Dolphins have fascinated humans for centuries. Some ancient cultures even worshipped dolphins and condemned anyone who harmed them. Despite that historic connection, dolphins around the globe are often mistreated and even slaughtered. It’s long been known that dolphins possess keen intelligence and self awareness – a trait once thought to be uniquely human. One pioneer of dolphin research has joined a crusade to save them from being butchered by Japanese fisherman. The National Aquarium’s director of dolphin research talks with Diane about understanding and protecting dolphins.


  • Diana Reiss, Ph.D. Director of the Dolphin Research Program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Professor in the Psychology Department at Hunter College and in the Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Program of the Graduate Center, City University of New York.


  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Humans and dolphins enjoy a special relationship, one that reaches back to ancient Greece. In a new book one of the world's leading dolphin experts explains the science behind that connection and her crusade to end the mistreatment of dolphins.

  • 11:07:24

    MS. DIANE REHMHer new book is titled "The Dolphin in the Mirror" and Diana Reiss joins me here in the studio. She's a research scientist and director of dolphin research at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md. She's also a cognitive psychologist and professor at Hunter College. Links are on our website at to her book and to her research all of which is on the National Aquarium website. Good morning to you, it's a pleasure to have you here.

  • 11:08:09

    MS. DIANA REISSGood morning, thank you so much for having me.

  • 11:08:13

    REHMAnd if you'd like to join us I'm sure there are so many animal lovers of all kinds out there, but especially this morning, as we talk about dolphins, join us by phone at 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Talk about how far back our fascination with dolphins goes Diana.

  • 11:08:50

    REISSYeah, well, in my book, I talk about this because we know that even the ancient Greeks were fascinated by dolphins. They saw something in the eye of the dolphin, in the behavior of the dolphin that made them think about them in very special ways. Dolphins were actually revered in ancient Greece and many other countries.

  • 11:09:11

    REISSAnd there were early reports that have come down to us as myths about dolphins saving sailors that had fallen overboard. One of the old myths is that of Areion who was on a boat and he was asked to jump overboard by the pirates on the boat and dolphins actually rescued him. Now what's so fascinating is that these ancient myths are now reflected in news stories that we see in our current papers.

  • 11:09:42

    REHMYou've used the word reflected and your book is titled "The Dolphin in the Mirror". That's a very special title.

  • 11:09:54

    REISSThank you, it's, "The Dolphin in the Mirror" was chosen as the title because many years ago in 2001 my colleague Gloria Mureno (sp?) and I showed that dolphins, like us and the great apes and now we know elephants, can recognize themselves in a mirror and this was why I called this book "The Dolphin in the Mirror".

  • 11:10:14

    REHMHow did, how do we know that they recognize themselves?

  • 11:10:20

    REISSThat's a great question. So what we basically do is we expose dolphins to a mirror. We put it, in my facility we put a mirror where the dolphins see it as a mirror and we can look through it with our camera so they can't see us. They just see their own reflection so we're seeing basically right through the mirror.

  • 11:10:40

    REISSAnd we watch what the dolphins do when they're first exposed and it's absolutely fascinating. They first, if they've never had mirror exposure they might act as if it's another dolphin and show social behavior or try to figure out if there's somebody behind there so they may look behind it, try to look over it. But very quickly they realize, they start testing, they realize there's nobody there.

  • 11:11:05

    REISSAnd they start doing the second stage that we call contingency testing. Now let me tell you what this is. If any of you have seen the Harpo Marx/Lucille Ball skit or the Groucho Marx skit in front of a mirror where he's kind of trying to figure out if that fellow across is him or not. It's very much like that, repetitive odd behavior.

  • 11:11:28


  • 11:11:28

    REISSThey're, at that point they're figuring it out. There's some relationship between what I'm doing and what's happening in the mirror. That's that second very important contingency testing phase. And then that's followed by this third phase where the light bulb goes on, they realize it's themselves that they're seeing, that they're seeing a reflection of themselves.

  • 11:11:49

    REHMAnd what do they do?

  • 11:11:51

    REISSThey start looking at their body, parts of their body they can't see without the mirror and we'll see dolphins, humans, elephants which we've also shown. We've also shown that they're self-aware in a mirror. They'll look at the same things. It's fascinating. So they'll look at their eyes very close up. Most animals are not going to put their eye right up near a stranger and they'll put their eye right near the glass and look. They'll open their mouths really wide and look inside their mouths, sometimes wiggling their tongues. They'll look at their genitals. Young kids look at their genitals a lot. They can't see them, dolphins will do the same.

  • 11:12:30

    REISSBut even beyond that, they're interested in watching themselves doing things so at the National Aquarium for example, we've watched dolphins as they blow all different kinds of bubbles and they sort of experiment with these bubbles and it's fascinating to watch them watching themselves.

  • 11:12:48

    REHMSo your conclusion is that that brings us as humans and the dolphins far closer than we had ever imagined?

  • 11:13:05

    REISSYes and I talk about others. I talk about this pattern that connects us. We see these patterns in their behavior that are quite familiar or actual behaviors themselves that we share with this species that's been separated from us in terms of our evolution for over 95 million years. We haven't had a common ancestor with dolphins for, since the split 95 million years ago. They couldn't be more different than us in body form, in the environment in which they're, in which they arose, in which they developed.

  • 11:13:38

    REISSYet we see in the eyes of these dolphins in their behavior this ability from mirror self recognition, to understand symbolic systems when they're taught to them, artificial codes, to be creative. As I mentioned before dolphins blow bubbles, but many years ago, we reported bubble rings, that they actually create their own objects of play and they'll produce these exquisite rings that look like silver rings of air and they play with them and they experiment with them.

  • 11:14:09

    REISSAnd we've also worked with dolphins with problem-solving. We've given them underwater keyboards at my lab. Hopefully we can talk about that.

  • 11:14:18

    REHMOh my.

  • 11:14:18

    REISSThey're really remarkable.

  • 11:14:19

    REHMBut, you know, I was telling you just before we went on the air my husband and I did in fact visit the Baltimore Aquarium and I was of two minds immediately. One, the beauty of being able to examine these wonderful creatures up close and at the same time having such a feeling of sadness that they were in captivity. How do you as a dolphin researcher, someone who obviously wants to save these creatures, how do you feel about that confinement?

  • 11:15:06

    REISSYeah, I'm glad you asked me that question because I also have, I'm torn and I've always been torn about this issue of captivity. I think at this point in the world that we live in we have to learn as much as we can about these dolphins, the ones that are in captivity now that wouldn't fare very well if we released them.

  • 11:15:28

    REHMBecause they're already in captivity..?

  • 11:15:31

    REISSBorn in captivity, they haven't taken dolphins in the United States for over 20 years from the wild and I hope that continues because I'm very opposed to any dolphin being captured in the wild. I think those days are over for many countries. Unfortunately dolphins are being killed in many other countries and I'd like to talk about that today.

  • 11:15:49

    REHMWhy is that?

  • 11:15:50

    REISSWell, let's take a situation that we saw depicted in the Oscar-winning film "The Cove" that was out a couple of years ago. They're in Japan in a small coastal village called, Taiji, Japan. Dolphins are herded. They're brought in from the ocean by small groups of fisherman. This could be groups of fisherman ranging from 26 to 34 fisherman and this happens annually. In fact it just started this month and it runs every September to every April in Japan and they herd the dolphins in by banging on pipes. It's called the ouchomi (sp?) method and they bring them into this cove and then these animals are killed in the most brutal, imaginable way. It's just horrifying.

  • 11:16:39


  • 11:16:40

    REISSWell, what the government of Japan who allows this to happen says is that they think that the dolphins are competing with the fisherman for fish stocks and there have been papers put out showing this is clearly not the case. So the dolphins are being used as scapegoats for over-fishing in Japanese waters. There's a lot of over-fishing that goes on and again, studies that have been done show conclusively that the dolphins are not eating the same fish that are being over-fished.

  • 11:17:12

    REHMHow many dolphins are being killed at any given time between September and April?

  • 11:17:19

    REISSWell, the big numbers are about 23,000 in the general waters in Japan. That's a lot of dolphins and whales. Within this one cove of Taiji which is just a, they set certain quotas for this one little cove where these small groups of fishermen herd the dolphins in every year. That's between 2100 and 2200 dolphins a year. That's a lot of dolphins and this includes Bottlenose dolphins, the kind of dolphins I work with, Striped dolphins, Spotted dolphins, Pilot whales, False Killer whales and these, the methods used for many people who saw this film, "The Cove". It was a very disturbing film for many people to watch, but I think it had to be produced.

  • 11:18:10

    REISSWhen you watch how they're killed you can't believe what you're seeing and that's the Disney version of it. The real way they're killed is beyond belief and now it's actually gotten much worse.

  • 11:18:22

    REHM"The Dolphin in the Mirror" exploring dolphin minds and saving dolphin lives, Diane Reiss is with me. She is the dolphin research scientist at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md. Short break, we'll be right back.

  • 11:20:03

    REHMIt's really fascinating. Here we are doing this program on dolphins and Susan Nabors, our producer, has just brought in a press release telling us that a new species of dolphins has just been discovered. Diana Reiss.

  • 11:20:27

    REISSWell, I'm seeing this just as you're seeing it and it looks like some scientists from Monash University in Melbourne and their colleagues have been studying dolphin skulls that were found in a number of museums. And they did a detailed analysis of the DNA and they're showing now that there's a new -- they believe that there's a new species of dolphin from Australia, Tursiops australis. So that's a different form of dolphin so that's fascinating. So I'll have to look that up as soon as I...

  • 11:20:57

    REHMFascinating. And this...

  • 11:20:59

    REISS...get off this show.

  • 11:20:59

    REHM...release is from the BBC and there is a quote saying, "this is an incredibly fascinating discovery as there have been only three new dolphin species formally described and recognized since the late 1800's."

  • 11:21:22

    REISSYeah, this is very exciting. In fact, you know, we're still at the infancy of understanding what's going on reproductively with dolphins. We never thought that different species of dolphins could necessarily even mate and have viable offspring. And now we're finding that some smaller whales can mate with dolphins and they can have offspring together that are actually fertile. So what's going on out in the wild is something that's quite exciting. So let's keep protecting dolphins so we can learn as much as we can about them.

  • 11:21:54

    REHMYou know, your bond with them started a long, long time ago, but it wasn't necessarily with dolphins. It was with other kinds of animals.

  • 11:22:05

    REISSYeah, I always felt a kinship with animals ever since I was a child. I was the kid in the neighborhood who was rescuing the baby bunnies and, you know, if there was a kitten -- a stray kitten or an injured bird I just felt this connection and that of course you would save that animal. It needs help. It's suffering. And I don't know why I was like that. It just made me feel good and I like doing it and I felt like I had to do it. It wasn't an issue for me.

  • 11:22:34

    REHMAnd then as you went through your education did you know you were going to focus on dolphins?

  • 11:22:44

    REISSNot at all. In fact, I started working in the theater. I was quite torn between becoming a veterinarian and working in the arts in theater. My mother was a modern dancer. My father was more analytical so I had that kind of background. But I started at a -- at Moore College of Art which was an all women's art college in Philadelphia. And I got interested in sculpture and design and then I moved into more of art education and that sort of took me into set design, believe it or not.

  • 11:23:15

    REISSSo I went to a masters of fine arts program and I was in an MFA program in stage design, then started working in the theater company as a set designer. It sounds like a strange (word?) .

  • 11:23:26

    REHMYeah, really.

  • 11:23:27

    REISSYeah, it was. But in the end I finally made that decision to go back into science and study animal communication. And I was struck by an article I read in the New York Times on a rainy Sunday when I read about the slaughtering of whales. And I remember thinking, oh my, there're these animals who are getting slaughtered. We don't know anything about them. And I just got really interested in learning everything I could about dolphins and whales and realized we didn't know very much at that time. This was back in the '70s.

  • 11:23:59

    REISSAnd I said, I'm going to start studying these animals and learn everything I can. And that's -- it was...

  • 11:24:07

    REHMHow long were you studying?

  • 11:24:11

    REISSWell, I started graduate school in 1977, I started my doctoral work, and I graduated in '82. And then I opened my own laboratory out in California at a place called Marine World Africa U.S.A., where I did some of the first studies of mother and infant vocal communication with wonderful students at the lab. And then I started working with an underwater keyboard with dolphins.

  • 11:24:36

    REHMAn underwater keyboard.

  • 11:24:39

    REISSSounds strange.

  • 11:24:39

    REHMExplain that.

  • 11:24:40

    REISSWhy would you give dolphins a keyboard?

  • 11:24:41

    REHMYeah, right.

  • 11:24:42

    REISSThey don't have hands. That comes up as a problem. Well, I thought that -- at the time people were starting to look at the communicative and cognitive abilities of great apes, our closest living relatives. And we were seeing that chimpanzees could learn sign languages. Some chimpanzees were working with keyboards and could show that they could comprehend and use artificial codes, and that this was a window into their minds.

  • 11:25:09

    REISSAnd I was really interested in decoding dolphin communication so I was studying their own forms of communication. I was recording their own signals with underwater microphones called hydrophones and bringing them into computers and trying to figure out what they were doing. But then I thought, well here's another path to try. What if we give them control over a keyboard?

  • 11:25:32

    REISSSo it's sort of -- imagine a vending machine underwater and it's sort of a black square. It's about 3 by 3' or a little smaller than that. It has white visual symbols on it. And the dolphin can hit any of those symbols -- they all look slightly differently. And if it hits -- for example, if a dolphin comes up to the keyboard and hits a triangle it would hit a computer generated whistle that we created. So the dolphin hits a triangle and it would hear a sound like (whistle) and we would give it a ball.

  • 11:26:04

    REISSIf it hit a different shaped symbol it would hear a different signal like (whistle) and we'd rub it. And in this way we were in the situation where we had to respond to what the dolphin wanted. We -- I turned the tables completely...

  • 11:26:18

    REHMOh, my goodness.

  • 11:26:20

    REISS...and the dolphins were fed ahead of time. They were -- I don't like to work -- I wouldn't want to ever work with a hungry dolphin so they're fed all day, you know, throughout the day. They have toys all the time. And then for 30 minutes in the morning we would just remove the toys and say, okay, it's dolphin time. Here's the keyboard. What do you want to do? And I love giving dolphins ways to show us what they're capable of. I don't like to train dolphins. I like to give them ways of reflecting their intelligence.

  • 11:26:47

    REHMYou know, recently my daughter's family traveled to an area where she, her husband and the children could swim with the dolphins. How do you feel about that?

  • 11:27:06

    REISSI have mixed feelings again. I think that we -- these dolphins really need to be respected. I think their space in the wild needs to be respected. I think there are lots of boating trips that go out to watch dolphins. I think watching dolphins at a distance is okay. I think we have to be very careful about the amount of noise that goes on out there. Again, my real concern now is that we stop killing them. You know, I think that there's lots of protection for dolphins in our waters and in the waters of many other countries.

  • 11:27:37

    REISSIf you know that a dolphin or a whale washes up on a beach on the United States or of many other countries you can't go over there and touch it. You have to have special trained people and special agencies like the National Marine Fishery Service and rescue groups that I've worked with. And they're very careful about trying to save these animals, bring them in for rehab. Yet, again, in many countries like Japan and in Iceland and Siberia, whaling still exists and these are -- there's commercial whaling.

  • 11:28:07

    REHMBut take me back to that area of engagement with the dolphins and the extent to which many resorts around the country are now providing this kind of interaction. Is that healthy for the dolphins or not?

  • 11:28:30

    REISSI have to say I don't know. I think that what is not healthy is for places to be breaking up the social groups and capturing them to bring into these resorts. And unfortunately, this is still going on not in all but in many, and in many very wealthy areas where dolphins are being purchased through the Taiji dolphin drives, believe it or not, for some resorts, for some swim programs.

  • 11:29:00

    REISSIn fact, I was just recently involved in a multimillion dollar lawsuit because I tried to stop someone who purchased 25 dolphins -- or tried to purchase 25 dolphins from the dolphin drive for a swim-with-the-dolphin program in the Dominican Republic.

  • 11:29:18


  • 11:29:19

    REISSAnd the lawsuit is -- they found that there was no standing to bring the suit against me but a few of my colleagues and I have been sued for this. I mean, this is really bizarre because here's a situation where the person who -- this one particular person Stefan Meister, who owns this swim-with-the-dolphin program called Ocean World in the Dominican Republic charges people to come in to swim with the dolphins and says it's educational. And he actually commissioned a special dolphin drive where they herded dolphins in. And he captured what we call the Taiji dolphins and he -- Taiji Twelve -- and he purchased them through this dolphin drive where other animals were killed. Can you imagine?

  • 11:30:03

    REISSSo there -- again, I've worked in aquariums all my life because I think that as I've taught at universities I felt that working in aquariums with dolphins are -- is the way to really understand their minds. We learn certain things in the wild that are critical. There are other questions we can ask from dolphins when we're working up close and personal with them that I don't think we can get from the wild.

  • 11:30:28

    REISSThere are a lot of wonderful aquariums in the world. There are a lot of very bad aquariums as well. And I have to say that many of the aquariums in Japan and China, in Palau and even in Dubai are actually procuring their dolphins from this dolphin drive.

  • 11:30:46

    REISSSo as a person who's worked with the American Aquarium Association I've tried to get all the aquariums in the world, as well as the American aquariums -- and they're all onboard -- in one loud voice along with marine mammal scientists to say, no dolphins should be taken from the wild. No dolphins should be killed in Taiji or any other area.

  • 11:31:10

    REISSAnd certainly getting the aquariums to speak out against these other aquariums is a critical factor here. I mean, it's just -- and the aquariums in the United States and many of the aquariums in the world have all called for a complete cessation to any aquarium taking from the drive. So there's a battle within aquariums.

  • 11:31:26

    REHMI want to understand your conclusions after watching the dolphins watching themselves in the mirror. What do you conclude?

  • 11:31:40

    REISSThere's someone in there. It's not a human. It's someone that is of a very different body form and evolutionary history. But it's a someone that has a sense of self in ways that perhaps we can't imagine fully yet. A sense of self in that it understands that it is a being. It can see itself. It has a sense of empathy for others. We can see the dolphins give care to others of their own kind and even other species that seems to be not based on some kind of stimulus response or just reaction but they choose to help others.

  • 11:32:24

    REHMSo you're not training them to do anything. They are proactive.

  • 11:32:31

    REISSRight. We've watched dolphins hold up other injured dolphins, standing by those injured dolphins, putting themselves in harm's way to help an injured animal. I've watched that personally many times. They don't always do it to all dolphins so there's selection there. Just like we choose to help in certain situations. These are highly sentient, highly intelligent animals that are, again, big-brained animals. We're big-brained mammals, they're big-brained mammals. We're in this together. We have elephants and chimpanzees. We're all different.

  • 11:33:09

    REHMDiana Reiss. "The Dolphin in the Mirror" is the title of her new book. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Diana, what do you take from dolphins that perhaps you might even apply to dogs?

  • 11:33:30

    REISSWell, I think that their -- dolphins and dogs and many other animals have been thought to be emotional creatures. I know when I was in graduate school that was something that we thought, that animals are emotional, we're emotional. They may show emotions in very different ways yet they respond emotionally even with their calls often.

  • 11:33:51

    REISSWhat's been new information that's coming out is that dolphins, like us, can also respond to specific things in their environment and may even have calls for those specific things. Now, this isn't to say that they have their own languages. Let me back up here for a second because this is a big area of debate. All animals communicate. All animals communicate. Fireflies communicate. They have flash dances that they use to find mates with different flash patterns. Birds use birdsong to communicate. Dolphins use whistles and clicks and squawks and all sorts of sounds. Dogs use different kinds of barks.

  • 11:34:31

    REISSSo animals, in their own communication system, use their body language -- a rich repertoire body language, posture, sounds. But we're discovering now that when we look closely many animals may even be using what we call referential calls. In other words, calls that refer to things in their environment. So if I point to a cup on the table, I have a word for cup, I'm referring to cup.

  • 11:34:59

    REISSWe know from studies of vervet monkeys in Amboseli, colleagues of mine Cheney, Seyfarth and Marler showed many years ago in a stunning report that vervet monkeys had alarm calls for different predators in their environment. They had specific calls for Martial eagles, for snakes, for leopards, even for humans. And that they didn't produce these calls if there wasn't an audience. So they only use these calls when that predator was in the environment when there were others to listen.

  • 11:35:32

    REISSNow that was remarkable but we're finding this in ground squirrels. We're finding evidence in other animals. So as I said before, we're in the infancy now of learning the capacities of animals. The -- with dogs -- you brought up the issue of dogs, there were some lovely studies done in the past couple of years showing that dogs can also comprehend human vocal words. So one dog Nico and another dog was -- and these are some of these herding dogs, these Australian Shepherds that work closely with humans. They've sort of coevolved and really work closely in herding sheep, have learned over 100 calls...

  • 11:36:13


  • 11:36:13

    REISS...and they can comprehend that.

  • 11:36:15


  • 11:36:15

    REISSAnd you said you had a dog.

  • 11:36:17

    REHMI have a longhaired Chihuahua and every evening when I'm in the kitchen finishing up dinner and cleaning up, I'll say to him, Maxey, go get your toy. It's time for bed. He takes off, he runs, gets his toy, brings it back to me. How does he learn that?

  • 11:36:42

    REISSAnimals have to learn. They have to learn to survive. They have to attend to things in their environment. They have to attend to new things. What happens if this happens? What happens next?

  • 11:36:51


  • 11:36:52

    REISSWhether it's to their detriment or benefit they have to learn what works. And dogs -- your dog -- and I'm telling this to all of our listeners out here, your animals are watching you as much as you're watching them. So, you know, and we do this with each other. In social interactions we're watching each other.

  • 11:37:10

    REHMAnd what you're saying however it may be interpreted is there's something in there. We're going to take a short break here and when we come back, we'll open the phones. We'll hear from John in Dallas, Gina in Daytona Beach, Fla. and Michael in Kanab, Utah.

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd let's start with a call in Dallas, Texas. Good morning, John, you're on the air.

  • 11:40:12

    JOHNHi, Diane, I love your show. I listen every day.

  • 11:40:13

    REHMThank you, thank you.

  • 11:40:16

    JOHNAs a undergraduate studying psychology 40 years ago I've not been able to forget a book by John Lilly called, "The Mind of the Dolphin." He ended it by summarizing skeptics of dolphins' intelligence asking a rhetorical question if dolphins are so smart, why don't they rule the world? And his response -- he postulated in response to that well, maybe they're so intelligent they don't want to rule the world. I wonder what Ms. Reiss thinks of that.

  • 11:40:43

    REISSWell, I think they perhaps rule their own world. Dolphins are the big -- are big brains in the seas and they have their own social organizations that are really quite complex. In fact, we're finding from new studies, particularly one by a colleague of mine, Rich Conner, that dolphins social complexity rivals, if doesn't -- if not supersedes that that we're seeing in some of the great apes like the chimps.

  • 11:41:09

    REISSThat they form alliances -- we know they form alliances between each other. Then they can form this what's called a second order alliance -- alliance between alliances and then even third order alliances. So multiple groups can get together to accomplish tasks; so they're very structured, very organized.

  • 11:41:25

    REHMWhat is the world population of dolphins as compared to the world population of human beings?

  • 11:41:33

    REISSYou know, I actually cannot answer that question and I should know it and I don't, but dolphins are not considered endangered now, although there are areas where they are -- where they're under all sorts of stressors and they could become endangered.

  • 11:41:47

    REHMThanks for calling, John. Here's an e-mail from Helen who says, "I saw the movie, "The Cove," and thought that surely this film would mark the end of the dolphin slaughter. If this film did not help, then what would? What can we do?"

  • 11:42:09

    REISSYeah, thank you for bringing that up. I've been -- I was very involved in that film. I actually, I think, was the first person to tell the director, Louie Psihoyos, about the cove because I had been working to try to stop this with several other groups since 2001. People had been working before me, as well, and I met the producer -- the director/producer -- and said you've got to do this film about this cove. He had never heard of it.

  • 11:42:34

    REISSSo I was actually a science advisor on the film and we all thought, well, if we can get this out into the media -- through the media, it would stop. It's actually had a reverse effect. There's been a big push back in Japan. We've tried to meet with the government of Japan and they don't want anyone to tell them what to do. And it's business as usual and this past September -- just, I guess, a couple of weeks -- a week or so ago, the first group of Risso's dolphins were killed.

  • 11:43:05

    REISSAnd so we're hoping that we can have an effect. We hoping that we can work through our government now and we've started doing this, to work in creating better communications, more diplomatic approaches with the Japanese government and really getting our science out there to affect policy.

  • 11:43:21

    REHMAnd you're also trying to educate the public on exactly how these dolphins are killed.

  • 11:43:30


  • 11:43:31

    REHMTalk about that.

  • 11:43:32

    REISSWell, unfortunately, what you saw in "The Cove," you'd see dolphins being killed by -- with knives and knives. They would stab the dolphins and eviscerate them, obviously, while they were alive, which is horrific by any standard. That is what I called the Disney version of what was really going on. The real -- the real killing and the long time to death was never shown in the film.

  • 11:44:03

    REISSI don't think the public could actually watch something that bad. Unfortunately, since the filming and a little bit before -- since the film came out, if you can believe it, the techniques have gotten worse. Now, we've obtained footage and close up footage, and veterinarians have now looked at this, where the dolphins will actually -- the fishermen tie the dolphins by their tails so they're immobilized.

  • 11:44:27

    REISSThey'll actually drag them with boats, drag them through the water so they can't even come up for air a lot of the time until they bring them into a position on the beach where they tail tie them. So, again, they're immobilized at the shore's edge and then they jab repeatedly behind their blowhole, their blowhole is basically their nostrils, and they jab them behind the blowhole multiple times until they think that they're dislocating the brain from the spinal cord.

  • 11:44:55

    REISSIt's called cerebral dislocation, but that's not what they're really doing. What they're doing is causing major suffering and trauma to the dolphins because the dolphins are not dying. And you see them plunging the steel rod into the dolphin's head behind the blowhole and then -- I mean that's unimaginable on any level, but then they even then pound -- hammer in a wooden stake into the wound so the blood doesn't go into the water.

  • 11:45:24

    REISSAnd you don't see these bloody waters and that -- it may possibly even prolong the time until death. Now, what's odd about it is that the fishermen are saying, well, they think this is a more humane way of killing them. And we've been looking at this from a scientific perspective and the time of death is not seconds, as they say, it's minutes and many, many minutes. And I've watched footage of these animals struggling.

  • 11:45:46

    REISSSo I -- it's horrifying. And it must stop and it must stop now.

  • 11:45:54

    REHMWe have numerous e-mails asking why is a dolphin show at the national aquarium okay. You make money from it. It's not just educational.

  • 11:46:15

    REISSWell, I think that I can't speak for all aquariums, but, I think, that historically people have felt that if we have animals in zoos or aquariums, they're acting as ambassadors for others of their own kind, for their wild counterparts. And this is a healthy discussion whether that's appropriate or not. I think that -- personally, I think dolphin shows, in my mind, are old school.

  • 11:46:40

    REISSAnd I've been saying this for many years. I think if we're going to continue to have dolphins in aquariums -- and I think that's a debate that we need to have -- that we -- I don't particularly think we should do dolphin shows. I think that we should be talking about the cognitive and social prowess or the abilities of dolphins rather than just focusing on the physical abilities.

  • 11:47:00

    REISSI think to have a dolphin do a high jump is ridiculous or touch a ball. That's like what we do in zoos with tea parties for chimpanzees. We don't do that anymore. But I think that the problem I find is that we have had generations of dolphins that have been raised in aquariums and, I think, there's a responsibility to continue to care for those animals and give them the best possible care for the rest of their lives.

  • 11:47:25

    REISSI think it would be irresponsible to release them because I don't think they'd fare well in the wild.

  • 11:47:30

    REHMHere's an e-mail from Lori Marino. Pardon me. "The scientists that you worked with on the mirror studies," she says, "I'm a marine mammal scientist and colleague of Dr. Reiss. I'd like to ask her how she could support captive research when it is the basis of the Taiji slaughters."

  • 11:48:03

    REISSI don't think that that's an accurate statement. And I think that captive research has nothing to do with the Taiji slaughters. I -- there's no evidence for that at all. In fact, the Taiji slaughters are happening primarily because the dolphins are being captured as -- to -- the dolphins are being captured, at least the Japanese government has said, as I said before...

  • 11:48:28

    REHMBecause of the fish kill.

  • 11:48:29

    REISS...because of the competition.

  • 11:48:31


  • 11:48:31

    REISSI mentioned that there are aquariums that are commercial aquariums, in many countries, not the United States and not some other countries, but in many countries where they're actually taking dolphins and procuring dolphins from the dolphin drive. That's not for dolphin research. That's for commercial aquariums and I've been working to stop those aquariums.

  • 11:48:52

    REISSAnd I've been working with other scientists, including Dr. Marino and other scientists in the past and zoos and aquariums, both the World Zoo and Aquariums Association and the AZA to stop that. So what Dr. Marino is not accurate.

  • 11:49:07

    REHMAre you and Dr. Marino at odds on this issue?

  • 11:49:12

    REISSOver the past years, I think, we both agree that dolphins need protection.

  • 11:49:16


  • 11:49:16

    REISSWe did the mirror study together and Lori and I are old friends and old colleagues, not old age-wise, but old going back a long time. Lori's efforts have been to stop the dolphin-assisted therapy programs and now she's very interested in ending aquariums. My focus has been, again, given where we are in the world, to protect dolphins globally.

  • 11:49:39

    REISSI think dolphins should not be taken from the wild. I think that no aquarium should take dolphins -- above all the slaughter or in the killing of dolphins needs to stop. And that's my bottom line and my most -- that's my focus right now.

  • 11:49:53

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Daytona Beach, Fla., good morning, Gina.

  • 11:49:59

    GINAYes, good morning. I do have a question regarding dolphins, but first, some research has shown that many species of plants and animals, including dolphins, could hold advances regarding new medicines for human diseases. But some humans believe that nature was given to them by God to exploit for their pleasure and profit. How ironic it would be if we're killing off the keys to our survival.

  • 11:50:25

    GINABut my question is I know that dolphins and whales have been killed due to high power sonar used by the navy during training exercises. But are dolphins, in general, in danger of extinction and, if so, what part does pollution or global warming play?

  • 11:50:43

    REISSThat's -- those are great questions. Yeah, there are many stressors that can affect dolphins. Those stressors can involve anthropogenic noise, that means man-made noise or human made sources of noise, and that's of real concern with our increased boating in the waterways. I think that's a real danger.

  • 11:51:04

    REISSThere's also pesticides runoff. There's toxins in the waters. I attended a AAAS conference, that's the American Association for Science, last year where we talked about protecting dolphins. Both Dr. Marino and I spoke at that conference. And then there was another meeting where they talked about the stressors that are affecting dolphins off our coasts.

  • 11:51:29

    REISSWhere there are red tides. Dolphins are ingesting...

  • 11:51:32

    REHMOil spills.

  • 11:51:34

    REISS...natural toxins -- oil spills -- so they're getting hit from a lot of different stressors so it's very -- it's a dangerous place out there.

  • 11:51:42

    REHMOne of our e-mailers, Rod in McLean, Va., asks, "How does Japanese society at large feel about the slaughter of dolphins? Isn't that where change should start to end this macabre and cruel practice?"

  • 11:52:01

    REISSYes. And it's very interesting because we've been working with many people in Japan and most of the people in Japan that we've spoken to and that our -- other -- that other groups that we work with speak to say that most Japanese people were unaware this was going on. This is not a well known hunt. So part of doing the film, "The Cove," was to get it out into the public mainstream to let people know about what was going on and to also talk about this, bring this out of the dark.

  • 11:52:33

    REISSNow that it's come out, we're not -- we're still not getting much movement and one of the concerns is that the culture in Japan's quite different. I mean, people in Japan love animals. People have pets and they love animals. I don't think people in Japan are different from us in that they want animals to be suffering. So -- but it's been said that many people are afraid to speak out, that the -- you know, if you say too much you'll be hammered down.

  • 11:53:00

    REHMDiana Reiss she is exploring dolphin minds, trying to save dolphin lives. Her new book is titled, "The Dolphin in the Mirror." And to Knob, Utah, good morning, Michael.

  • 11:53:20

    MICHAELGood morning. Thank you, Diane, love your show.

  • 11:53:21

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:53:22

    MICHAELI'm -- I just want to speak up again on this whole thing of the apparent difference between capturing dolphins from the wild, which, I think, we're all against, and the actual breeding of dolphins in captivity, which, I think, Diana is involved in. It just seems to me that there isn't that big a difference. As long as you're working with and researching on dolphins who've been bred in captivity you're just keeping this whole captivity industry going.

  • 11:53:51

    REISSYeah, I'd love to talk about that because I actually talk about that in my book. I think the question is now whether we continue to breed dolphins in captivity. That's exactly where I think the debate should be because, I think, that if we get dolphins that come in from a stranding, for example, one thing is what do we do with those animals if they can't be released.

  • 11:54:10

    REISSDo we just put them out there to become shark bait? I wouldn't put a dolphin that's in captivity now back out into the wild. I don't think that's responsible. I think we've brought them, people have profited from them, whether it's for education, getting people really concerned with conservation. I think you can get people more interested in conserving dolphins, in protecting dolphins, if they see them up close and personal.

  • 11:54:32

    REISSBut, again, like you, I question should we keep them in captivity? I'm not saying that I believe we should have them in captivity. I think what we should say now is what do we do with the ones we have. I believe we have to decide whether we're going to stop breeding in captivity. And I would support not breeding anymore.

  • 11:54:49


  • 11:54:49


  • 11:54:50

    REHMSo if you had it your way the aquariums around the country would stop breeding them in captivity.

  • 11:55:01

    REISSI would say that we need to do a number of things. I think if we're going to stop breeding dolphins in captivity we have to care for the ones we have with the utmost care clearly.

  • 11:55:08


  • 11:55:10

    REISSSecondly, I think that there has to be a concerted effort to work for global protection of dolphins.

  • 11:55:15

    REHMHow long do they live in captivity?

  • 11:55:18

    REISSThat's hard to say. I know one dolphin that I worked with, I think, is still the oldest dolphin. I think she's in her 50s. So dolphins can live, you know, 60 years or so even, perhaps, more.

  • 11:55:28

    REHMWould you read for us that poem that you have in the book? Very brief.

  • 11:55:36

    REISSOne of my favorite poems was written by Loren Eiseley. It's from a poem he has called "Magic." And he says, "I love forms beyond my own and regret the borders between us." And that's very much the way I've felt since I was a child and I continue to feel that way.

  • 11:55:53

    REHMIn other words, you think the borders between us are very thin.

  • 11:56:01

    REISSYes. And I think that the more we learn about the communicative and cognitive capacities of animals that we learn that we share many things and that we need mutual -- we need to have respect for these animals. We have to be better stewards. We are in a position of saving them and I feel like, as a scientist who's studied them, both in captivity and now in the wild, because I do do field work now, I'm compelled to save them.

  • 11:56:31

    REISSAnd it's probably become more important to me than even doing more research.

  • 11:56:36

    REHMDiana Reiss she's a research scientist. She's director of dolphin research at The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland. She's a cognitive psychologist, professor at Hunter College. Her new book is titled, "The Dolphin in the Mirror: Exploring Dolphin Minds and Saving Dolphin Lives." There are links on our website,, to her book and to her research on The National Aquarium's website. Thank you so much for being here.

  • 11:57:18

    REISSThank you so much for having me.

  • 11:57:19

    REHMAnd thanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm.

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