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Chat Page Chat

Tim Cahill chats about the IMAX film "Dolphins"

March 14, 2000
Web posted at: 5:00 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Founding editor of "Outside" Magazine and best-selling author Tim Cahill joined Nature chat on Monday, March 13, 2000 to discuss his new project, an IMAX film entitled, "Dolphins." He is also the author of "National Geographic's Dolphins," a book, written in conjunction with the IMAX production. Both projects use science and breathtaking photography to tell the story of marine biologist Kathleen Dudzinski and her work researching the communication habits of wild dolphins.

Mr. Cahill participated in the chat at the CNN.com studio. A typist was provided for him. The following is an edited transcript of the chat.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Tim Cahill, and welcome!

Tim Cahill: Hello, itís a pleasure to be here in this CNN chatroom.

Chat Moderator: Please tell us a little bit about your background.

Tim Cahill: I grew up in Wisconsin, attended the University of Wisconsin on a swimming scholarship, hence my fascination with Dolphins, which I consider to be my totem animal. And I currently live in a small town in Montana.

Question from Mcdevon27: How intelligent are dolphins?

Tim Cahill: How intelligent are dolphins? They are the smartest animal on earth, give or take a few. Measures of intelligence are notoriously inaccurate among humans, and even more so among animals. If I worry about measures of intelligence as applied to dolphins, some people say we should conserve the dolphins because they are intelligent.

But what if future tests prove they are dumber than a box of rocks? Does that give us the right to go out and kill them?

Question from Is: Hoping you might explain difference between the terms porpoise and dolphin.

Tim Cahill: The difference between a porpoise and a dolphin is one that scientists will argue about loudly and for long periods of time. In general, porpoises are smaller than dolphins and tend to have triangular dorsal fins, rather than the curving ones that dolphins possess. And their teeth are flat and shovel-shaped, rather than the conical teeth of dolphins.

Question from Edwin: I was recently diving in Hawaii when we saw a school of dolphins from the boat. Would it be safe to join the school of dolphins?

Tim Cahill: Swimming with wild dolphins is a grey area, legally. The marine mammal protection act of 1972 prescribes certain limits of proximity.

In theory it is illegal to swim with wild dolphins. In practice, many people do. And those people need to seriously know the rules of dolphin etiquette. Hundreds of people have been bitten and butted by dolphins because they were unmannerly.

Question from Mcdevon27: What are the rules of dolphin etiquette?

Tim Cahill: All angles taken on a dolphin are oblique, curving, sinuous. Dolphins often ram sharks, hitting them broadside with their beaks, called "rostrums." Consequently, a dolphin perceives a broadside, perpendicular approach as aggressive.

Secondly, dolphins have exquisitely sensitive skin. Much of their communication is tactile. For that reason, never touch a dolphin in the wild. You have no idea of the message you're imparting.

Other rules are simple and self-evident; don't touch eyes, blowhole, and fins. Don't touch at all. Never, never touch a wild dolphin.

Question from Sunny1: Tim, what is your opinion of companies like Dolphin Quest, which lets you swim with dolphins?

Tim Cahill: I'm not sure about "Dolphin Quest." Companies that offer swims with wild dolphins, when the programs are properly structured, do a great service to dolphins and to the cause of marine conservation in general.

Letís face it, dolphins are your basic charismatic megafawna. The more people know about dolphins, the more they become concerned with their continued survival, which requires that their habitat, the sea, remains as pristine as we can possibly make it.

Question from SilverDragon: Tim, is your IMAX film already out?

Question from Lorilye: Will the IMAX film be able to be viewed at the Chicago IMAX theatre?

Tim Cahill: The IMAX movie is out playing around the country at selected theaters. It will be playing in Chicago, where I'll be on March 16th to introduce the film.

Question from Years: Did you shoot the film with three cameras?

Tim Cahill: There was one IMAX camera. With the underwater housing, it weighed 250 lbs. One roll of IMAX film, 500 ft long gallops through the camera in three minutes. Every three minutes, the 250-lb. camera had to be brought on deck and the film had to be changed. This is why IMAX cameramen all look like Arnold Schwartzenegger.

Question from Dj14: Will your IMAX film be showing anywhere in California? If so, where and when?

Tim Cahill: The IMAX film will be playing in San Diego, where Iíll be towards the end of the month.

Question from Tafrina: Hello, Tim! Why do dolphins spray water from the hole on the top of their heads? What is happening when they do that?

Tim Cahill: Dolphins are mammals and need to breathe. When they surface, they expel the air from their lungs at speeds in excess of 100 mph. Sometimes in cool weather, the breath looks like fog. Sometimes they actually blow water that has collected in their blowhole when they surface.

Question from Scootermom: I remember when we couldn't eat tuna because of the poor nets they used that would also catch dolphins. Are those nets still in use in other parts of the world?

Tim Cahill: Because of public outrage at the death of dolphins, the fishing industry has largely reformed itself. Such nets are used in other parts of the world. But the larger danger to dolphins lies in human pollution of the ocean.

Because dolphins are at the top of the food chain, toxins collect in their bodies, and affect their immune system. Check www.dolphinsfilm.com for more information on what YOU can do.

Question from Sunny1: Tim, is that the reason dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico are endangered?

Tim Cahill: Daquita is endangered because of pollution and also because of improper fishing methods that are used to catch other fish. The Daquita is considered bycatch. No one knows how many there are left. One scientist estimates a scant 600.

Question from SilverDragon: So Tim, I take it that you are a marine biologist?

Tim Cahill: I'm anything BUT a marine biologist. I made my living as a writer for 25 years and get to do all kinds of wonderful unscientific things.

I can be anthropomorphic. I can make wide sweeping statements not based on any data. I can have strong opinions. Scientists are constrained by the scientific method. There are no limits on journalism.

Question from Bait: How do you feel an IMAX film will help the plight of dolphins more than other media forms?

Tim Cahill: IMAX movies are shown on a screen, typically 100 ft wide by 80 ft high. The film has 10 times more resolution than ordinary movie film. The sense of being in the water with the dolphins is intense. Itís the closest the person is likely to get to dolphins without getting wet.

If I believe that knowing these animals propels a person towards conservation, I see the film as a great resource in introducing the dolphin's world to human audiences.

Question from Is: Can you comment on your feelings of employing dolphins to further human endeavors?

Tim Cahill: My feelings are extremely negative. Dolphins are a symbol of what is wild and what is free. They are worth of our reverence and respect. And we need to keep our hands, literally and figuratively, off of these animals.

Question from Have: Have there been any attempts to teach dolphins some form of language?

Tim Cahill: We deal mostly with wild dolphins in the film and especially in the book. However, Lou Herman has been working with bottle-nosed dolphins and sign language for many years. He has discovered, for instance, that dolphins are able to recognize sentence structure.

A dolphin knows the difference between "take the ball to the surfboard" and "take the surfboard to the ball." Whether this knowledge does them any good in the wild is anyone's guess.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?

Tim Cahill: Dolphins are intelligent, very social, very tactile, very vocal, and very flirtatious. They take a lot of pleasure in sex and are, in short, the animals humans might have been had we sacrificed our arms for flippers. I think this partially explains the age-old human affinity for dolphins.

If we had lived in the sea, we would not have had the means of destruction that has sometimes made man an abomination, even unto himself. Instead we would have wandered like the dolphin. We could have been nomadic philosophers, or maybe not.

But every time I'm in the water with dolphins, I think about the human condition and our relation to the other life on the planet.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for chatting with us today.

Tim Cahill: Good bye and thanks for the questions. They were both kind and challenging... I appreciate it.


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