We’ve all heard the stories about how dolphins and porpoises rescue humans who are in trouble. In late 1999, a young Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez, and his mother escaped Cuba with 12 others, all of them crammed into a small aluminum boat. The boat capsized during the 90-mile crossing to the U.S. and Elian’s mother and eleven others drowned. Elian, who was in an inner tube, was reportedly rescued by a pod of dolphins. This story spread quickly through Miami’s Cuban community. He was revered, destined for great things. During the ensuing custody battle, a kind of cult grew up around the boy. He was subsequently returned to Cuba to live with his father and is now a kind of mouthpiece for the Cuban government.
Elian is in good company, at least in the dolphin rescue sense. Apparently actor Dick van Dyke (Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) once fell asleep on his surfboard and awakened surrounded by fins. He thought the fins were sharks and was certain he was about to die. “They turned out to be porpoises,” he said in an article in The Guardian. “And they pushed me all the way to shore.”
Whenever I read stories like this, I wonder why these creatures rescue humans. The only answer that makes sense is altruism.