Study: Some dolphins prefer human company [pg.7]

June 4, 2006 07:08

A human can be a dolphin's best friend. This is the conclusion of Dr. Oz Goffman of the University of Haifa, a leading expert on this unique mammal. In the first investigation of its kind, Goffman studied a female Indo-Pacific, bottlenose dolphin named Holly, which had been exiled from her group "for reasons we will never know." He found that solitary-but-social dolphins can "find a sufficient temporary substitute with humans for social connection." Once they befriend humans, he said, the dolphins seem to abandon continuous social connections with their former natural group. A member of the university's institute for maritime studies and the department of maritime civilizations, Goffman studied Holly for nearly a decade, or almost since the time the dolphin arrived near the Beduin village of Nueiba- M'zeina in mid-1994. Then nine years old and sexually mature, she very soon began to interact with members of a Sinai Beduin tribe that frequented the beach area. The research focused on the development of long-term relationships between humans and a solitary dolphin. Goffman documented and analyzed changes over time in the behavioral patterns of Holly toward different groups of humans. The database is made up of underwater video recordings of dolphin-human interactions, collected for two to three consecutive days each month and analyzed in the lab. The study spanned 5.5 years, which included two gestation and calving cycles. The researcher also compared Holly's interaction with humans to that of a female bottlenose dolphin named Pita from the Bahamas. Pita's behavior was recorded by a San Francisco Oceanic Society team. Examining the effect of the number of swimmers on the dolphin's interactions, Goffman found a preference for a variety of behaviors, including body contact and play, when the swimmers' group was small (fewer than five). He detected a rise in aggression in the presence of a larger number of swimmers. There was an increase in the number of swimmers in the water over the years, and with it came a higher rate of unsolicited attempts to touch the dolphin. The researcher concluded that the increase in the number of swimmers contributed to the higher level of aggressive behavior observed in Holly over time. The dolphin's interrelationships with humans lasted about six years. Then, during the final three years of her life, Holly would visit with humans less and less. "Dolphins are advanced mammals with advanced social interactions," the University of Haifa expert explained. "The hierarchical structure is similar in nature and complexity to those of chimpanzee and human societies," he continued. "When the dolphin school is of a permanent nature, with a consistent size and membership, the complexity of its social structure may be understood." In addition to the basic scientific interest, Goffman also paid attention to practical aspects that may contribute to "do and don't" rules. He sees such rules as part of an educational framework of regulations for potential participants in encounters with free-ranging dolphins. The rules, he believes, are formulated in such a manner that "the experience may be enjoyed without posing a risk to either partner." The study, Goffman emphasizes, was conducted with the help of members of the Sinai Beduin tribe Nueiba-M'zeina. He also received assistance from volunteers from the Israel Marine Mammals Research and Assistance Center, which Goffman co-founded in Michmoret south of Haifa. The research was supervised by Prof. Ehud Spanier and Dr. Dan Kerem from the University of Haifa, and Prof. Joseph Terkel from Tel Aviv University. Prof. Kari Lavalli from Boston University acted as adviser. MISUNDERSTANDING E-MAIL Think twice before replying to an e-mail. Because e-mail doesn't have the non-verbal modifiers that inform up face-to-face communication, messages can be ambiguous, says a communication studies specialist at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. In fact, you might want to wait a whole 24 hours before responding to an e-mail message that involves a controversial or emotional situation, says Jennifer Cochrane, a senior lecturer who teaches online and almost exclusively uses computer-mediated interpersonal communication with students and faculty. "What makes e-mail so tricky is that people whip off e-mail responses quickly, and because they lack the non-verbal modifiers like eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions and so on, they can be perceived ambiguously," Cochrane said. Those ambiguous responses can often ruffle a recipient's feathers. "It's not so much etiquette; it's poorly-written communication and little or no knowledge about how computers mediate the message," says Cochrane, who admits to having unintentionally upset an e-mail reader on a few occasions. Once, she had to call an angry student in for an office visit in order to apologize and explain that what he thought her e-mail message said wasn't what she was trying to communicate. As she reviewed her message and the circumstances under which it was sent, it was easy to see where her intended message got muddled. The ambiguity stems from what can't come across over a keyboard, she said. "When you are talking to someone via e-mail, your tone of voice, gestures and other non-verbal messages - which are said to make up as much as 90% of communication - don't come across. The problem with e-mail is that your readers "can't see the twinkle in your eyes when your words are smacking them upside their heads," Cochrane said. "Everything you say in an e-mail is intensified, because we don't have the non-verbal signals to modify the message. It causes huge problems like flaming." Text messages over your cellphone are probably the only exceptions, as they use abbreviated grammatical conventions, and senders don't have high expectations of the conversation, the lecturer explained. With the exception of text messaging, computer "mediation" has the ability to change or modify "what comes out of our brains, and rolls off our fingertips," Cochrane added. "E-mail users should read each message very closely two or three times and not take comments personally," she said. "Try counting to 10 if it is a negative or hurtful situation or (if possible) wait 24 hours to respond. Not responding is also an option. We can get things done really fast with e-mail, but we may regret our response if we don't take the time to craft an appropriately worded response with the proper 'tone of voice,' " Cochrane said. "Taking the time to craft an effective message is counter-intuitive in the speedy world of e-mail. "And some things should never be said in an e-mail message because your message may not be interpreted exactly the way you intended. When precision, nuance and personal intent is paramount, e-mail may not be the communication method of choice," Cochrane concludes.

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