them. They all did the art appreciation thing again, as if showing their friends an interesting show at the human gallery. And then did a fine jumping display for us, which lasted 20 minutes or so. Was this reciprocation – a kind of art exchange? What they were doing was certainly not the usual humdrum business of hunting. This was something else, something recreational. And it appeared to involve us. I wish we could have asked what was going on. Maybe the line on the boat was doing the talking.

Some language experts say we’ll soon be able to speak dolphin. But in the case of the visual language outlined above, I do believe we already do. BNZ