I’ve written before about how much our zoo dolphins like to splash people. Chinook, now residing at the Brookfield Zoo, liked to scoop water up in his lower jaw and dump it over the pool’s edge while a custodian tried to squeegee the floor dry. Semo, in the picture below, inspired kids to put up a raincoat hood and an umbrella when he got extra-feisty one day in May. And now his daughter Taijah, age 1 year and 1 month, has discovered the joy of dousing a human head.
It reportedly happened before the 10 a.m. training session yesterday, and I saw it firsthand before the noon session. A trainer had been working with Semo around 11:30, and as a line of children lengthened at the viewing window, Taijah also swam out into the show pool and cruised alongside the glass, returning her spectators’ gaze. As she turned to retrace her path in the opposite direction, her tail fluke flipped a light waterfall over the side of the tank. Kids squealed; a fresh batch of them advanced while others retreated; Taijah opened her jaws to show a sparkle of blunt little teeth, then did it a few more times. I wanted to take a picture in the worst way but was fully occupied talking to kids and making sure little hands stayed out of the pool. And Taijah’s too quick for my camera, anyway. But her kid-splashing routine was as big a crowd-pleaser as the training-session pose shown below. (That’s either Taijah’s mom Allie or her grandma April in a picture from last year, and Allie struck the pose yesterday, too.)
After the show, fellow volunteer Sharon and I speculated about the lure of the kid-heads. Sharon wondered if all the pink clothing attracted the dolphin’s eye, which led me to wonder if all the pink just happened to correlate with all the excited high-pitched girl-voices, another possible attraction. Sharon asked a trainer who was taking kids’ questions as they filed out of the stadium. The trainer told us that even though a dolphin’s eye contains rods and cones, it’s hard to be sure how vividly they see color. I noted this trainer’s technique as she tailored her answers to the age of the asker — always important when sharing biology facts with children. She told a preschooler the dolphins eat three kinds of fish; when a grade-schooler asked for specifics, she gave fish names (the small ones are capelin, the medium ones sardines, the large ones herring — three varieties that our new penguins also eat). Besides fish, the dolphins also enjoy snatching up ice cubes that trainers toss into their pool. And for whatever reason, a chance to spray water on a squealing kid clearly counts as a big reward.