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Colin Barrett: Blog

The Dolphin, Epilogue

November 29, 2017
Posted at 1:39 pm

The Dolphin is, of course, a work of fiction. So far as I'm aware a true talking dolphin doesn't exist, has never existed, and based on current scientific information isn't likely to exist in the future.
I have to confess that my knowledge about the beautiful mammals isn't that great. I have no degree of any sort in marine biology and have never worked with dolphins either professionally or even as an amateur. What I know derives from my observations as an interested-make that fascinated-spectator at quite a number of dolphin shows and some fairly intensive research on the Internet once I'd conceived the idea for this novel.
Still, I've tried to stay as close to fact as my story would allow. For example, it's quite true that dolphin brains are larger than human ones, by about 10% (except for Balzac, who was found, after an autopsy he himself requested prior to his death, to have a brain sig¬nificantly smaller than most people's; typical dolphin brains are a good 20-25% bigger than his).
Dolphins do mostly live in pods with a male leader. The manner of choosing of the leader doesn't seem to be known, but it's probably not all that dissimilar to what I describe; in any event dolphins don't seem to engage in bitter fighting over the honor as do the alpha males of many other species. (Nor do they hold formal elections, with or without "hanging chads.")
Dolphin hunts of schooling fish are indeed conducted with one leading the pod, though it's not entirely clear how the leader conveys directions to the others.
The one hunting technique I describe in any detail, hunting "in the way of two," has real-ly been observed in dolphins in the wild.
Pacific spinner dolphins commonly rotate in the air when they leap, and Atlantic bottlenose usual¬ly don't. I've seen both; indeed, a pod of spinners escorted us back to land after a whalewatch trip on my honeymoon. And they are, in fact, basically the same species.
Yes, dolphins do communicate fairly complex ideas to one another, gauging by their behavior. Just how complicated or comprehensive that communication may be isn't known.
Also yes, dolphins can emulate human speech by means of modulating their blowholes. Published research says they mostly do individual words or at most brief phrases by rote repetition-not quite up to Minacou's standard, I'm afraid, but then I said this was fiction.
Dolphins will indeed hang around boats and other human environments in search of food-probably not to the extent I describe, but it suited my story to push this a little. Captive dolphins, on being released, have also been known to return voluntarily to where they were fed and nurtured.
And while there's little literature about dolphin attacks against humans-they pretty much don't do it, even under provocation-the little that there is bears out what I wrote. The one idiot I mention in the story was reportedly trying to stuff a ball-point pen into the animal's ¬blo¬w-hole. What, this moron wanted an autograph?
As I wrote, dolphins may escape from fishing nets-"great weeds"-by remaining calm and picking their way out. Dolphin deaths in the long nets are usually ascribed to the animals striking the net unexpectedly and, in a panic to get free, entangling themselves. If we continue to use long nets for fishing some dolphin deaths are unavoidable, but efforts to warn them off can greatly diminish the toll.
The manner in which I describe Kitik being "taken" is actually one of the ways the animals are captured-and so are the unfortunate consequences to the dolphins caught in such a manner.
Finally, my statistics about dolphin lifespans in the wild and in captivity are accurate according to my researches. A captive dolphin's life expectancy is indeed about half that of one in the wild (or even less), all other things being equal-a thought to bear in mind on your next visit to a dolphin show.
And there are elements of fact in other aspects of what I wrote. When I first visited the Florida Keys in the late 1960s I stayed at a motel where a dolphin was really in residence in a proprietary "lagoon." The restaurant, although not attached to the motel, is likewise from my memory; it did indeed "look like a damn diner," but it was also the best in the Keys and I recall fondly many wonderful meals taken there.
I've also, while trying to keep it uncertain, located my Kitik Inn at more or less the same place-a little further south, perhaps, but the same general area. And in fact motel chains predominate in that area these days, though it wasn't so then. Even traffic patterns are, or at least used to be, as Maggie found them; and there's still only one road (U.S. Route 1) in and out of the Keys.
On the other hand, I tried not to let fact stand in the way of the story I was telling. I have no idea how dolphins show laughter nor, I think, does anyone else. I wouldn't at all be surprised to find that they do laugh, as playful as they are; but whether they wriggle in the water to show it, or go "ho-ho-ho" under the surface like an aquatic Santa Claus or Jolly Green Giant, or do something else entirely, I don't know. My dolphins needed a sense of humor and a way to express it; I gave it to them.
Do some dolphins jump higher than others? Assuredly so-but probably with nothing like the height differential I present. There are champions in every area of endeavor, both human and among animals, but ordinar¬ily the disparity between the best and second-best isn't anything like so dramatic as I've written.
I know of no recorded incident in which a beached dolphin has managed to return itself to the water, much less one who crash-landed from a high jump as did Acou. I needed it for my story, therefore I created it.
To my knowledge there's no "Flagler" government dolphin-research installation in the Keys, and no "Kamehameha"-pronounced, by the way, "Kah-may-hah-may-hah"-in Hawaii. I used names widely prevalent in the two areas. Henry Morrison Flagler built the "Overseas Railroad" line linking Miami to Key West which, after it was washed out in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, was rebuilt as the "Overseas Highway" extension of U.S. 1; and King Kamehameha unified the Hawaiian Islands under single rule in the late 1700s/early 1800s. That Kamehameha translates to "The Lonely One" in the Polynesian language spoken in the Hawaii of that era is strictly coincidence; I had no idea of that when I gave Acou the cognomen "Lone One."
Finally, Julie and Jason's "martin-eye" of the epilogue. I had a halfway notion of incorporating this in the story when I wrote that bit, but it didn't fit and I never got it in. But it seemed too nice a touch to drop, so I left it. Here's the tale:
In the old days of railroad pre-eminence there was a traveling salesman who used that mode of transportation for long trips. Visiting the bar car on his journey for a drink (or two) before retiring to his sleeping compartment, he found it empty but for a single woman sitting by herself. The lady, however, was a nun, complete with full habit.
The salesman, a gregarious sort, hated to drink alone. Abashed, he approached the nun with a proposition: "Sister, I know you can't drink alcohol, but I'm a lonely man and I'm on the road. Would you be willing to sit with me while I have a drink?"
"Well," she says-one has to imagine quite a prissy voice here, this is a story more for telling aloud than writing-"I suppose that would be all right, in Christ's charity."
"Thank you very much," he says sincerely. "Now, I'm going to have a scotch-and-soda, but what will you have?"
She scrutinizes the drink menu that, in our conceit, is sitting conveniently on the table in front of her. "Ah," she says (in the same prissy little voice), "that looks interesting. A martin-eye. I think I shall have a martin-eye."
"But sister-" the salesman begins to protest.
"No," she says firmly (but still prissy), "that is what I want. A martin-eye."
When the waitress arrives he's stuck. He orders his scotch, plus "a martin-eye." She shrugs, and takes the order to the service bar. "Scotch/soda," she says. "And a 'martin-eye.'"
The bartender rolls his eyes. "Is that nun back again?"
Thus is my tale: fiction, fantasy, and a shaggy-dog story. A little of which is true.

The Dolphin, chapter 28

November 27, 2017
Posted at 11:46 am

Well, that's more or less it. That's my story. Except for the epilogue, which ties the whole thing together some. Actually, I had that epilogue in mind very early on as I was writing-so much so that somewhere around chapter 24 or 25 I actually had to quit writing and do that epilogue out of turn, which is something I never do. I ordinarily put my fiction together in the same sequence you read, but on this occasion the follow-up was so strongly in my mind that I had to write it right away and then return to the final chapters. You'll see on Wednesday. My last blog will also have a good deal of detail about what's fiction and what's fact about dolphins, some of which may surprise you. To all my readers I say, thanks very much for your interest, and to those of you who purchased the novel on Amazon, thank you especially.

The Dolphin, chapter 27

November 24, 2017
Posted at 10:42 am

I expect you pretty well knew this was coming. Nothing else would make much sense in the context of where this story's been going.
Jason's comments about the advantages of animal captivity are of course accurate. Some animals voluntarily give up their freedom for these benefits; think about dogs, cats, other pets and the like. To be sure, human care for captive or domesticated animals isn't consistent across the board, and in some cases the animals stay in place through intimidation or lack of knowledge about any alternative way of living-sad cases. But many pets-I'd like to say most, but I've read (and seen) enough of the bad stuff to be less sure than I'd like to be of that-stay voluntarily even when offered their freedom. And even wild animals will give up some portion of their freedom when offered a steady supply of food and other advantages of living in proximity to humans, pretty much like Minacou's "boat dolphins" (a phenomenon I've witnessed myself). So it isn't entirely a one-way street, as Jason says. But most thinking creatures-humans being the prime example-will opt for freedom if offered the choice, as do the dolphins of my story.

The Dolphin, chapter 26

November 22, 2017
Posted at 10:05 am

Thoughtful readers will have been wondering how long it would be before Minacou got to this point. The conversations with Maggie and others have clearly been mutually rewarding to both sides, but there are limits. The price of those conversations has been a loss of freedom of movement to the dolphins, and talks between captor and captive, however intellectually stimulating, are imbued with an inequity that can't be overcome purely by mental challenge. Prompted by Kitik, Minacou has clearly decided that the status of her relationship with the humans has to be changed, and is demanding that her friend allow that change to take place. In her place, wouldn't you feel the same? Now Maggie is faced with a dilemma; will her professional goals take priority over friendship, or will the needs and desires of her friend prevail?

The Dolphin, chapter 25

November 20, 2017
Posted at 9:28 am

This chapter, like the one about Barbie, is meant as something of a lark-an interlude, of sorts, between the more serious stuff. At the same time, it also has a point. I mean, have you ever given much thought to why our monetary system exists, and what is its history? Yes, Hiram's explanation is a bit simplistic, but it does have a lot of truth in it. Anyhow, it's a fun respite before we get to the climax, which is coming beginning with the next chapter. Three more chapters to go, plus the lengthy epilogue.
Once more, if you grow too impatient, the whole novel plus an afterword that will be used in my final blog entry about this story is available on Amazon for just $3, as are my other long works of fiction. If you don't have a Kindle to read it, an emulation is available from Amazon for desktops, laptops or tablets at no charge.