What makes whales and dolphins so mysterious? Now is the time to see for yourself

Creatures like us, but from another realm, a different dimension

Share

It’s a genuine conundrum. Why do we love whales and dolphins so much? The particularly forceful nature of their attraction is something I have spent a long time pondering, since I am as affected by it as much as anybody, and some of my most memorable wildlife experiences have been with cetaceans (which is the whale and dolphin’s collective name).

Some of the animals, of course, are simply beautiful. Common dolphins in particular – the ones with the broad, pale band along their side, illustrated in wall frescoes in ancient Crete but often visible today off the coast of Britain – are among the most elegant of all creatures. But I don’t think that quite explains the particularly strong feeling we have for them.

Then again, some cetacean behaviour is spectacular, such as dolphins “bow-riding” a boat, or the occasions when a humpback whale breaches. I have seen this quite enormous animal leaping from the sea right out into the air. It makes you gasp in astonishment. But that’s not quite it either.

I think we get closer to the core of the attraction if we compare how we feel about cetaceans with how we feel about fish, even giant fish such as basking sharks, which are as big as some whales, and can be seen off our western coasts in the summer. I would contend that even though we may find fish fascinating – and basking sharks are certainly that – there is an element missing, compared to our feelings for whales and dolphins, and that element is a sense of wonder.

We feel there is a mystery to cetaceans which does not apply to fish. And I think that must firstly be because they are mammals like us, and so we feel a sense of kinship, reinforced by the fact that they are clearly very intelligent – and yet so very different.

My daughter, who enjoyed numerous whale-watching episodes in her childhood and was thrilled by any cetacean sighting (she’s now 22) put her finger on this recently when we were talking about them, and she said: “They’re like beings from a different dimension.”  I was struck by this, and we talked about it further, and in the end I asked her to write her thoughts down so I could remember them.

She wrote: “Why I like whales is something to do with the fact that they are ‘other-worldly’, which is manifested in their physical strangeness – they are so big, so slow, out of time with the rest of nature, almost a throwback to the dinosaurs.

“Their other-worldliness relativises and undermines our world view – ie life is richer/stranger than we remember on a daily basis. There are other hidden dimensions (eg the ocean) that are just as much a part of the Earth, but which are so forgotten by us day-to-day, and quite literally invisible to us, as the deep ocean has no sunlight.”

And she concluded: “So whales are so magical because when they surface, they offer a physical token of another realm which is veiled from us, but which also comprises part of our planet.”

Creatures like us, but from another realm, a different dimension – to my mind, that does go a long way to explaining it. Thank you, Flora. And I was put in mind of all of it, and started the conversation in the first place, because, although you may not have noticed, this week is the time for National Whale and Dolphin Watch, 2014.

It is organised by the cetacean charity the Sea Watch Foundation, who invite members of the public to join experienced observers all around the Britain on the lookout for whales, dolphins and porpoises. There are no fewer than 153 different observation sites from Shetland to Cornwall and you can find details of where watches are taking place  by looking at their website, and the Sea Watch Foundation's 2014 watch list. If you want to watch on your own, they ask you to spend an hour in a given place, and the website has details of how to go about it.

This is the 13th year that National Whale and Dolphin Watch has taken place, and in that time 13 different cetacean species have been observed: one porpoise (harbour porpoise), six whales (minke, humpback, fin, sei, northern bottlenose and long-finned pilot whale) and six dolphins (bottlenose, common, Atlantic white-sided, Risso’s, white-beaked and killer whale, which is a dolphin, really).

Creatures from another realm, all of them. Beings from a different dimension. Why not try and spot one this week?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Buyer / Planner

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity has ar...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity working ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Journals Manager

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The prime focus of the role is to assist...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The era of graduates from the university conveyor belt is over

Hamish McRae
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks