Communicating with dolphins
Cathy Eagle grew up with an instinct for animals, which she believes has to do with her Native American heritage, as she is part Chippewa. She is able to communicate with many different species of animals, particularly dolphin, who will come to her when she calls them. She talks about growing up outdoors with an intrinsic love for nature and a firm grasp on the needs of the wildlife around her.
“We just ran around the beach, ran around the woods, and ran around in rowboats,” said Eagle. “In fact, my favorite fragrance as a young girl was gasoline, because that meant we were going to be on the water.”
Eagle talks about the beauty of breathing, as it applies to dolphin. She said, when out on her boat, she often hears them before seeing them, identifying them by their breathing. She said dolphins have much to teach us about breathing and being playful. She said one of the key reasons they ride in the wake of a boat is to exfoliate their skin every two hours. The reason for this exfoliation is to shed what’s known as ‘marine dandruff.’ Eagle explained that this dandruff is a result of living in the water, just as a boat can get bogged down with grass and barnacles.
“When they ride in the wake,” Eagle said, “they twist and turn in all of those bubbles along with the spray and circulation of the propellers. This all works together to exfoliate the marine dandruff on their skin, which keeps them riding smoothly through the water.”
According to Eagle, it’s possible for dolphins to get sunburned. They sleep, she said, with one half of their brain awake so they will be alert if there is any danger, such as predators. She explains that this is also necessary as they have to surface to breathe.
“Sharks typically don’t like dolphin,” said Eagle. “Dolphin are very strong and they can ram them, but at night when they’re sleeping and they have their young, half the brain is awake to make sure that they’re safe.”
Eagle also said in addition to being social, dolphins are very active and intelligent, having a brain to body mass second only to humans. It may be this brainpower that gives them their extraordinary ability for language.
“At the height of season, a few different captains will call me from out on the water and ask when I’m coming out, because the dolphin are waiting for me,” she said.
When Eagle taps the side of her boat and calls to them, the dolphin can decipher her particular call to them and they will find her boat if they’re not already present in the water. She explained that each dolphin is born with its own language and an incredible memory.
“These are mammals that live in community, and they recognize one another.”
According to Eagle, the most important thing people have to realize is that dolphins, like all animals, need their space. Although most humans enjoy interactions with animals, such as swimming with them or feeding them, she said it’s important that we leave them alone in their natural habitat. She contends that feeding dolphins could cause them to lose their instinct to hunt.
“We want them to be able to take care of themselves,” said Eagle. “It’s best for us not to interfere with their survival. I call to them and when they ride in the wake of my boat, they are exfoliating. I don’t feed them … nor do I feed manatee or alligators. There’s plenty of food out there, and they need to know how to take care of themselves. We need to enjoy them, but in trying to be Good Samaritans, we can actually hurt them.”