A Mischievous Dolphin’s Guide to Surviving Adulthood

Sean Kernan

Editorial Rights Purchased via Adobe Stock Photos

Terry Pratch wrote, “Never trust a species that grins all the time. It’s up to something.” He wasn’t entirely wrong. But we can learn a lot from the perma-smiling dolphin. In an effort to break from standard self-improvement content, I thought I’d find out.

A dolphin’s ability to survive is marked by cunning and team cooperation, unlike any you’ll find in nature. They are freak athletes. They are mischievous masters of improvisation and the bane of fish everywhere. Also, they’re indulgent hedonists.

The power of names

Each dolphin is born and develops its own unique whistle. This whistle functions as its name and all other dolphins in the region know it. Dolphins address each other by imitating the whistle of the other dolphin. It is their way of summoning them. Think of it as someone impersonating your voice, perfectly, to signal they are talking to you.

People are proven to pay more attention when we use their names. Our name is tied to our identity. There is a strong emotional connection and humans are strongly biased towards self-related information. If you use a person’s name twice, once to get their attention and again mid-conversation, it reaffirms you respect them and they’ll be much more likely to assist you. But don’t mix things up and start whistling at them.

The problem with pufferfish

Scientists observed a strange phenomenon where groups of dolphins take turns bumping their nose into a pufferfish, or gently chewing on it, ensuring it isn’t injured. Then, the dolphins drifted off languidly, seeming to revel in some strange feeling. Researchers discovered the dolphins were getting high on the toxins the pufferfish released.

Conversely, other dolphins carried sponges around on their beak. They typically spend half of their time foraging for food along the seafloor. Many figured out they can use a sponge to protect their beaks from sharp objects, like rocks and stingers.

The more I learn about dolphin intelligence, the more I fear a new race of dolphin overlords will eventually overtake us. They don’t have hands yet they still mold their environment to their bidding. Perhaps our lesson is that we should maximize our available tools, without treating other beings as the tools themselves.

The swirling dolphin attacks

Imagine the only way to eat was to chase something that was fleeing for its life. Even further, that thing was more agile than you and also great at hiding. However, you either catch them or you go hungry and die.

This predicament is alive right here in the shallows of Florida. Our local dolphins display one of the most impressive, coordinated hunting tactics in all of nature. Before I describe this, remember: nobody taught dolphins any of these tactics. They just sorta figured it out through raw intelligence. It is called “mud ring hunting.”

In mud ring hunting, one dolphin will go in and begin swimming in a wide, slow circle at the bottom. This ring churns up a wall of clouds that rises all the way to the surface. As the dolphin forms his wide circle, he begins accelerating and cutting smaller and smaller angles. Meanwhile, the other dolphins wait just outside the ring.

Wikimedia Commons

Author via Wikimedia Commons

As the ring shrinks, it forces the fish towards the middle. The fish can’t perceive what is beyond the wall of mud clouds; they just think their pond is shrinking. Eventually, the fish jump up and over the wall of clouds, and into the already-open mouths of nearby dolphins.

In life, it may feel like you are going in circles sometimes. But you are often moving closer to your solution. Frustration and difficulty give staying power to the human brain’s flawed memory system. Pain and repetition bring the gifts of wisdom and skill permanence. You will not go hungry.

The Olympus of athleticism

The 100-meter freestyle is the signature event in men’s swimming. It is a long sprint, where luck cannot sway your fate as it can in the hackathon known as the 50-meter free.

Since 1905, the world record has progressively dropped. It started 65 seconds. By 1922, it was 58.6 seconds. By 1948, it was 51.1 seconds. By 1986 it was 48.76 seconds. Today, the world record is 46.91 seconds. That is purely because of advancements in training, nutrition, technology, and a massive expansion of the talent pool.

A dolphin can swim this distance in nine seconds. It doesn’t practice or work on its nutrition or technique. It has no ambitions of world records.

Dolphins live in harmony with an environment that plays to their strengths. How fast they can run 100-meters on a track is completely irrelevant to them. Their aquatic body is a streamlined mass of thick muscle, designed to push it through the water at the speed of jet skis. Its slippery skin surpasses the now-banned bodysuits that swimmers wore up until 2009.

And so it seems the final, and lasting lesson of the dolphin is to apply ourselves where our strengths are most elevated. Too often, people force themselves through situations where they are not destined to win. They become lost in their own muddy cloud.

Each person is a blend of attributes, each of which may not be exceptional on its own. Yet when combined with their other skills, ambitions, personality, and passion, that person becomes uniquely prepared to thrive, so long as they choose the right waters to swim in.

Recap for memory: a mischievous dolphins guide to surviving adulthood

  • Address your peers by their names. It boosts engagement and their odds of helping you.
  • Know that the most difficult, frustrating tasks are the ones that actually teach us, even if they seem redundant and circular at times.
  • Use the tools available to you rather than take them for granted. And don’t treat other people as a tool.
  • Know what venue you perform best in. Pick the right “body of water”.

Lastly, like a dolphin, no matter how fast you swim, don’t forget to pause and breathe every now and then.

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