It is difficult to say exactly why humans are drawn to dolphins. Whether it is their captivating grace or rivaling intelligence, people through the ages fall in love with these creatures. Throughout time man and dolphin have been connected with a magical bond. For millions of years these marine beings have roamed all parts of the oceans captivating the interest of humans. Various cultures honor dolphins through myth and legends that are as unique as the mammals themselves and stretch back to the time before the ancient Greeks.
Around 1500 B.C. Minoans inhabited the islands near Greece. Their lives revolved around the sea it was their food, and entertainment source. They often created works of art depicting their connection to the underwater world on walls called frescoes. One famous piece located in The Palace of Knossos, features striking blue dolphins appropriately referred to as, Dolphin Fresco (Cartwright). It was a representation of the value Minoan people held in the sea. The piece focused on dolphins in their habitat, and was meant to show the respect ancient people held for the world around.
Marine life often dove into Greek and Roman tales. A popular belief suggested that dolphins guided souls over to the land of the dead. It was thought that since they existed both above and underwater they must act as a bridge between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Due to their role in life and death, the Romans often associated dolphins with the god Dionysus who lives then dies and is reborn again each year (Catton). Dolphins are mentioned throughout mythology so often it is near impossible to count. Most of the time they are believed to assist the dead. These creatures had a great impact on beliefs surrounding the afterlife in ancient times.
Other cultures believe dolphins are associated with death and reincarnation as well. Some Native Americans honor orcas, the largest member of the dolphin family, and think that they are reincarnated tribe members. Orcas are social beings and are often curious. They have been known to interact with humans which is why Native Americans believe they are the deceased. The curiosity is an attempt to reunite with their living families. They are highly respected because of this belief (Orcas in First Nations Culture). An orca named, Luna, who lost his pod was thought to be a reincarnated chief who had recently passed away as explained in “Is orca reincarnated native chief?” The Mowachaht-Muchalaht tribe cared for the whale like he was one of their own. Luna interacted with humans for most of his life and he loved the tribe. He once followed them in a canoe to avoid capture in a pen for relocation. The tribe did not want him to be relocated due to their belief that this was their chief.
In recent years our view of dolphins and whales has not differed from the ideas of the ancients. Many still consider dolphins to be spiritual, otherworldly beings. Today, we create dolphin tales, poems, and pieces of art, just as the ancients did. However, there is more interest in science in the present era. Humans have learned vital information about dolphins, like their superior intelligence, human like emotions, and intricate life styles. Understanding these complex creatures is key to protecting them in hopes that they will continue to fascinate for thousands of years to come. The bond between man and dolphin is unbreakable, and thrive for centuries to come.
-Heather Weller, Plea for the Sea
Cartwright, Mark. “Minoan Frescoes.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 29 May 2012. Web. 4 Jun. 2017.
Catton, Chris. “Dolphins in Ancient Mythology.” PBS. 1995. Web. 4 Jun. 2017.
“Is orca reincarnated native chief?” NBC News. 17 Jun. 2004. Web. 4 Jun. 2017.
“Orcas in First Nations Culture.” Orca Spirit Adventures. 2014. Web. 4 June 2017.