Alien Encounters: Dolphins and a Magician
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Every so often we come across a story about an encounter between two life forms, alien to each other but sharing the same space. In this case, one of the life forms is a commentator, the magician Teller of the famed duo Penn & Teller; he's the quiet one. The space is a lagoon in the Bahamas, where Penn & Teller were shooting a television show.
I'm 25 feet under water, standing on the floor of the lagoon on a tiny tropical island. I'm wearing a dive mask, a scuba tank and lead weights over my designer business suit and polished dress shoes. I'm waiting for the cameraman. The water is warm and a little cloudy, like summer fog. A fossil on the sea floor comes to life. It's a stingray peeling itself off the sand. Oblivious, it glides past my face and vanishes like a ghost.
Suddenly, a dolphin rockets by me, almost knocking me over. It's huge, the size of a torpedo. Before I can catch my breath, it's gone. I turn and look straight into the face of the dolphin hovering horizontal, dead still, nose to nose with me. Forget Flipper; this is an alien life form, a huge hunk of ice-colored muscle. The dolphin's mouth curves in a calm, eerie smile. The dolphin is happy to see me. No, that's not a smile. That's just the way its jaw is shaped. That hard, sharp beak is strong enough to snip off my head.
I am not in my element. I am the guest; my host is floating in front of my face. What is the polite thing to do? What is the etiquette for meeting a dolphin? Look it forthrightly in the eye? That's impossible. The dolphin's eyes are so far around on the sides of the head, there's nothing to stare straight into. I try waving in a, `Hi. How are you?' kind of way. Hmm, no. I try humming. (Hums) No. The dolphin is still and silent as an iceberg. Finally, I reach out and pat its side. My warm hand taps cool leather taunt as a drumhead. But the dolphin remains unmoved, its cartoon smile fixed.
Suddenly, I like this moment very much. It's uncomfortable and honest. I'm not pretending to understand the dolphin, as humans claim to do with pets and other humans. I'm just sharing the same sea, trying to be polite. There's no empathy, just etiquette. And that's enough for me.
NORRIS: Commentator Teller is the smaller, quieter half of Penn & Teller. Their television special, "Penn & Teller: Off the Deep End," will be broadcast on NBC this Sunday night.
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