• Malsa Maaz

Dolphins: Enchanting Voices in the Ocean

Updated: Jan 15

It has now been a bit over a month since I have been here at Soneva Jani, and that is how long it has taken for my flip-flop tan lines to fade away from being constantly barefoot. Now when I wear my flip-flops, it feels strange, almost alien… Looks like I have had no trouble adjusting to island life!


It has been a busy month settling in, and so far, I have enjoyed every little bit of it. Some days are a little quieter than others but I keep myself busy planning literary activities, coming up with new ideas and events for the bookshop and of course, lots of reading! We have a new Barefoot Bookseller coming to Soneva Fushi resort soon and I am so excited to welcome her and collaborate on projects together for the upcoming festive season.


As the Barefoot Bookshop is located right next to the Marine Biology office, I spend a lot of time with the young team of marine biologists we have here. It’s always interesting to hear about their experiences after a snorkel:


“Saw a sea turtle today!”

“Oh my god, I swam with a manta today!”


They would go into details about their encounters like these marine animals were special friends. Their extensive knowledge about marine life is admirable which has inspired me to learn more about these fascinating creatures. I started with a book about dolphins which completely drew me in.


So, I would like to feature this book as the Book of the Month:


Voices in the Ocean - Susan Casey



In this book, Susan Casey writes a well-researched narrative on dolphins capturing the nature of these magical sea creatures, their high intelligence, complicated brains and their complex relationship with humans. After her first encounter with a pod of spinner dolphins in Maui, she travelled around the world to uncover the enchanting world of dolphins.


We stayed together for maybe ten minutes but the meeting felt eternal, as though time were suspended in the water with us. The ocean rose and fell rhythmically, almost hypnotically, but I had no point of reference, no horizon. There was no land, no sky. Everything glowed, as if viewed through a lush blue prism. The dolphins watched me watching them. They moved with an unearthly grace, asthough they were more presence than form. I swam with the spinners until they headed into deep waters, where the light fell off to nowhere in long slanting rays. The last thing I saw before they vanished back into their world was their tails, moving in unison.”



I learnt how unbelievably intelligent dolphins are with their sophisticated societies and communication systems:

  • Dolphins can see with their hearing: the frequency they hear gets mentally transmitted to their vision and allows them to see form and structure. They rely on this to hunt and communicate.

  • Dolphins have X-Ray vision which allows them to see through other animals. They know when another dolphin or human is sick, pregnant or injured.

  • Dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror.

  • They have healing abilities and can rebound from even the deepest wounds.

  • Dolphins evolved from land mammals which resembled small hooved wolves when their limbs turned to fins, fur to blubber and a shape fit for swimming.

  • Dolphin brains contain von Economo neutrons which are specialised cells allowing them to feel empathy, intuition, communications and self-awareness which aligns them more with humans than any other species.

  • Dolphins have their own language and communication system:

The Maldivian dolphin holding the coconut toddy container and wearing traditional attire asks ‘So, do you want to go play?’ to which the British dolphin (with his cup of tea and monocle) replies ‘Sorry, I don’t speak that language’.

[comic strip credits to Marvin Faure, our in-house astronomer]


In the book, Casey also investigates the dark side of our relationship with dolphins as she highlights that no matter how smart they are, they are not immune to the disasters of human activities from harmful captivity, brutal slaughter or cruel experiments done on them.

The book ends with the story of Minoans, an ancient civilisation who lived in harmony with nature and co-existed with dolphins. "Dolphins show up with startling frequency in their art, so often that historians refer to this as the Minoans 'marine style'. If there were any people who painted dolphins earlier, or more often, or more brilliantly, or exalted the animals more, we haven't yet found them. So who were these playful peaceable dolphin lovers - and what are they whispering to us from millennia ago? These aren't idle questions. In an age when we coexist uneasily with every other life form, it seemed to me that we could use a little Minoan wisdom to go along with out bottomless stores of information." Even though I have only spotted dolphins from far away and never had a personal encounter with them, it has always been special. Have you noticed that are somethings in life remain special no matter how many times you see them? Like rainbows? Taking a photo every time you see one whilst slowly humming ‘somewheeere over the rainbooow…’ or when you see an aeroplane flying above your house? Well, spotting dolphins gives you the same thrilling sensation. So imagine seeing them up close and personal! I decided to talk to the marine biologists who excitedly shared their best dolphin encounters:


Rafaal

“I was guiding a small group of tourists in Hanifaru Bay. There were plenty of manta rays feeding upon the plankton trapped within the infamous underwater bay where the large and small filter feeders of the Maldives gather. Sometime into the excursion I heard familiar clicking sounds. Though it’s hard to pin point the sounds origin whilst submerged, I made a guess and swam in the direction I thought the sounds were coming from. After a short swim I notice a large grey blotch upon the white and blue backdrop.


As I made my way towards it I realised I was looking at a small pod of bottle nosed dolphins. They were facing me, clicking and screeching as if talking to one another. I also realised they had a smaller individual amongst them. To my surprise, two of the adults swam directly at me, gracefully twisting and turning as they did. The clicking stopped and I realise that whilst the two adults were swimming in my direction the rest of the pod was escorting the baby away from me. As soon as they were out of my sight the two adults veered off and followed the rest of the pod out into the blue. I laid there on the surface of the water, marvelling at the distraction tactics that they had executed upon me, convinced they had communicated the plan amongst themselves upon seeing me.”



Kaia:

Once I was swimming in a shallow lagoon and I heard familiar squeaks underwater. When I spun around, I was face to face with a 1.5-meter spinner. We both stopped to look at each other. I'd never before made eye contact with a dolphin. It would've been no longer than 30 seconds, but it felt like it had been 10 minutes. The lone dolphin swam off to join his pod a few meters away.


Another wonderful experience was when I witnessed a massive pod of over 500 spinner dolphins hunting together. Typically, a pod would consist of 50 to 80 dolphins. Every now and then multiple pods would join together to create a super pod. When they go out hunting, they get very surface active - meaning they're spinning, leaping, and riding alongside the bow of the boat. It was an incredible sight. Dolphins spinning and leaping as far as the eye can see.”


Bekki:

“Dolphins are such beautiful intelligent creatures and it is always such a special moment when youhave an encounter with them in the ocean.


My favourite dolphin encounter would be here in Maldives. I was travelling from South Ari Atoll to North Male Atoll by boat and right in the middle between the two atolls we came across a very large pod of dolphins. A thousand or so dolphins surrounding the boat; jumping, spinning, tail flapping and bow riding all around us. Looking out towards the horizon, there was no other boat in sight. This special show was just for our enjoyment. We spent 30 minutes with these beautiful animals before we started heading off again. As the boat started picking up speed we look behind us to see a large number of dolphins jumping out of the water in the wake of the boat, following us. It was like they were saying goodbye to us.”


Overall, this is brilliant book exploring the world of dolphins and their relationship with us and I will definitely be recommending this on every dolphin cruise I go here! Please give it a read if you are interested in marine life and the social world of dolphins.


Love, Malsa x






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