Thursday, January 24, 2008

Thickie Flipper

Mice don’t like cheese. Ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand. Sharks do sleep. Elephants are not scared of mice (nor do they have exceptional memories), Goldfish don’t have a 10 second memory, Cats can swim, Wolves don’t howl at the Moon and … here’s the big one … Dolphins are not necessarily that intelligent. According to the latest research from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, a dolphin’s large brain is mostly made up glial (‘supporting’) cells, rather than neurons. The number of neurons is what makes us intelligent. The glia is there to regulate brain temperature in the cold seas.

Well, well, well.

This was interesting news to me as, for some time, I've had a sneaking suspicion that dolphins and whales aren't quite as smart and as spiritual as some people make them out to be. They are beautiful creatures of course. Gloriously so. But smart? As one comedian once said, 'If they're that smart, why do they keep swimming near Japan?'

But my real interest in writing this post is the whole subject of swimming with dolphins. Apparently it's the Number One thing to do before you die, or so says a poll of 20,000 people run by the BBC. Eh? More important than saying goodbye to friends and loved ones? Or helping a starving child? Or donating money to help find a cure for cancer? Come on ...

I'm sure that swimming with dolphins is quite lovely. I know people who've done it and they tell me just that. But the Number One thing to do before you die? I think that Karl Pilkington - Ricky Gervais's oddly philosophical mate - has sussed out the appeal. As he says, 'I wonder if it’s just the location that makes people pick it. If dolphins swam in the Thames, would it be as popular?'*

*From The World of Karl Pilkington (2006) Fourth Estate, London.

Cartoon (c) RGJ (originally appeared in Private Eye).

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