Throughout the history of mankind, our fascination of these animals has always been an element of pop culture . In fact, images of dolphins appeared in art forms as early as 1500 BC! The first culture that seems to have mythology associated with the dolphin was the Minoan, a seafaring people in the Mediterranean. They left few written records, but they did leave beautiful murals on the walls of their palaces, murals that show the importance of dolphins in their society.
Because they were strongly associated with Poseidon by the later Greeks, this probably explains why the sea god was so often surrounded by dolphins. In one myth about Poseidon, dolphin messengers were sent to bring him a nymph he loved, who he later married. As a reward, he set the dolphin in the sky as a constellation. And he was constantly accompanied by dolphins among other sea creatures.
This wasn’t the last time the Greeks associated dolphins with romance. Aphrodite is often depicted with dolphins, riding them or being accompanied by them. Later, the god Dionysus transformed the way dolphins were perceived in Greek literature as well as human culture. He was attacked at sea by a band of pirates. Instead of simply destroying the sea raiders, he transformed them into a pod of dolphins, instructing them to rescue any distressed sailors in the ocean. Dolphins, in Greek culture, were often rescuers of humans, probably because they like to bring things to the surface and, well, because there’s some really good evidence that they do indeed purposely rescue people in danger. But, it’s got to make you think…you always hear about the people dolphins push to shore, you never hear about the ones they push further out to sea!!
This image of the dolphin continued in myth and legend as the world transformed around them. Byzantine sailors, Arab sailors, Chinese and European explorers, all had tales of dolphins rescuing sailors or ships in trouble. Dolphins could predict calm seas. And a ship accompanied by dolphins was sure to find safe harbor, fair weather, and following seas. Just as with an albatross, it was terrible luck to harm a dolphin.
As is the case of most aspects of human existence, the culture and views of a particular subject can vary substantially and dolphins are no exception. There is strong, strong evidence that some ancient human cultures saw dolphins as a resource and not a divine entity. Even today, in some parts of the South Pacific, North Atlantic, Caribbean, and Central and South America, dolphins are hunted for food, although, not on a mass scale! The only area with an almost industrial dolphin hunt is Japan. Many feel that this practice is barbaric and unnecessary. It’s definitely safe to say that killing dolphins is considered a cultural and societal taboo, thanks, in part, to the ancient good publicity that dolphins received.
Today, in movies and in literature, we have our own legends of the dolphin. Almost any website or book about dolphins will speak of the amazing intelligence and wisdom they seem to possess, and though much of it is supported by scientific fact, it’s still highly debated. There are people today who see dolphins as intelligent aliens living right here in our oceans because, while most of us outside the scientific realm know that dolphins do communicate with each other and are one of the most playful animals in the universe, we’ve never been exposed to the intricacies of the dolphin’s brain. Consequently, you may surprised to know that the dolphin brain is actually much larger than the human brain. Dolphins have two hemispheres just like humans, however; their’s are split into four lobes instead of three. The fourth lobe in the dolphin’s brain actually hosts all of the senses, whereas in a human, the senses are split. Some believe that having all of the senses in one lobe allows the dolphin to make immediate and often complicated judgments that are well beyond the scope of a human ability.
When studying the neo-cortex, which is the outside surface of the brain that is responsible for forming perceptions, memories and thoughts, dolphins have more convolution than the most intelligent humans. It is thought that dolphins may also be able to use the hemispheres of their brain separately as they have separate blood supplies which is something that is exclusive only to the dolphin.They are also able to move their eyes independently which has lead some researchers to suggest that the dolphin may actually be able to sleep with one side of it’s brain at a time.
Some researchers have suggested that the size and complexity of the brain at birth is a better measure of intelligence. If that research holds up, however, once more the dolphin comes out on top. The bottlenose dolphin has a brain mass at birth that is 42.5% of that of an adult human’s brain mass. Humans at birth have 25% of their adult counterparts. At 18 months, the brain mass of the bottlenose dolphin is 80% of the adult human, who doesn’t usually achieve this level until the age of three or four.