Sunday, March 20, 2005

Mystery Of The Silver Rings

The young dolphin gives a quick flip of her head, and an undulating silver ring appears--as if by magic--in front of her. The ring is a solid, toroidal bubble two feet across--and yet it does not rise to the surface! It stands erect in the water like the rim of a magic mirror, or the doorway to an unseen dimension. For long seconds the dolphin regards its creation, from varying aspects and angles, with its vision and sonar. Seemingly making a judgement, the dolphin then quickly pulls a small silver donut from the larger structure, which collapses into small bubbles. She then "pushes" the donut, which stays just inches ahead of her rostrum, perhaps 20 feet over a period of up to 10 seconds. Then, stopping again, she regards the twisting ring for a last time and bites it--causing it to collapse into a thousand tiny bubbles which head--as they should--for the water's surface. After a few moments of reflection, she creates another.

This isn't fantasy, it's real. And it isn't magic, just marvelous. It is a rare dolphin behavior, and we first saw it in the play of two baby dolphins. It gives us a little more insight into the superb level of control dolphins can exercise on their water environment, and underscores the fact that we can still discover things about dolphins by simply watching them.

I first saw this behavior on one of my relatively rare trips out to the Delphis lab; the project's principle scientist Ken Marten said that "the two babies, Tinkerbell and Maui" had been doing it for a little while. My reaction: "Wow, neato. How the heck do they DO that? Try to get some photo and video shots of it. It sure is cool". Ken, along with Suchi Psarakos, Research Assistant and computer programmer, did indeed document the silver rings (although video and photos don't do the rings justice), and this has made it possible to both analyze the physics behind the phenomenon and to watch the dolphins do this trick in slow-motion.

As it turned out, small silver rings weren't the only toys the dolphins were making for themselves: some of the creations were as large as a basketball rim. And Tinkerbell proved able to create a silver helix, spiraling perhaps 20 feet long, that would spring into life in a fraction of a second and remain stable in the water as she swam past, observing it with sonar and vision. then--presto! she would grab a small silver ring from the helix to play with, while the rest of the helix degraded into bubbles which would belatedly "remember" to rise to the surface.

Creation of these rings by dolphins isn't new. (far from it--dolphins were probably blowing magnificent silver rings while our anscestors were hanging off tree limbs). It does seem to be a relatively rare behavior, though: it has been seen before only in a specific group of dolphins documented by Diana Reiss and Jan Ostman at Marine World. "The fact that ring-blowing is rare and that we have two babies doing it suggests that one baby learned it from the other", comments Ken Marten. "Whether it was a case of observational learning, or one "taught" the other, we don't know... but it'd sure be interesting to know."

The social situation also seems to affect ring-blowing: " The babies made them most intensely when they were the only two dolphins in the tank and when there was only one adult. The behavior stopped entirely when they were outnumbered by adults, " observed Suchi. "During one intense session with Tinkerbell there were often two or three rings visible in the tank at one time. She frequently swam over to me in an excited state, then went and made some more."

The reaction to our documentation of these rings has been universal--people are fascinated by them. Dr. Ken Norris, the world's leading expert on dolphins, had never seen it before. Robert Wolff of Apple Computer's Advanced Design Group made a "quicktime" movie of ring-blowing for display on Mac computers. Arthur C. Clarke, Earthtrust Advisory Board member, thought they were wonderful--but debated my offered contention that they might be the first "extraterrestrial art", pointing to interesting "artistic" achievements by other nonhuman animals.

For myself, I do consider these rings to be "art": the creation and observation of artifacts by a nonhuman mind, with no use other than entertainment and aesthetics. One must be constantly wary not to anthropomorphize the actions of other species--to treat them as though they were human. But after watching a dolphin create one of these kinetic sculptures--observe it from many angles--and then destroy it with a bite--it seems a long leap of logic to ascribe any other motive.

This can, and will, be debated... but the beauty of the rings is beyond debate. As evidence mounts for "self awareness" and other "intelligent" qualities in dolphins, I think that it must cause us again to ask the question: what are these creatures, that they spin silver lariats for the sheer joy of creation? And what sort of creatures are we, if we cannot appreciate and protect them?

Friday, March 11, 2005

This Magic Moment

It was like many Maui mornings, the sun rising over Haleakala as we greeted our divers for the day's charter. As my captain and I explained the dive procedures, I noticed the wind line moving into Molokini, a small, crescent-shaped island that harbors a large reef. I slid through the briefing, then prompted my divers to gear up, careful to do everything right so the divers would feel confident with me, the dive leader.

The dive went pretty close to how I had described it: The garden eels performed their underwater ballet, the parrot fish grazed on the coral, and the ever-elusive male flame wrasse flared their colors to defend their territory. Near the last level of the dive, two couples in my group signaled they were going to ascend. As luck would have it, the remaining divers were two European brothers, who were obviously troubled by the idea of a "woman" dive master and had ignored me for the entire dive.

The three of us caught the current and drifted along the outside of the reef, slowly beginning our ascent until, far below, something caught my eye. After a few moments, I made out the white shoulder patches of a manta ray in about one hundred and twenty feet of water.

Manta rays are one of my greatest loves, but very little is known about them. They feed on plankton, which makes them more delicate than an aquarium can handle. They travel the oceans and are therefore a mystery.

Mantas can be identified by the distinctive pattern on their belly, with no two rays alike. In 1992, I had been identifying the manta rays that were seen at Molokini and found that some were known, but many more were sighted only once, and then gone.

So there I was... a beautiful, very large ray beneath me and my skeptical divers behind. I reminded myself that I was still trying to win their confidence, and a bounce to see this manta wouldn't help my case. So I started calling through my regulator, "Hey, come up and see me!" I had tried this before to attract the attention of whales and dolphins, who are very chatty underwater and will come sometimes just to see what the noise is about. My divers were just as puzzled by my actions, but continued to try to ignore me.

There was another dive group ahead of us. The leader, who was a friend of mine and knew me to be fairly sane, stopped to see what I was doing. I kept calling to the ray, and when she shifted in the water column, I took that as a sign that she was curious. So I started waving my arms, calling her up to me.

After a minute, she lifted away from where she had been riding the current and began to make a wide circular glide until she was closer to me. I kept watching as she slowly moved back and forth, rising higher, until she was directly beneath the two Europeans and me. I looked at them and was pleased to see them smiling. Now they liked me. After all, I could call up a manta ray!

Looking back to the ray, I realized she was much bigger than what we were used to around Molokini - a good fifteen feet from wing tip to wing tip, and not a familiar-looking ray. I had not seen this animal before. There was something else odd about her. I just couldn't figure out what it was.

Once my brain clicked in and I was able to concentrate, I saw deep V-shaped marks of her flesh missing from her backside. Other marks ran up and down her body. At first I thought a boat had hit her. As she came closer, now with only ten feet separating us, I realized what was wrong.

She had fishing hooks embedded in her head by her eye, with very thick fishing line running to her tail. She had rolled with the line and was wrapped head to tail about five or six times. The line had torn into her body at the back, and those were the V-shaped chunks that were missing.

I felt sick and, for a moment, paralyzed. I knew wild animals in pain would never tolerate a human to inflict more pain. But I had to do something.

Forgetting about my air, my divers and where I was, I went to the manta. I moved very slowly and talked to her the whole time, like she was one of the horses I had grown up with. When I touched her, her whole body quivered, like my horse would. I put both of my hands on her, then my entire body, talking to her the whole time. I knew that she could knock me off at any time with one flick of her great wing.

When she had steadied, I took out the knife that I carry on my inflator hose and lifted one of the lines. It was tight and difficult to get my finger under, almost like a guitar string. She shook, which told me to be gentle. It was obvious that the slightest pressure was painful.

As I cut through the first line, it pulled into her wounds. With one beat of her mighty wings, she dumped me and bolted away. I figured that she was gone and was amazed when she turned and came right back to me, gliding under my body. I went to work. She seemed to know it would hurt, and somehow, she also knew that I could help. Imagine the intelligence of that creature, to come for help and to trust!

I cut through one line and into the next until she had all she could take of me and would move away, only to return in a moment or two. I never chased her. I would never chase any animal. I never grabbed her. I allowed her to be in charge, and she always came back.

When all the lines were cut on top, on her next pass, I went under her to pull the lines through the wounds at the back of her body. The tissue had started to grow around them, and they were difficult to get loose. I held myself against her body, with my hand on her lower jaw. She held as motionless as she could. When it was all-loose, I let her go and watched her swim in a circle. She could have gone then, and it would have all fallen away. She came back, and I went back on top of her.

The fishing hooks were still in her. One was barely hanging on, which I removed easily. The other was buried by her eye at least two inches past the barb. Carefully, I began to take it out, hoping I wasn't damaging anything. She did open and close her eye while I worked on her, and finally, it was out. I held the hooks in one hand, while I gathered the fishing line in the other hand, my weight on the manta.

I could have stayed there forever! I was totally oblivious to everything but that moment. I loved this manta. I was so moved that she would allow me to do this to her. But reality came screaming down on me. With my air running out, I reluctantly came to my senses and pushed myself away.

At first, she stayed below me. And then, when she realized that she was free, she came to life like I never would have imagined she could. I thought she was sick and weak, since her mouth had been tied closed, and she hadn't been able to feed for however long the lines had been on her. I thought wrong! With two beats of those powerful wings, she rocketed along the wall of Molokini and then directly out to sea!

I lost view of her and, remembering my divers, turned to look for them. Remarkably, we hadn't traveled very far. My divers were right above me and had witnessed the whole event, thankfully! No one would have believed me alone. It seemed too amazing to have really happened. But as I looked at the hooks and line in my hands and felt the torn calluses from her rough skin, I knew that, yes, it really had happened.

I kicked in the direction of my divers, whose eyes were still wide from the encounter, only to have them signal me to stop and turn around. Until this moment, the whole experience had been phenomenal, but I could explain it. Now, the moment turned magical. I turned and saw her slowly gliding toward me. With barely an effort, she approached me and stopped, her wing just touching my head. I looked into her round, dark eye, and she looked deeply into me. I felt a rush of something that so overpowered me; I have yet to find the words to describe it, except a warm and loving flow of energy from her into me.

She stayed with me for a moment. I don't know if it was a second or an hour. Then, as sweetly as she came back, she lifted her wing over my head and was gone. A manta thank-you.

I hung in midwater, using the safety-stop excuse, and tried to make sense of what I had experienced. Eventually, collecting myself, I surfaced and was greeted by an ecstatic group of divers and a curious captain. They all gave me time to get my heart started and to begin to breathe.

Sadly, I have not seen her since that day, and I am still looking. For the longest time, though my wetsuit was tattered and torn, I would not change it because I thought she wouldn't recognize me. I call to every manta I see, and they almost always acknowledge me in some way. One day, though, it will be her. She'll hear me and pause, remembering the giant cleaner that she trusted to relieve her pain, and she'll come.

-- At least that is how it happens in my dreams.

This Magic Moment

Sunday, March 06, 2005

North Pole Star Chakra

The Mystical Arctic Hyporboreans

Magnitude 6.3 North of Zervenaya Zemlya - March 6, 2005
12:21:43 PM local time at epicenter
World Map long,lat 90,90

"Far north, somewhere near the icy regions of the North Pole, legend speaks of an ancient and mostly forgotten civilisation. Mythical in character, the Hyperborean civilisation is said to have flourished in the northern most region of planet Earth at a time when the area was suitable for human habitation.

"According to certain esoteric systems and spiritual traditions, Hyperborea was the terrestrial and celestial beginning of civilisation. The home of original Man. Some theories postulate Hyperborea was the original Garden of Eden, the point where the earthly and heavenly planes meet. And it is said Man transgressed Divine Law in this Golden Age civilisation, the ultimate price being his banishment to the outside world. Man ventured into other regions of Earth, establishing new civilisations, bringing to an end this great and glorious Golden Age."
The Western Mystery Traditions

"The lineage of the Western Mystery Tradition can be traced back to Atlantis, Eden, ancient Sumeria, and the paradisal arctic Hyperboreans. These teachings are carried forward by many Western world spiritual groups, some of whom you may recognize by name: the Rosicrucian Order, Freemasons, Theosophists, the Alice Bailey teachings, Gnostics, Alchemists, Christian Mystics, Rudolph Steiner's Anthroposophists, and the Hermetic Orders of the Golden Dawn and Builders of the Adytum (B.O.T.A.), the goddess traditions and many of the Native traditions such as shamanism rooted in the Inca, Maya, and Aztec cultures. A re-emergence of this great metaphysical Tradition is occurring now for today's troubled world. So you may be feeling the Call to re-unite with your own inner terrestrial/celestial lineage, pre-coded in your DNA."
The Spiritual Pole

In the myths and traditions of the subterranean world it is often said that the world's surface was yet to suffer a terrible world war (Third World War) which would though be ended by earthquakes, other natural disasters and a switching of the poles and the deaths therefrom of two thirds of humanity. After this "last war" the several races of the inner Earth would reunite with the survivors on the surface and the thousand-year GOLDEN AGE (age of Aquarius) would be rung in.

Those who do not learn by their mistakes, repeat them.