Meeting A Wild Dolphin: “I Could Feel It Looking At Me”

September 25, 2015 Rachel Littler

Rachel Littler is passionate about animals and their protection. She works with Architect, the firm that built Sonar’s site and branding. Here, she shares her experience meeting a wild dolpin during Sonar’s expedition in Bimini. She was the only person the dolphins echolocated on that day in the water.


It was different than what I expected. When I got in the water, I was a little bit nervous initially because obviously the dolphins are pretty big predators and they can do what they want. It gives you this feeling of smallness, of being a little flesh bag basically!

I saw one zip towards me. I listened to the clicks and saw some bubbles coming from his blowhole as he passed me. He then hesitated: I could see he was looking at me. I felt him echolocate on my chest, it was a really strange sensation. I could feel him looking at me.

The only experience I can liken it to is when you sometimes are off-guard, on the train for example, just lost in your own little world. You look up to see someone looking you dead in the eye and it feels like they’ve just seen inside you. You feel really exposed and really vulnerable and you think, ‘Oh god, they’ve just seen a bit of me that I didn’t willingly give away. I didn’t tell them anything, they’ve looked in me and seen something.”

It feels like, when the dolphin looks at you in that way, the dolphin sees everything about you in that moment. It takes it all in and then just zips off.

Then getting in the water with them again another time, it was really interesting to see the way that they protected the baby in the group, kind of ushering it off a short distance away until they knew it was safe. It seemed a human / person kind of thing to do, I think. I remember one of them came over, looked at me and seemed to say ‘ok, you’re cool,’ like making an assessment that we weren’t threatening.

These experiences have made me reflect more on being a human being, and our place on the planet. We can’t understand or pin down what intelligence is for us, like IQ tests can reveal certain things but they leave glaring omissions, for example emotional intelligence. We can‘t figure out how to even measure our own intelligence let alone decide what makes another species intelligent and it’s foolish to think we can judge another’s intelligence by our own species’ standards.

Overall, my time with the dolphins made me think a lot about the way we are treating other species.  We commodify animals, not seeing a dolphin as another living being, it’s just a commodity and we can use it how we want and for whatever means we want. Take water birthing done in captivity, for example. That dolphin doesn’t have the choice to participate; it can’t decide whether or not to endure it.

Our relationship with other species is a very much one sided. We don’t understand what they are saying. Many of our studies so far have been trying to get them to learn our language. That’s quite presumptuous: that our language is somehow better and everyone should be catering to our needs. That’s a bit insular and its just speciesist. We should probably move beyond this.

Photo by Atmoj (not of Rachel).