Friday, July 25, 2008

Dolphin Jumps and Science Fiction

While at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore on Sunday we made the required pilgrimage to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I insisted on seeing the Dolphin Show. The bottle-nose dolphins (Tursiops Truncatus) performed a great many fun tricks.

Here is Maya or Spirit in mid-jump busking for its fish supper. The show interspersed the tricks with video of the training and lessons on the dolphins. These dolphins were born at the aquarium, I suppose it is kind of like having pets.

Seeing dolphins always reminds of my favorite science fiction references to dolphins.

In the short story collection "The Last Man on Earth", Damon Knight's short story "Second Class Citizen", tells the story of a marine biologist who is attempting to teach dolphins how to speak and is pretty successful at it, but has misgivings about dolphins fitting into human society. The twist in the story occurs when the world gos to war and drops bombs that heat the air up to an unlivable degree so he escapes to the ocean to avoid the heat and his dolphin friends teach him to fish. Thus the tables are obviously turned and he must live like a dolphin.

A short story "A Deeper Sea" by Alexander Jablokov in "The Year's Best Science Fiction: Seventh Annual Collection" is about a man who figures out that the ancient Greeks taught dolphins to speak. It turns out that all of the cetaceans are much smarter than people gave them credit for. He uses sound imagery of underwater earthquakes and eruptions to torture the dolphins into revealing the secret that they can speak. They speak Attic Greek. It turns out that the dolphins, whales and orcas are foul mouthed and unpleasant. This story was expanded into a novel with the same title. (review fifth paragraph down)

The most famous dolphins in science fiction have to be the dolphin crew of the Streaker in David Brin's novel Startide Rising. This novel is part of Brin's Uplift Universe in which humans finally encounter a thriving billions of years old intergalactic society of aliens in which advanced races uplift unintelligent ones to sentience. The only reason the humans, a wolfling race because they appear to have not had an uplift patron, are not immediately given to an elder race to uplift is because we had already started uplifting dolphins and chimpanzees ourselves, proving our sentience. The dolphin and human crew of the Streaker discover some unpleasant secrets about galactic society and must hide from the consequences of their activities. I wholly recommend the entire Uplift saga, these are fantastic books.

Are there other famous science fiction stories with dolphin main characters that should be added to this list? Please comment.


Paul Smith Jr. said...

It's not a main character, but Douglas Adams mentioned in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" that all the dolphins left Earth ahead of the its destruction. Their goodbye message: "So long, and thanks for all the fish."

Richard said...

Thanks Paul, how could I forget that one?

Edgar Loesel said...

I would like to mention the short story "The Voices of the Dolphins" (1960) by Leo Szilard and "The Dolphins of Pern" (1994) by Anne McCaffrey.