John C. Lilly, M.D. | The Dolphins Revisited

I have not publicly attached the oceanaria for keeping dolphins restrained in what they call a “controlled environment” for the following reasons:

The oceanaria have done a very great service for the dolphins and killer whales in acquainting literally hundreds of thousands of humans with their existence and with their capabilities in a circus way. The dolphins and whales are indebted to the oceanaria for educating the human species. This has been a costly education for these species; however I believe that this is worth it. Thousands of people are becoming more and more aware of the necessity of stopping whaling, for example. More and more people are aware that when a dolphin is beached, something is wrong and that it needs help…

Recently I attended the so-called killer whale show at Sea World near San Diego. I saw these huge dolphins treating humans in the same gentle fashion that the smaller dolphins had treated us. I saw a man ride a killer whale holding on to a loop around the whale’s neck and holding onto the dorsal fin with his feet, wearing a small aqualung in case of emergencies. The whale then took him down to the bottom of this rather deep pool and then propelled himself up into the air, leaping clear of the water with the man on his back and diving immediately to the bottom of the pool again, five or six times.

This is an astounding cooperative effort on both the part of the human and the killer whale. This man has immense courage and immense trust in his huge creature. On the other side, the killer whale has an immense trust in the humans and does everything he can to be sure that the man can breathe at the proper timing so that he does not drown. This requires a discrimination and a careful timing of the dives  and the leaps in such a way that the man can survive. He then deliver the man to the side of the pool so that the man can step off safely. This is an incredible performance. I could hardly believe it the first time I first saw it. Without the beautiful organization of the oceanaria such feats would be impossible.

I believe that the whales, dolphins, and the killer whales know all about us, know how dangerous we are. They have been present when we have held our wars in the sea and le off depth charges. They know all about our submarines and our atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs. They know how dangerous the human species really is and they respect us as a very dangerous group. I believe that they all know that we can wipe them out if they hurt any of us and this message gets around. There was an episode written up for example in one of the skindiver magazines in which a man went out of Seattle in a forty-foot power boat made of wood and saw some killer whales. He shot through the dorsal fin of one of the male killer whale. I don’t know why.

He whale turned around, came up to the front of the boat, came up in the air, grabbed the stemhead (the wooden part of the boat that holds the front of it together) and pulled the stemhead out of the boat, opening the hull above the waterline. The man then scrambled around and readjusted the weight in the boat so that the front end came up out of the water and he went back to Seattle. He told everybody what had happened and showed his boat.

To me this is an example of the measure of the killer whale’s very high intelligence. He pulled the stemhead out of the boat, but did not sink it, so that the man could come back and, as it were, give the message, “Don’t shoot killer whales” to his fellow humans.


Originally published as Appendix Seven in Communication Between Man and Dolphin: The Possibilities of Talking With Other Species by John C. Lilly, M.D., 1978, Julian Press.



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