Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Porpoise in Life

I sometimes lose heart when I hear various government ministers prattling on about young people reaching their potential and then failing to provide them with books so they can learn to read. It is very gratifying to discover from today’s Times that there is a place in the world for everyone, regardless of their physical attributes, provided someone chucks a little lateral thinking at a problem.

‘The world’s tallest man has saved the lives of two dolphins by delving into their stomachs to remove chunks of plastic that they had accidentally swallowed at their aquarium in north-eastern China', reports The Times. 'Bao Xishun, 54, a shy herdsman from Inner Mongolia, was called to the rescue after staff at the Royal Jidi Ocean World in the north-eastern Liaoning province had failed to remove the shreds of plastic using surgical instruments. Mr Bao, who at 7ft 9in is the world’s tallest man according to the 2005 Guinness World Records, stretched his bare arm into the mouth of each sick dolphin.’

It is not known how the pieces of plastic came to be in the stomachs of the dolphins but they can now munch away with impunity knowing that Mr Bao will be there to perform a quick plastiotomy. It is an interesting interpretation of ‘junk food’ but that’s dolphins for you. Such wags. Everyone is a winner in this extraordinary co-operation. By all accounts, poor Mr Bao’s potential was woefully under-utilised until he came to the notice of the Guinness people. Now, in addition to his unique calling as a dolphin stomach pump, he has acquired an active social life and a girlfriend and is well on the way to reaching the pinnacle of the Maslow pyramid.

Keeping dolphins in enclosures is cruel and unnecessary as they are really very happy to accept invitations to tea from humans in the right circumstances. I have been to Tangalooma (pictured), a tranquil point on Moreton Island off the coast of Queensland where a pod of up to twenty wild bottlenose dolphins comes into knee deep water every evening at sundown to feast on fish hand fed to them by tourists. My uncle who was stationed on Moreton during the second world war told me the tradition began then when soldiers saw dolphins hanging around and started tossing them fish scraps.

An adult male bottlenose is around ten feet long and weighs about 400 lbs yet they can swim up to you in a foot of water and pluck a herring about 6 inches long very gently from your hand. And if you speak to them by name they will make that he-he-he-he sound and smile at you. It is very charming indeed and quite makes you forget for a few minutes that you live in a world with Philip Green and Richard Branson in it.

These particular skills have proved to have a sound business application and our small pod of dolphins has created a very viable social enterprise which they sustain by apprenticing their young to it at an early age. An entire tourist industry has been built up on this unique partnership between diverse mammals. The clever dolphins have realised that the more tourists there are, the more fish there will be as every tourist gets to give them one fish. They have built up their business by being reliable and trustworthy without any sacrifice on their part. They are completely wild, living in the open sea and they know all they have to do to maintain their carefree lifestyle is to show up for work on time and with the right attitude.

If only we could be more systematic about matching people to suitable vocations. I think of how versatile the game of rugby is in offering a place to men and women of all shapes and sizes. You have the quick, slender ones who sprint up the sides and turn cartwheels when they get to the end and the brick-shaped ones who plough up the middle and flop over the lines. There are one or two with curved feet who kick the ball between two posts from all sorts of odd angles and ones with no ears and no necks who pack down in scrums and one especially tall one whose job it is to catch the ball in a line out.

I think about how irksome a task it is to work out what you are going to do with your life with virtually no help from anyone. If you manage to do that then you enter a kind of lottery to find either an institution or employer who is willing to take you and then hope they know what you need to learn and are both capable and agreeable enough to pass it on to you. No wonder more than half the people in employment in Britain hate their jobs but don’t know what else to do.

With all our sophisticated communications networks, it hardly seems right that whether you succeed or fail in life is still largely dependent on your remembering to buy a newspaper on a particular day or worse, be watching Richard & Judy at exactly the right moment. Dolphins don’t have technology, (although they apparently have very good sonar which has the same function but doesn’t break down all the time), yet they have no problem at all achieving self-fulfilment judging by their carefree dispositions and healthy work/life balance. They can even find the right humans to sort out their eating disorders. My mind is made up. In the next life, I’m coming back as a dolphin.

Tangalooma picture from

1 comment:

That's so pants said...

I received this lovely comment from Penless Artist but accidentally rejected it by hitting the wrong button Arrrr! so I reproduce it below - sorry Penless. I am insanely incompetent and just don't know what to do about it.

'Noosa, I love this entry. Next life, I want to be someone with your gift of putting otherwise unrelated thoughts together in an interesting and meaningful way. ...a question I had when I read the 'world's tallest man' story last week is why/whether it was relevant that he's the world's tallest man. I mean, could he have done this otherwise? I'm only 5'4" and, although I don't have frequent access to dolphins, I'd like to think I could save the life of a cat or something.'

You see why I didn't want to lose it.