Friday, July 15, 2011

"Flippin' Evil!"

Dolphins have had a lot of good press. They’re cute, loveable and smart, with complex modes of communication and tightly-knit family units. They’re sleek, playful and human-friendly, and have been known to save people from sharks. They have big brains and large, intelligent eyes. The U.S. Navy train them for complex and often dangerous underwater tasks, such as laying tracking devises and defusing mines. Whenever a dolphin becomes entangled in a driftnet there are howls of outrage.

As far back as the sixties the appeal of the dolphin was being exploited in TV shows like Flipper. Flipper was a kind of aquatic Lassie who effortlessly breezed through a heroic checklist of brave deeds – thwarting villains and greedy property developers and saving children from calamity. At the end of the show everyone always laughed at Flipper’s loveable hi-jinx. Other televised animals such as Gentle Ben, Rin Tin Tin, Mr Ed and Skippy were way down the food chain compared to this fun loving fish.

More recently, tourist meccas have taken to adopting the dolphin as their symbol. Whereas you’ll never see a Cane Toad being flaunted as, say, Townsville’s civic emblem, in Byron Bay the Dolphin is rife. Every hotel, motel, butcher-shop, New-Age Mart, golf club, bowling club, RSL, petrol station and newspaper ad features a dolphin prominently plastered somewhere. This is ironic given that Byron Bay used to be a whaling town.

The community in general has taken the dolphin to its heart. Ask any kid what’s the first thing they want to see at Sea World and invariably it’s the dolphins, leaping through hoops and snapping fish from the trainer’s hands. Images of dolphins feature in countless posters, carvings, photographs and documentaries as shining symbols of peace, and the pinnacle of New-Age dreams and aspirations. The dolphin has long been surfing the crest of a dream PR run and, it seems, can’t put a flipper wrong.

Until now. Yes, the time has come to highlight a darker, hitherto unseen side of our precious little friends, a side that those with vested interests are loathe to reveal. Recent studies suggest that behind that sleek, lovable façade lurks a malevolent, at times vicious beast, only too ready to take full advantage of man’s gullibility.

An extensive two year study of dolphins in the Maldives by a research team working aboard the research vessel SS Bluefin has revealed more about the dolphin than many would care to know. Greed, selfishness and vanity are among its more endearing qualities. Add to this list emotional blackmail, philandering, lying, bullying and cheating and the emerging picture is not pretty.

Contrary to the dolphin’s popular image of being human-friendly, the research team was alarmed to note that on more than on occasion pods of dolphins actually herded Great White Sharks towards divers. Other divers proffering food found themselves rammed by the beasts in vicious and seemingly unprovoked attacks.

But all this barely rates a mention compared to the case of the diver who was systematically pack raped by an entire pod. After his twenty-seventh dive back into the swirling melee of randy mammals he reportedly said “that’s it for me, I’m not going back in.”

The team found the animals to be highly voracious sexual predators who indulged in a smorgasbord of perverse carnal delights. One of the most shocking examples was of dolphins sexually abusing their young in debased paedophilic frenzies. The team reported: “We’d often see males sexually penetrating the blowholes of their young and, because of the phenomenal tantric staying power of the adult male, these young invariably suffocated before the climax of the act, after which their bodies were torn apart and eaten by the pod.”

Further to this, in decoding parts of the highly complex dolphin language, the team from the Bluefin established that dolphins were thugs who ostracised and bullied weaker and less well-developed members of the pod, with the victims often driven to beaching themselves in suicidal despair. Similarly, crippled, lame and aged dolphins were usually abandoned and left to fend for themselves on the high-seas, rarely surviving more than a week.

In fact so obnoxious did the dolphins become to the research team – who, to a man, had previously been totally smitten by the beasts – that they took to shooting them for sport.
I reveal this startling new information on the secret life of the dolphin in the public interest and, I might add, at considerable personal risk. Since going public I have received numerous anonymous threatening phone calls and letter bombs post-marked Byron Bay. But rest assured, as a representative of John West, I vow to strenuously and zealously pursue my campaign until the true facts relating to this scourge of the high sees are fully known.

“What can I do?” you ask. I’ll tell you what you can do. Next time you pick up a tin of dolphin-friendly tuna in the supermarket, do the environment a favour and put it back.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Arboreal Thing

"The Arboreal Thing"

I think that I shall never see/a poem as lovely as a tree

Me and the boy took a stroll through the Botanic Gardens yesterday – green grass, blue sky, sunshine, sculpture, ducks and botany. Luver-ly! We came to a massive old Moreton Bay Fig, fenced off with a sign: “For your safety keep outside the fence as tree may drop branches without warning”. Hmm, I pondered: what kind of warning might a tree be expected to give - a week’s notice in writing? In triplicate? Or might it bark something more cursory: “Oi, fatso, move your arse, I’m gunna snap a big one!” No, no. That would be the uncouth locution of a loutish eucalypt, or bogan Melaleuca. An elegant old Moreton Bay Fig would surely be better mannered: “Look, I’m awfully sorry about this … it’s all a bit dashed awkward … but you see, the thing is, I’ve got this beastly branch that’s been agitating for some time to part ways with me, and I’m afraid you’re sitting right under it, so, err, [sounds a bit like Hugh Grant] if you wouldn’t mind awfully moving your picnic a few metres to the right … that’s it, that’s it, just the ticket … now ERRRR, [CRASH!], ahh, that’s better. So kind of you. Lovely spot of weather we’re having, isn’t it? …”

No, there’s no malevolence in trees. For all the carnage we’ve inflicted upon them I don’t believe they’ve ever hurt anyone on purpose. In fiction? Okay, there’s Harry Potter’s Whomping Willow; a grouchy orchard of apple trees in The Wizard of Oz and grumpy Ents in Lord of the Rings. And, I suppose, you could argue for some ambivalence with Jack’s beanstalk, a tree-like monster that helps Jack facilitate the death of an innocent giant, who, as far as I can tell was hurting no-one, just minding his own business in his cloud castle when Jack rocks up to thieve his property and bring about his brutal death. At a stretch you could argue that the apple (or olive, or fig) tree in the Garden of Eden left a fairly nasty taste, but that wasn’t an act of malevolence on the tree’s part, per se, but an engineered outcome by the Master of Puppets to set the Bible in train. And these dark fictions can be balanced against the fiction of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, a benign portal to a land of wonder and delight.

One of my favourite trees is the Liquid Amber. They look great, are a cicada mecca in Summer, colourful Autumnal wonders and the big ones are brilliant to climb. You have to love the name for a start – Liquid Amber – it just flows. Same as the Camphor Laurel, which I’m fond of too. Okay, I know the Camphor Laurel is introduced and considered a pest by many, but, like coral trees, I think they add character and charm to a farm. (These trees would also make great names for twin daughters: “Liquid Amber, Camphor Laurel, your Aunt Petunia and Uncle Russell are here!”)

Other fave trees? – oaks, elms, beeches, poplars … spot the pattern here? Yep. I’m afraid most of them were introduced to Australia. But then again, who wasn’t? I know it’s unpatriotic of me, but I’m a shameless Anglophile in many regards, including matters arboreal. I’m a dyed in the wool Wind-In-The-Willows-Alice-In-Wonderland-Pooh-Bear-English-Garden-Woodland fantasist. There, I’ve said it. Gums are okay, in their place, which is mostly in the mouth. But compared to English trees they’re bland as batshit. (Is batshit actually bland? Anyone?). If I must have Australian Wild give me rainforest. The really old primeval kind, thick with creepers and vines and massive mossy fungi-studded boles, twenty metres in circumference, with big veins creeping down into the forest floor like the necks of old people; the kind of rainforest with deep, clear creeks and trickling icy streams replete with Platypi and Yabi, the kind of deep terrain to give Bob Brown a woody, with hobbits, and Ents, and trees with doors that lead to fairyland, and …

Err, sorry. Where were we?

That’s right, pointless, dumb signs about trees not giving due warning of impending falling branches. It puts me in mind of those roadside signs along steep embankments: “Warning, Falling Rocks”. Hmm. Okay. Fair enough. But what the fuck are you going to do about it?: “Hey kids, keep your eyes peeled for any five ton boulders hurtling from the cliff up there that are about to crush the car. I want plenty of time to take evasive action.”

Nah. Trees are prettier and smarter than us.