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Friday, June 9th, 10:50PM

Things went fairly well today, although fairly uneventful compared to the first few days. I feel like I’ve started developing a routine now and things are becoming a little more predictable, but still very enjoyable.

The morning wasn’t that busy for me. I worked on a few hand signals that I wanted to try on my next local, but other than that I just did a few assignments for the research they were doing. I was TAA for the angular resolution study with Hiapo (I handed the bar thingies to the guy who put them on the apparatus), and a general observer for the Delay Repeat study with Akeakamai. We also had another hand signs lecture and a lecture on dolphin senses.

Akeakamai's eye
Close shot of Akeakamai's eye (click for larger picture)
The senses lecture was kinda cool actually. I found out that dolphin eyes don’t have a round pupil like humans. Instead, it’s a horseshoe shaped slit with the half circle part on the top of the eye and the two holes (yes, TWO openings, meaning TWO pupils) on the bottom forming the bottom of the horseshoe. Naturally, there’s still white on the outside of the eye, but the actual iris looks completely different. No wonder dolphin eyes look so cool. By having the two openings, it’s thought perhaps dolphins can perceive depth perception with one eye (instead of two like us) by knowing the differences between the two pictures transmitted onto the retina (because there are two holes). We were also told that because seeing under water requires a very different lens focal length, dolphin eye lenses are very much larger than human. This means that they don’t see so well in air up close, or so the theory says. In actuality, they probably do see fairly well, even as close as 8 feet above water. They also do not appear to see in full colour but rather in shades of blue only thanks to evolution (since water drowns out reds and yellows anyway).

I went for lunch at some sandwich shop by the facility across from the Ward center shopping mall today. It’s supposedly a famous café, but I had never heard of it before. I’ll probably go back tomorrow, so I’ll get the name then. The sandwich wasn’t particularly excellent though.

I was hoping to get a local today, and I got my wish. I was really hoping to get Elele or Akeakamai since I hadn’t worked with either of them yet, but in particular I wanted to work with Elele I guess. Ellie was the one who I accidentally gave that squishy ball to, and who bopped me the other day. She is also Robin William’s favorite dolphin, and probably the youngest one there. She has a particular way about her that makes me think she’d be fun to work with. I was right.

I had Robert as a trainer today, a fairly nice guy with particular views on most things. He asked me what I wanted to work on in this session, and he suggested I try general manipulation and adlibbing rather than just plain old commands. I told him that I had a list of things I wanted to try and he liked that idea, but he also said it can be a lot of fun if you just play around with the dolphin without using particular commands to do it. I asked Robert if I could be beside the fish bucket for the session this time, and he said that would be fine. I had a problem with Pheonix always looking at the trainer beside the bucket last time and I didn’t want that problem this time.

When I was up with Elele, she was very VERY attentive. Even Robert said that. I was lucky enough to have the ENTIRE session for myself (in other words, no other participants to share the time with), but I was limited in what I could do with her. Hiapo was doing angular resolution training right across from us, so I couldn’t send Ellie on any jumps or long swims while any particular trial was going on. That was almost the whole time too. I had written down a list of commands I wanted to try, but I couldn’t use most of them because they were mainly high energy. That left me just sitting there, staring at poor Ellie wondering what I could do to keep her interested. She was very cooperative and did most of everything I asked her, but I was standing there thinking of things to get her to do while she sat there, looking intently at me, waiting until I made a decision. It’s a really neat feeling when you know that she’s looking at you and waiting for you, sitting there straight up and attentive. I just take one look at her and see just how cute she really is, and I forget everything.
Ellie very close up
No Ellie! You can't play with my camera! (click for larger picture)
One time she could tell I couldn’t decide anything, so she just sunk to the bottom and blew a perfect bubble ring and poked her head through it when it came to the surface, without me ever asking her to do it. She kind of whistled afterwards, like she was saying "hey, how about that one?". It was cool to see that kind of creativity even when I didn’t ask for it. Mostly though the session was just plain tactiles. Not that I’m complaining though, she’s so incredibly cute that I could stand there rubbing her belly all day if she’d let me.

Robert showed me how I can manually move her around without using any commands. If you just sort of point in the direction you want her to lye and put your hand on her side, she’ll sit there and let you move her around all you want. I tried rotating her, pushing her side to side and holding on to her tail as she floats past, pulling her back using her tail (gently of course), and all sorts of stuff like that. Once she knows how you’re moving her, she tries to help you do it by either pumping her tail a little if she’s moving forward, twisting her body to make it easier to rotate her, or arching her body to help you pull her back easier and quicker. It’s amazing just how heavy she actually feels when you’re trying this sort of stuff; kind of like trying to move a big log in the water, only with a vinyl covering… =). She was kind of getting a little impatient after a while. I should have grabbed a ball or something, but I didn’t think the angular resolution study would allow for it. Too bad too, ‘cause she’s quite good at it and we aren't allowed to play ball with "the girls" right now, only Elele and Hiapo, so this might have been my only real chance to try it. Oh well. Maybe I’ll get to work with her once more. So far though I enjoyed working with Ellie more than I have any of the others. I anxiously await my turn with Akeakamai, the dolphin people describe as "the smartest non-human on the planet". I hear she likes to jump real high too.

Robert asked me while I was up on the stand whether I had ever felt a dolphin’s melon move when they vocalised. I had heard that they change their melon’s shape according to the kind of sound they want to produce. Robert had me put my hand on Ellie’s head, and give her the sing command. She started whistling a little (much more than Hiapo or Pheonix ever did), and sure enough I could feel her melon muscles contracting and her whole melon moving back and out. It was a cool feeling, especially given how her melon felt in the first place. Too bad they don’t like to be touched there ‘cause I would want to again if I had my choice. It felt like a really stiff water balloon that moved around.

I’m finding out that a dolphin’s skin feels totally different depending on what part of them you touch. Anything with blubber underneath feels totally different than anything else, and even their backs feel different from their sides when you work from the side up.
Carol kissing a dolphin
How can you not kiss someone that cute? (click for larger picture)
Their backs are a darker colour than the sliver of their sides, and once you start to move into the blacker section, you can tell the texture and feeling change. It seems to get stiffer and thicker as you move up and you don’t feel the ripple vinyl feeling as much as you do in the neck section right behind the eye, whereas their bellies are very soft and thin feeling with no particular texture. Their fins feel very stiff and hard, much like your ears, with absolutely no texture, but lots of friction. It’s weird, but when you try to rub a dolphin, even if your hand is completely wet and they are completely wet, there’s still a LOT of friction. You can press as hard or soft as you want, your hand will still be kind of stuck in the one position. In other words, your hand doesn’t glide across them like I first thought, and although they don’t feel sticky at all, your hand doesn’t want to move across them. It more reminds me of an inner tube now than anything else, only their skin doesn’t vibrate like an inner tube can when your hand actually does move across it. If you press against them when you rub, their skin seems to come off a little, like when you rub your hands together really hard, only the friction doesn’t decrease from the skin coming off like you’d expect. That’s why I like to describe it like a chalky feeling, or maybe a chalk board is a better object to use to describe it. I still can’t think what to compare kissing them to. That’s a totally different feeling than most anything else, almost like kissing a warm car tire or something. Even kissing them feels really cool.

We did the fish room cleanup today at the end of the day. That wasn’t anything too exciting at all, but that meant that we were some of the only ones there afterwards. Ake was being quite vocal, doing her traditional short high whistle, and repeating a different short high whistle a half-second after that, and so on. I sometimes whistle back in the same way she did, and if you keep matching her whistles, she seems to keep going. If you miss, she stops. Anyway, that isn’t why I was talking about her whistling.

She seemed like she wanted to play with someone or something, so I asked one of the trainers if I could put in a large spherical structure thing made out of flexible PVC piping that the lab called "the orbit". I washed it and started putting it in the tank, making sure Akeakamai knew I was putting it in. She came over and stopped right under it, I held it there for a few seconds while asking if she wanted it, and then dropped it in. No sooner had I done that that Ake had already soaked me, head butting the orbit out of the tank. I guess she didn’t want that toy. I then went and grabbed four horseballs, washed them off, and put them in the tank. Immediately, Ake took one and started bobbing it up and down. I could tell she wanted to play around, but I didn’t know what to do at the time. Hopefully next time I’ll have a better idea.

No tank cleaning tomorrow after all, since Moday is a holiday and they have someone important coming on Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m going to go in tomorrow to just hang out for a while. Maybe with hardly anyone there, the dolphins will want to play more. We’ll see…
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