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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

OLL LEWIS: A higher porpoise at work?

As you might expect from something that covers two thirds of the planet's surface there are a lot of myths and legends about the sea. Some are about lost civilizations swallowed beneath the ocean waves or phantom island and strange superstitions but most of the sea's tales involve the animals that may live there like tales of sea monsters, kraken, giant squid and dolphins. Dolphins are a particular favourite among storytellers because of their supposed human-like traits, intelligence and apparent affinity with man.

Dolphins are considered by many to be of a level of intelligence near to that of man due to them apparently being self-aware, capable of problem-solving, tool use (as much as a dolphin can use a 'tool'), ability to learn and apparently make decisions based on a logical thought process rather than simple reward training or luck. Dolphins also are capable of using and understanding language between members of their own species and to understand certain words in human languages should they be given enough training. However, to date there have been no successful experiments where a dolphin and human have been able to properly converse, even by the use of a Morse-code-like system of clicks to get round the fact that human and dolphin vocal cords are very different. It would seem that dolphins do not appreciate language in the way that a human does and things like sentence structure, verbs, nouns and all manner of other building blocks that have evolved in human communication throughout thousands of years of social interaction are completely alien to dolphins as the many subtleties of dolphin speech must be to humans.

I once read something online, which was a sort of survival sheet that gave instructions on what to do and how to behave if it turned out aliens existed and you happened to be their first contact with the human race. The idea was that in order not to simply be collected as a sample, killed and plonked in a jar aboard their space ship, you should show some evidence of intelligence and the best way to do this would be to draw a diagram of Pythagoras' theorem as any species capable of interstellar flight would be able to relate that to their own version of mathematics. Sure, the aliens would be unlikely to count in base 10 like us - we only do because we started counting using our fingers and thumbs - but there would likely be some common ground somewhere. With dolphins we wouldn't even have the common ground of mathematics to share; what use is knowing how to calculate the length of a hypotenuse to an aquatic mammal?

Despite all our differences it would seem that dolphins are certainly interested in man at least as some sort of curio. Dolphins who have regular contact with humans often make clicks and chattering noises using their blow holes and moving their jaws up and down in imitation of humans holding a conversation. If you've ever owned a cat or a dog you've probably engaged in similar behaviour (although you might not want to admit it in public) by holding a conversation with them in 'mews' or 'whines' while getting their dinner ready, whatever it is you're saying to the animal probably doesn't make much sense but you do feel good for having made the effort. Dolphins certainly do because they get rewarded by fish most of they time they do it.

Stories about dolphins usually play upon this apparent interest in man and by far the most widely told is that of the dolphin rescue. These stories have been cropping up for thousands of years in mythology, travellers tales and more recently in newspapers and other news media. One of the more recent stories to come to light happened to perhaps the last person you would expect. 82-year-old Dick Van Dyke is best known for playing Dr Sloan in the brilliant Diagnosis Murder and in his younger days, playing the iconic film cockney, Burt, in Mary Poppins but in his youth he was quite the action man. In November of last year (2010) D.V.D. talked to the press about something which had happened in his youth when he was a surfer. He had fallen asleep on his surf board and drifted out to sea.

“I woke up out of sight of land... and I started paddling with the swells and I started seeing fins swimming around me and I thought, "I'm dead!"”

Luckily for D.V.D. what he thought were circling sharks turned out to be a pod of friendly dolphins happy to lead him back to the beach.

Most stories like this are completely true and this had led some people to assume that dolphins have a special affinity with man. The truth is though that most dolphins will just instinctively push or lead anything that looks like it might be a sick dolphin into shallow water where it will be less likely to drown. They aren't really intelligent enough to know the difference between a swimming human and a wounded dolphin in distress.

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