Tag Archives: opposable thumbs

Pectoral Fins



Science [1] has taught us that dolphins are smart. Really smart. Arguably, they’re smarter than elephants, smarter than apes, smarter than dietitians. Dolphins exhibit behaviour previously believed to be exclusive to primates, both within and without the Catholic Church. Dolphins can use tools, they can recognize their own faces in the mirror, they can understand language. Dolphins even exhibit complex social behaviour. Anyone who has ever seen dolphins arguing over who gets to pay the dinner bill knows this.

This is all behaviour Science had previously observed in apes, but dolphins have recently displayed behaviour we once thought was unique to humans. For example, dolphins sometimes pretend to be sick to get out of work, then they update their Facebook statuses from home, forgetting that their boss friended them three months ago. Then they’re all like “OMG! My boss jus fierd me! Looks liek I need a knew job. #sickdayfail”

Dolphins are also bad at spelling.

Once, a person stood looking into the dolphin tank at an aquarium, smoking a cigarette. A dolphin calf watched the person smoke, swam back to its mom, took a sip of her milk, swam back to the person and blew the milk out of its mouth in imitation of the smoker. It would have been cute if it stopped there, but the calf began smoking real cigarettes within a month. It moved on to hard drinking and marijuana by the time it was two years old. After a very dramatic — and very public — breakdown in which it drunkenly swam around the tank in front of a group of elementary school students before collapsing in a pool of its own sick at the feet of its trainer, the calf was sent to rehab. Scientists stated they had never before observed such self destructive in behaviour in any species other than humans [2].

Dolphins’ command of language rivals that of the smartest apes and roughly 50% of thirteen-year-old boys. One dolphin, a four-year-old female called Ponga, used her beak and a sponge dipped in paint to scrawl what turned out to be a novel on the side of her tank at a research center in Bremen, Germany. Graduate research assistant Karl Schreiber witnessed the event. “Her prose was dull, vapid. The characters were two-dimensional. The plot, centering around a watch maker in Victorian England, was filled with anachronisms. But in her defense, she wrote the thing underwater. With her nose. And she’s a dolphin.”

Esther Lang, NPR book critic, disagrees with Schreiber’s assessment. “Ponga’s words strike at the heart of postmodern angst, exposing a festering malaise hidden beneath the crumbling façade of western prosperity, all in a style that is at once poignant and humorous — and, dare I say it, human — without being pretentious.”

When asked to comment, Ponga scrawled on the side of the tank, “Every1’s a cricket.”

Which brings me to pectoral fins.


The more Science tells us about the intelligence of animals, the clearer it becomes that our position as the dominant species of this planet is far more precarious than we ever realized. If a species other than our own possessed the dangerous combination of intelligence, ambition and thumbs, they could build the machines needed to bring about our demise. Thankfully, no animal possesses the high intelligence/thumbs combo. “What about apes?” I hear your voice echo through the aether of the blogosphere. The most apes have ever thought to accomplish with their thumbs is to eat their own lice and fling their poo at passersby. We have little to worry about from them. No, the most serious threat comes from dolphins, and they’re mercifully saddled with worthless, thumbless pectoral fins.


And sometimes actual saddles.


The only thing keeping dolphins from building robotic bipedal machines that enable them to walk on land, to stalk our streets for human prey, to take our jobs for less pay, to steal our girlfriends and our boyfriends with their zestful dolphin charm — is a lack of opposable thumbs. Eventually they’ll figure a way around that little hurdle, but for now we can rest assured that our position as top species is secure.



…or is it?


[1] When I say, “Science,” I do, of course, mean “Douglas Adams.”

[2] This was six years before the Elephant Glue Sniffing Epidemic of ’82.


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