This doesn't seem so farfetched after seeing Betty, a beautiful swimmer, tearing around the big pool clinging to Dai's dorsal. The porpoise shows manifest eagerness as Betty approaches the pool and squeaks in obvious appeals for her to return to the water when she climbs out. "It's like trying to talk in two different languages," Betty said, sitting on the small deck while Dal squeaked in the pool. "Dal is trying to communicate with me by her signals, and I am trying to get her to respond to my talk. There are a few sounds she makes that I have come to know. When she goes 'peeeeeep'—that's 'follow me.' When she makes that 'hup' sound, I know I have to take a quick breath because we are going to dive in a hurry. We're trying to relate the thoughts and the sounds. I speak to her both in the air and underwater. I don't know how I sound to her underwater, but it sounds awfully bubbly to me."
The way a porpoise sounds to a human depends upon which frequency it is operating on. Many of the sounds are beyond range of the human ear. By means of its sonar equipment, a blindfolded porpoise—so the scientists in their oceanariums have proved—can thread a maze without touching the obstacles and can even detect one fish from another. In the friendly relationship of Betty and her porpoise in the pool, efforts at communication are a little different. "When she has her sonar on it sounds like the clicking of sticks together," said Betty, glancing toward Dal who, at the moment, was emitting a series of high-pitched squeaks beyond the ken of man.
"I've had a saddle horse and all kinds of dogs," Betty went on, "but there is no comparison. A porpoise is more like a friend. I've had a horse look at me and then deliberately step on my foot. I always feel safer with her than with a horse, and she's a wild animal. When she pulls me in the water we come close to the rocks in the pool, but she never brushes me against them. She has 88 teeth and jaws 16 inches long, but I never have any fear."
Dal, who has gained 30 to 40 pounds and four or five inches in length in the year that Betty has owned her, is 6� feet long. She has great power, and if she did not have a solicitous attitude toward Betty their play would be impossible. For that matter, while a protective attitude toward man is a curious trait of porpoises, there is no doubt that they can do lusty battle with an enemy. The porpoises at Marineland in Florida attacked a pilot whale that was housed in their pool while quarters were being prepared for it. They beat up the whale so thoroughly that it died as a result.
In contrast, Betty's pet porpoise plays not only with her but with children. When half a dozen youngsters were visiting the Brotherses, the porpoise played so long and so strenuously that she became overtired. Fatigue, however, didn't make her ill-natured. She just went off her feed for a couple of days. "She's only 3 years old, and like any kid she overdid it," Betty said.
If porpoises do become familiar household pets—and Betty is certain that they will—porpoise foods may come to have commercial importance, like dog foods. Feeding a pet porpoise requires somewhat special preparations. Dal is fed twice a day, a total of 12 pounds of fish. Porpoises have definite preferences in fish. They must be conditioned to eating fish that have been frozen. Having been netted on the west coast of Florida by Milton Santini, a professional porpoise catcher, Dal preferred the black mullet that abounded in her home waters. But now she likes silver mullet, and the jack and trout that are caught fresh—and then frozen—for her. "I always freeze them first, because I feel that freezing gets rid of a lot of parasites the fish have," Betty explained. "We are careful with her food, and I don't give her anything that I wouldn't eat myself."
Already there are a few other private porpoises around. Pedro Braxton, a fisherman on Key Largo, keeps one. Some recreational parks and motels have acquired them to entertain their customers. "It is becoming a status symbol," Betty said, returning Dai's perpetual toothy smile. Private pools big enough for porpoises to frolic in are becoming numerous. Skin diving is so popular these days that hosts of people would feel at home with an aquatic pet. Certainly many of those who watch the small woman and the porpoise playing so gaily in the sunlit pool beside the sea voice a wish at the sight. They wish they could have a porpoise, too.