Dolphins – ‘humans from the sea’

Dolphins fascinate us from time immemorial and have an important role in myths. Sailors believe that they are sign of good fortune. They are still a big mystery to us.

Cover photo by: Gordon Abercombie, S/Y T.G. Ellyson

One of the most beautiful experiences of sailing is when the dolphins show up. To be true, I’m not sure if that’s some kind of primeval or new age sense of fraternity and oneness with all living things and universe itself. But in those moments, while watching those creatures that fit so well into the sea that they seem to be made of it, one feels a rush of joy because he is – alive.

Maybe my lack of experience is the reason I feel that way. When I’m thinking about it I always remember the story that I heard from Damir Miloš, one of the most experienced Croatian sailors, about his beginnings at the ocean. In one occasion they saw many dolphins and were so excited that the crew rushed to woke up one more experienced sailor who was their trainer. He cursed at them and said that they may wake him up again only if they see cows swimming in the ocean, not dolphins.

Myths and legends

However, it seems to me that there is something special in dolphins after all. Because they fascinate mankind from time immemorial. They had an important role in myths and legends of all nations worldwide. They were messengers of change and transformation as well as conversion in Greek mythology. The myth says that Dionysus was captured by the pirates who fell to the sea when they got drunk and transformed to dolphins destined to save the sailors in need. Also, they were often companions of Poseidon and Aphrodite.

Conversion myth, some think, influenced early Christianity as well. Its symbol – the fish – is believed to be a dolphin actually. Medieval sailors accepted all that. For them dolphin was a sign of good weather, good fortune and success. There are also numerous legends that they saved sailors in need. Therefore, it was strictly forbidden to kill them.

‘People from the sea’

Some legends speak of them as of the ‘humans from the sea’. And here we go back to the story of their primeval connection to the people. Namely, some 50 million years ago, their ancestors went back to the cradle of life – the sea, and ours – same as dolphin’s stayed on land.

This is maybe the reason that we are so attracted to them – the similarities between us. It is well known that they are mammals, they breathe air, and it is proven that they are one of the most intelligent species on the planet. They laugh and some claim that they have the consciousness about themselves, character and names, as well as developed system of communication. Besides that, they are capable for empathy, they are very social animals and it is known that they help young and old members of their community. It seems that all those traits they show to people too and some think that they may have a positive influence on ill people. So more and more therapeutic centres where people are able to swim with dolphins open nowadays.

Endangered species

The whole story isn’t all positive because they can be naughty as well. The fishermen don’t like them because they are tearing their nets. But the real question is – who is the intruder here? Namely, lot of dolphins die when they got entangled in the nets. Besides that, some ascribe deviant sexual behaviour to them. The fact that it is deviant by human standards, however, doesn’t stop some humans from doing it to. There are some notions that dolphins sometime rape their female partners.

It seems to me that evolution works in a way that what is the level of one species intelligence higher, it has higher capacity for not so intelligent behaviour.

How can we differently understand the fact that in Japan and Faroe islands they still kill dolphins and their siblings whales for ‘food’ or because ‘tradition’. And there is some information that they were used for some military purposes too. For all we know, they, as well as all life on planet, are endangered.

Useful application

In the Adriatic Sea there are around 300 of dolphins with the prevalence of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). In many ways they are still a mystery to scientists. So the team of PhD Tomislav Gomerčić from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Zagreb, developed a smartphone application called CroDolphin Little. Using this app every one who meets dolphins or other marine mammals can register his sighting and send it to a base, as well as follow their movement on the map.

You can download the app from iTunes for IOS devices and from Google play for Android devices. The usage is simple. You enter the data of sigting in app and it sends an SMS to the base. After 12 hours, needed for the protection of the animals, the data shows on public map. There are simmilar projects internationally and one of them is ORCA – on line system for sharing information abour dolphins od whales sightings at seas and oceans worldwide.


Dolphins are protected by law in Croatia from 1995. It is strictly forbidden to kill and to disturb them or to distroy their inhabitat. One of the most known scientific and research organisations for dolphin researsch and protection is Blue World with centres on islands of Lošinj and Vis. If you want to support their work you can adopt a dolphin there.

It was their initiative to establish a reservate for dolphins around Lošinj and Croatia was the first Mediterranean country that protected that reservate in 2006. But upon complains of local community and fhisermen that protection expired in 2009. wasnt extended further.


In spite of their various positive traits as well as their interest in humans, they are still wild animals and you should be caucious when you are close to them. Some of the most important advices is not to feed them and not to swim with them. You should try to disturb them as least as possible in their natural environment as well.

With a recommendation of keeping those advices in mind if you ever meet those mythical creatures, I leave you with the music composed by Eric Serra for the cult film ‘Le Grand Bleu’, that proves the best that the myth about doplphins is still very much alive.


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail this to someone