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Dolphins Dreaming

Tuesday, October 117th, 2006

last weekend I had the opportunity to camp overnight with my youngest son at the Seaquarium on the causeway to Key Biscayne. This is a local institution that has been in place for over 40 years, dating back to the filming of the "Flipper" TV series.

While the spaces are a little cramped by current standards, (and the facility has weathered many a hurricane), it is in reasonably good condition, and the staff clearly does genuinely care for the animals and takes their rescue and rehabilitation mission seriously.

 Being in such a place at night is always an unusual experience - places that bustle with activity during the day seem eerily still after dark. We also had unusually still air, which combined with the island setting to enhance the effect. Our guide for the evening, Lucy, took us to the dolphin tank and explained a little bit about the current understanding of how dolphins manage to sleep while always in motion.

Studies show that when dolphins sleep, half of their brain rests at a time, while the other half keeps necessary functions running - swimming, surfacing to breathe, turning - something between autopilot and the aquatic equivalent of sleepwalking. It seemed a little otherworldly, these creatures surfacing our of the dark water, inhaling, and slipping past each other into the water on a starlit but moonless night.

I can't recall anything I've read that captured this scene, but this idea of spending half your life half asleep begs the question of what dolphin dreams must  be like. Perhaps in 20 years our 'current understanding' will be able to explain that too.


While I didn't have the ASA10,000 camera it would have taken to photograph dreaming dolphins, here are a few other faces from the Seaquarium. --Steve










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