JOE OR ROSIE?
THE HUMAN-DOLPHIN CONNECTION
ON-LAB, J.A.N.U.S. SYSTEM IN VAN
JOE AND ROSIE BEING RELEASED IN MISSISSIPPI, 1987
(TOP THREE PHOTOS BY DAVID WOOLEY)
THE TIME I SWAM WITH JOE AND ROSIE, THE DOLPHINS THAT JOHN LILLY WORKED WITH FOR 5 YEARS
I first met John and Tony Lilly at Esalen in 1978, then I moved to CA in 1980 to get involved with Lilly’s Human/Dolphin Foundation. I was on-lab at Redwood City the day that Joe and Rosie arrived from Gulfport, Mississippi. A few weeks later I was invited over to swim with them. I had met some dolphins ‘in person’ for the first time two years earlier, but had not swum with them.
The technological back-bone of Lilly’s J.A.N.U.S. (Joint Analog-Numerical Understanding System) was computer hard/software and state-of-the-art hydrophones which enabled the frequency range of the dolphins’ sounds to be converted into ours (ours is much narrower and lower) and vice versa in real time, an essential first step for communication using sound.
My main angle with the dolphins was using music as a form of communication. On this visit I decided not to try to play any live music, but instead to play the dolphins some pre-recorded tracks by two friends of mine, two of my favourite musicians, whose music expressed a beautiful ‘cosmic spirit’ that I thought the dolphins might like.
They let me go in with the dolphins for a bit. This was a tank approximately 4 meters deep and about 12 meters in diameter. I had been in a bicycle accident a few months before and had just had a cast taken off my right leg. The leg was really skinny and saggy, and the knee a bit nobular and swollen. Within about 10 seconds of my entering the tank, Rosie the female (and larger) dolphin came over to me and ever so gently took my knee in her beak, her teeth ever so gently touching my skin. She held this position for a while, as if to say ‘Hey, this looks a bit odd, are you ok?’ She instantly picked up on the only thing that was wrong with me and I felt wanted to make sure I was ok.
Then we put on the music. I could hear it under-water. First we put on Pat Metheny’s song, then we put on the Ralph Towner track.
The dolphins had been moving around and frolicking and swimming with me quite playfully but the instant the music came on, whoa…they both totally stopped everything they were doing and just floated there with this extraordinarily blissful look in their eyes, as if they REALLY loved and were transported by this music.
There’s no way they would ever have heard anything like this before. No one had played them music via the J.A.N.U.S. system, of this I was sure. It may well be that no dolphins anywhere had ever heard pre-recorded jazz at their own frequency level. This was truly a legendary moment for the human/dolphin connection: their species got to hear some of the nicest sounds, the best music that humans are capable of and at their own acoustic bandwidth. For all I know, it’s even possible that due to the harmonic expansion capabilities of J.A.N.U.S. as well as the fact that high quality recording captures a lot of information that the ordinary unassisted human ear/auditory system never registers or perceives, Joe and Rosie may have heard this music in a way that no one else ever has.
To me, this was kind of like the plaque and recordings sent out into space on the Voyager probe, only instead of being ‘discovered’ by ‘aliens’ in some distant star-system or galaxy who probably don’t have ears or even heads or understand sound, the music was shared with fellow beings on the same planet we are on…beings who are themselves masters of sound and who have been here millions of years longer than we have.
The dolphins listened motionless and attentively for the duration of the two tracks, about 15 minutes or more. The looked as if they were feeling and enjoying the music with their whole bodies. I could really feel or sense their good energies…it’s like they were meditating or being bathed by these new forms of sound.
The trance, however, was broken when the next track came on. This piece is kind of a freaky neo-shamanic musical invocation of spirit…it has Jan Garbarek playing his mouth-piece. This track was a bit unnerving to Joe and Rosie, who started moving a bit after their extended musically-induced meditation. We decided to stop the track mid-way so as not to ruin their tranquility. This was all totally uncharted territory.
I was exhilarated to have shared this experience with two lovely beings from the sea. The Human/Dolphin Foundation crew were impressed with what a ‘good swim’ I had. I came away knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that dolphins really do love music, as the ancient Greeks wrote about at length, and that I had turned the dolphin kingdom onto the best in jazz!
My plan was to initiate a series of musical experiments with Joe and Rosie, but as I came to understand the situation there more and more, I realized that keeping dolphins captive for any reason is not a good idea, unless they are sick or injured.
Lilly stated in his research proposal to the National Science Foundation from 1979 that he would only keep the dolphins for one year, while developing the technology to do the real-time frequency transforms from a boat with free-swimming dolphins.
I was not impressed or drawn to a lot of what I saw going on there. In a nutshell, Joe and Rosie were the Lilly’s ticket to the lime-light. A constant flow of reporters, journalists and famous people invited for ‘celebrity swims’ plus being confined to a small pool started dragging the dolphins down.
I stopped going, and heard after the first year that research director John Kert had gotten ‘beaked’ in the chest so hard by Joe that it had almost broken some ribs. Dolphins have to get pushed really far and hard to evoke that kind of reaction. It was not a good sign.
Years later I learned that the Lilly’s kept Joe and Rosie for 5 years in that tiny tank, which to me was unbelievable. What were they thinking? But Joe and Rosie were successfully returned to Gulfport Mississippi and are probably swimming around out there right now, and telling their children and grand-children about when they had ‘volunteered’ for experimental captivity and one day a blonde primate came into the tank bringing the most amazing sounds they had ever heard.
The Lilly’s asked me to write an article on their behalf about their dolphin communication project. It was published in the December 1980 Whale and Dolphin issue of San Francisco-based Magical Blend magazine. The magazine is out of print but copies can be found on Amazon.
Here is my article in its entirety as it appeared in 1980.
Here is an article by another HDF volunteer who came along two years later, a David Wooley. I never met or heard of him but everything he says is true as far as I can determine…no exaggerations or embellishments.
Article on Joe and Rosie’s release in 1987
I became ‘anti-captivity’ in 1981. I continued to pursue my interest in music as a form of communication, working on a project involving musical dialogues with free-swimming cetaceans in the ocean, but I put this on the back-burner in the early 90’s as I became increasingly aware of the war being waged on them by ‘man, the wise.’ Creating awareness of this is my greatest work today.
MY PERSPECTIVE ON THE HUMAN-CETACEAN RELATIONSHIP OF TODAY