Monday, April 2, 2012

Dolphins Play Awesome Dolphin Games

When I was a kid I thought that everyone knew the toy store was the best place on the planet.  Where else could you find Silly Putty, Frisbees, transforming robots, Slinkys, and all the other lumps of molded plastic that in human hands become gateways to wonder?  When I watched adults get together at dinner parties and stand around and talk to each other for hours without even the tiniest action figure appearing in their hands I was possessed by infinite pity.

Humans seem unique in the animal kingdom in the sheer ubiquity of our play.  Humans play in every single recorded culture.  We play sports, we play imagination games, we play Playstation--from Greece to the Gambia, from Kansas to the !Kung.

Today we'll be looking at another animal that plays games.  Dolphins.  No.  Not Dolphin Olympics.  We're talking about something that actually happens.

In the wild some dolphins blow bubbles from their blowholes to confuse fish--a little like an underwater smokescreen.  This is fine and pragmatic animal behavior because it gets the dolphins food.  But what's cool is that some dolphins have been observed not just blowing bubbles to get tasty fish--but blowing bubbles to have fun.

The basic game is that the dolphins blow bubble rings, like smokers blowing smoke rings.  Individual dolphins have individual takes on the behavior.  One dolphin blows two bubble rings and then nudges them together to make a super-big bubble ring.  Another makes a sort of floating helix in the water by blowing her bubble ring into her own wake.

Whatever these dolphins are doing, two things are certain.  It's not useful.  And it looks really fun.  Toy-makers out there:  why do I not have a bubble-blowing dolphin toy yet?

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