Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Accepting the Help of Buddies

Have you seen the TV PBS series SPY IN THE OCEAN by the BBC? In it, humans have created incredibly believable camera-eye spy robots that look and act like the species in the sea they’re studying. There’s a spy dolphin, a spy octopus, a spy whale, and even a spy otter, among others. They move flexibly and provide an up-close and personal view as well as a helpmate for the target creatures. At last, humans have an opportunity to glimpse animals interacting naturally.

I was prepared to witness the cleverness of ocean creatures—especially the whales, dolphins, and octopuses, but I was surprised to watch what happened when human empathy was delivered through a robotic “friend” who was active on scene. After all, I didn’t think the pink spy octopus would fool anyone as it seemed to tiptoe like a cartoon character across the bottom of the sea, but when it stood up for a real octopus and helped it build a reliable hiding place by providing it with a coconut shell door for its shelter, the octopus reacted by fondling the peculiar octopus with what I would describe as love. Eureka! Ocean animals make friends!

Instead of being confused by empathy, the animals seemed to embrace it and respond in kind. A spy otter encouraged an under-age otter trying to struggle upstream over many rocks and mini-waterfalls to escape dangerous waves in the tide pools, and it worked. The spy otter offered playthings such as a leaf or a stick to raise the flagging spirits of the youngster as he climbed all alone—starting out late for the trip. Together, they invented games to play with their toys. The little otter that had been visibly discouraged rallied and finally reached the safe waterfall pool far upstream where other young otters had gone. The little otter insisted its new friend join him in play with the others. While humans tend to be distracted by minor external differences, the animals were open to kindness.

Was there a time when the human animal was more open to caring for strangers? Given our history of conquest and brutality, I wonder. Many people are quick to draw lines between groups, ignoring commonalities to treat others—even children—as enemies deserving of the worst possible treatment. When did we start acting the way we falsely imagined animals do? And how can we continue brutalizing animals we now know for a fact are sentient and emotional? I remember reported instances when dolphins were being shot and manatees deliberately or carelessly sliced by boats—for sport. And people mock those who are offended by the massive useless killing of animals who weren’t intended to be included in nets. We as humans have trouble assimilating the new information we have about the living beings with whom we share this planet, perhaps because we’re too embarrassed to be so wasteful and destructive to be able to face our mistakes. “You animal!” may not be an insult, after all.

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