How The BBC Made Me Realise Dolphins Are Fucking Cool

They defecate on each other to strengthen bonds, they're cleverer than us and they love a bit of slap and tickle. What's not to love about dolphins??
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They defecate on each other to strengthen bonds, they're cleverer than us and they love a bit of slap and tickle. What's not to love about dolphins??

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"Dolphins – the cleverest creatures in the ocean... Discover the intelligence of these fun-loving creatures and enter their lives as never before.” I felt my face twist into a yeah-yeah-I’ve-seen-a-fucking-dolphin-before look. This is a little like an I-must-have-farted look, but with more frown.

But as “Dolphins – Spy in the Pod” progressed this expression softened. A splattering of calypso music, some dolphins nose-butting the camera, and I felt the corners of my mouth rise up like little bubbles. By the time I met the spy cameras –Spy Nautilus, Spy Tuna, Spy Puffer Fish – I was giggling away, yelling, “Wow, we’re going to enter their lives as never before.”

The spy cameras whirr and chug amid the dolphin pod filming their every move. And the cameras, which look like the toys you buy in zoo gift shops, become mini-stars themselves. Spy Nautilus gets attacked by a randy dolphin and drifts to the seabed. A potato cod tries to eat Spy Squid (“Spy Squid is dicing with death”). Spy Turtle claps out when “keeping his beady camera eye on a pod of males.” But despite these mishaps the BBC and its spy cams give us a unique view of dolphin life.

The narration is heavily human-centric, yet that’s forgivable. The dolphins do seem much like us. They make enduring friendships, they cooperate to catch food, they defecate on each other to strengthen bonds. We also share language, albeit a different one, and I would suggest that the dolphin language with all its clicks and intonation is even more complex.

Like humans, they can recognise a reflection of themselves and dolphin mothers produce milk. Unlike humans, they can concentrate sound waves into a beam revealing the shape and type of fish hidden in the sand, and send out a concentrated blast of sonar that stuns the fish like a Taser. In fact, maybe they’re better evolved than us. They don’t seem to get grouchy. They don’t worry about gluten-free diets, Mondays, armpit rashes or Sainsbury’s Bonus Points. In fact they’re so intelligent – with IQ levels pushing 500 – they probably wonder why the BBC went to the trouble of ramming a camera down a fake tuna’s throat. If dolphins had opposable thumbs, they could have made a better film themselves. Maybe they have a load of spy cams commenting on the odd ways we go about our days. Could that explain the glazed look in my father-in-law’s eye? “Spy Father-In-Law,” clicks a dolphin narrator somewhere.

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At points the human narrator irritates. “This is the first time that such an extraordinary gathering of sea creatures has been recoded before,” he says as a dolphin pod follows a sting ray and some cobia fish. I felt my face twist sharply into a stop-over-egging-it look.

“It’s a magical sight that has never been filmed before,” says the narrator at the magical sight of two dolphin super pods uniting to form a mega pod of more than 3,000 creatures. And, though it’s annoying to have it spelled out to you, it really is a magical sight.

Then the narrator says, “Never has such a large pod been filmed in one view.” All right, just shut up dickhead, and let me enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime sight.

“In the mega pod it seems like love reigns.” The org- no, mating scene, is also magical. The male dolphins carry Sargassum seaweed wreathed around their tails to the females, and as one male drapes the seaweed over the female, she yields and they make love. The seaweed is a bouquet of flowers, a set of Clarins body creams or a spuming bottle of champagne. So romantic is the scene that if you watch it with your spouse or lover(s) you might suddenly find yourself in the violent throes of love. (I watched it alone and around then cut my tongue on a can of baked beans.) Even Spy Turtle almost gets laid when he disturbs two mating turtles. ‘The male clasps his mate using special claws on his clippers,’ says the narrator stickily, as if he himself has once used special claws on his clippers.

The BBC has plagued penguins and dolphins with their spy cams. What will be next? Maybe it’s time the BBC got some spy kangaroos and did away with that spinstery fantasy, Kangaroo Dundee.

Photo credit: John Downer