I can’t say that I have ever seen a more beautiful and compelling case for the free dolphin than in Bob Talbot’s new video, Dolphins and Orcas. I will never be as fortunate as he is and swim with wild dolphins, let alone photograph them — let alone photograph them so magnificently and purely and eloquently. But, then, I guess that’s why he’s the best. Through his work, I am given a glimpse into a world I have spent a lifetime dreaming about; I am a visitor in the underwater home of an extremely graceful and spiritual intelligence, a nobility and perfection beyond my reach. In Talbot’s video — footage accompanied only by the one true gift of the human spirit: music — they ride the bow of Talbot’s boat; with effortless precision, they glide just beneath the tranquil blue surface. Sunlight catches the gentle curve of each passing wave and reflects brightly on their sleek, black, spotted backs, and across their eyes, in a unique pattern of crosses and double crosses. I am wordless, meaning word-less, unable to describe in human terms the majesty — and the humility — with which I view them.
Through Talbot’s photography, I feel so many things, a myriad of emotions — from joy to sorrow; laughter. Tears. I marvel at these streamlined beings, creatures who have roamed the seas five times longer than we have walked the land; beings who, during all that time, have never found reasons or wants to declare war upon other nations. Or themselves. I watch and am elevated to an even higher consciousness when they break the surface of the ocean and propel themselves against the sky, twisting in the air, an out-of-water ballet, and dance with the way their freedom makes me feel.
Talbot is a gifted and yet fortunate man. Through his art, I feel so much more than I am able to describe with words… and I feel it off the face of a television screen while the rain pounds the roof and the sound of a siren wails in the not-too-far-away distance. But Talbot feels it in the water, in the brilliant sunlight, in the vast openness of the sea, in the very presence of these life-loving animals. He has been given a gift most of us will never know.
Which is why, I suppose, humans have felt a need to capture these beautiful and perfect animals from the sea and transport them, some even to the desert, and drop them in chlorinated pools to perform tricks so all can come and see and feel while the dolphins die unnatural and untimely deaths. Such is their price for our addiction.
Dolphins are messengers from beyond our own realm. They carry with them age-old truths, a wisdom at birth no human being experiences before death. They are masters of their universe. And they remind us of the splendor and preciousness of life, of time, of all that has been and is and is yet to be.
And we repay them for this gift by drowning them in tuna and gill nets, in driving them onto shore, for an undeserved revenge, and hacking them to death, by separating them from their families and their home and confining them to a short life highlighted by shallow applause and dead fish. And I say shallow because no human being can know a dolphin or the true nature of dolphins by watching them perform in these perverted circuses. Think about this: When dolphins accompany a boat, ride its bow, breach alongside it as it sails, somersault in the air before the human camera, or join humans in shallow lagoons where they permit themselves to be touched, one wonders WHY. In the confines of an enclosed pool, begging for their food, they breach and somersault, too, but we know why. And so we have learned nothing.
There is a move underfoot to have these captives released back to their ocean home. People like Richard O’Barry, formerly the dolphin trainer from Flipper fame and author of Behind the Dolphin Smile, and Rick Trout, a once-upon-a-time dolphin trainer for the United States Navy, and others, who have been closest to these animals, for years and sometimes decades, and who could continue making their livelihoods exploiting these animals, have chosen not to.
Instead, they have made it their dream to see them freed.
“If you can feel what I long for,” are lyrics to a song called The Promise, which was written and is performed by dolphin freedom activist Cathy Kinsman. “Help me make it to the other side of this shadow; help me go…” The song accompanies a different kind of video than Talbot’s. With a little help from their friends, Kinsman, Trout and O’Barry have created a voice for captive dolphins which is just as beautiful and just as compelling a call for action on behalf of these imprisoned animals.
I admit, here and now, that when I received the video just a few weeks ago, I watched it more than a dozen times straight and cried every time. But my tears were for two reasons. One was that Kinsman’s clear, spiritual, yet sad voice, speaking out for captive dolphins, enabled me, more fully, to reach into the heart of those animals and feel their plight. I believe, if dolphins could speak a human language, they would indeed be saying, “I hear the promise from God in my memory / it whispered to me of a freedom there / where is the life that I long to be living / I want to be free from these chains that I bear …”
Trout recreates his former self in the video: the dolphin trainer, and by whom Kinsman, acting as a spectator, is chosen to participate in one of the animals’ tricks. Her close relation to the dolphin during the performance gives her a feeling she didn’t have before: That the dolphins, deep down inside, in their hearts, aren’t smiling. In effect, they are speaking to her — in their language: “Please understand what I long for / try to look deep in my soul …” Kinsman does and we all see what she sees and what the dolphins need her — and us — to see.
The second thing that moved me about The Promise was that, while watching it, I remembered a comment Rick Trout made to me during a telephone conversation about his role in the video: “I play the bad guy,” he said. I know what he meant, but I couldn’t help but think that the dolphins in the video, who were responding to his cues, knew the difference between their captors and their allies. I know the difference, and what I saw in The Promise was a small, dedicated group of people who are determined to give back to some dolphins what other humans have taken from them. And I believe they’ll succeed. Margaret Mead wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I thank them for having the courage to dream their dreams, to lend their innate talents to the plight of others, and for reminding me that, despite the darkness all animals face under threat of human greed and vice, and despite the lateness of the hour, all is not hell on Earth. There are good people out there. I have met a few of them through The Promise. One day I hope to meet them in the translucent waters of the Atlantic, under a brilliant sun, and in the company of wild dolphins.
Bad guy, Rick? Apparently you don’t know the meaning of the word. But that’s all right … just keep fighting the good fight.