I read the other day of a porpoise that had died from eating garbage. The death of those porpoises or dolphin as they are also called was on my mind for days. It somehow epitomized the whole story of the tragedy of litter and pollution. Hardly a day passes without reading about oil spills, or effluent discharge which kills birds, thousands of fish and other sea life. We get hardened to it and think about the poisoning of our world. So too with the litter and filth on our streets. It lies there rotting and stinking but we get hardened to it and think little about the poisoning of our world. It has become part of our lives and we shrug our shoulders and say there is nothing we personally can do. It takes an incident like the story of the unfortunate dolphin to remind us of the effect on other life.
Anyone who has lived near the sea will have seen the porpoises in the waves. Sometimes on calmer summer days I have seen them leaping playfully out of the water. Their bodies glistening in the sun or racing down the waves like young surfers on board, only so much more agile. In the Philippine Islands, travelling from Mindoro, to some of the smaller outlying coral islands in the South China Sea, I have had porpoises around the boat all day, cruising underneath or racing ahead and leaping out of the Clearwater, playing like children, their black bodies changing colour at the different depths of the sea.
In ancient times the Dolphin was revered by man. They are part of the myths of Greece and Rome, and one sees the leaping forms carved on stone and cast in bronze. There are stories about them keeping shipwrecked sailors afloat or driving sharks away from the life rafts. Even very recently there have been similar incidents off our coast, and people have sworn that it is the dolphins who had saved them. They are creatures of great intelligence, and I remember watching some being filmed in Miami, Florida, during the making of one of the most popular television shows in America, “Flipper.” It was uncanny, what they could be taught to do. Many scientists of course have studied them, but in my opinion. John Lilly really understood and loved the Dolphin. He quickly discovered that human beings are so arrogant that it was difficult for most people to even entertain the idea that they might be superior beings swimming around in the sea. There was one occasion in 1955 when John Lilly and his fellow scientists had a weird feeling that the dolphins were mimicking their speech and laughing at them. Lilly studied the dolphins for many years and came to the conclusion that he had no right to hold them in a concentration camp for a scientific convenience, and he decided to let his captive dolphins go.
On the day he arrived at this decision his favoured dolphin decided to commit suicide. Five more committed suicide within the next two weeks. They had reached the end of their tether.
Lilley said he would only continue working with dolphins, if he could have a place by the sea where dolphins could come and go as they wished. He would then like to have a family with young children who could learn to play and communicate with young orphans. This made sound sense to me, because children, like dolphins, would do things in an unquestioning way. We have become witnesses, accessories and perpetrators in the steady degradation of our planet. We are almost coldly indifferent to the lovely natural life, that is becoming snuffed out all around us. Our world does indeed become more silent and poisons are poured into the air, the sea and on the land. Will we in choke to death on our own waste?
Laurens van der Post told me what an old Free State hunter at once said to him: “Laurens, when the last man departs from this earth, the animals, birds, fishes and even insects will breathe a long sigh of relief.”