A reporter had been assigned the story by his editor. Human interest story. Kids, dolphins. You know, are they intelligent, aren’t they cute. But this guy really wasn’t interested in the story and resented having to do it. He was someone to whom the concept of intelligence in dolphins was a joke.
Bored, his disdain under the lightest of social controls, he accompanied the scientists to the long glass wall of the lab where the dolphins waited, as they did each morning, to say hello. He watched the scientists go through their morning ritual, watched the dolphin family respond. Made nice noises over the six-week-old baby dolphin, took a short tour around the lab, went through a desultory question-and-answer session, drank the obligatory bad coffee that the scientists never seem to remedy, and the spent the rest of the time leaning against the glass wall of the dolphin tank, chain-smoking cigarettes.
Now, for whatever reason, the young dolphin was fascinated by this guy and instead of swimming off with his family, he just kept floating there looking at the reporter in the curious way that the young of many species have about something new. The man, with his back to the glass, ignored it as long as possible, but the young dolphin seemed to possess inexhaustible patience. He just kept hanging in there. Staring. After a while the reporter began to get twitchy, then mad. So, he took a deep drag on his cigarette, turned, and blew smoke at the glass, directly in the dolphin’s face. The dolphin back-pedalled in surprise, looked at the man for a moment, then swam rapidly off. The reporter at peace, leaned back against the glass and continued to smoke.
But in a minute or two the dolphin returned, swarm up close to the glass and waited for the man to notice him. And, of course, eventually the reporter did. In irritation he turned and glared at the young dolphin and at that moment the young dolphin blew a cloud of smoke directly in the journalist’s face.
The whole room stopped.
It took a while to figure what had happened, for of course dolphins don’t smoke (and anyway, even if they did, it wouldn’t work under water). The dolphin, who was still nursing, had gone to his mother, taken some milk, come back and puffed it in the man’s face. A very sophisticated response, especially in a six-week-old infant of a species considered to be inferior in intelligence to humans.
How much more do our young copy our behaviour!