According to extensive research now going on, the porpoise is making a monkey out of man. Scientists keep discovering new and extraordinary powers on the part of this remarkable marine animal, and they continue to argue about future relations between the two species. Some scientists predict that man and porpoise will someday engage in meaningful discourse. This has caused a scientific rhubarb, however, since other scientists insist that man has no more chance of holding a two-sided conversation with a porpoise than he has with his wife.
The astonishing faculties of porpoises remained unfathomed until the building of big oceanariums, where scientific researchers and porpoises could study each other. But while the authorities in these watery laboratories busy themselves with learned dispute about the significance of their findings, a small, dark-haired woman, half pixie and half mermaid, has come along to prove that a porpoise can become one of the best backyard pets that a human being ever dreamed of petting. Of course, there are special requirements for the backyard.
That of Betty Brothers and Dal, her 3-year-old porpoise, contains a pool, 68 feet by 200 feet, near the Brotherses' home on Little Torch Key in Florida. In this porpoise-size playground Betty and Dal swim together, rollicking in a spirit of mutual affection. Although a rare sight today, it is one that may soon become familiar whether porpoises and people start talking together or not. A new trend seems to be starting, and lots of people who are able to afford a warm, salt-water pool may soon be getting into the swim with a pet porpoise. Betty Brothers and her porpoise are leading the way.
The comradeship between Betty and her pet is not based on bribing Dal to do tricks or obey orders in anticipation of food. A half-starved animal will extend itself if food is to be the reward, but this porpoise is fed only at mealtime and then is given plenty of silver mullet and trout caught for her by Betty and Bern Brothers. The games the porpoise plays and her response to Betty's commands result from friendliness and a love of fun. The relationship between the two has had a slow growth, compared to the learning of tricks for reward, but Betty prefers to develop companionship rather than conduct an experiment in behavioral psychology. She says that her friendship with the porpoise has now reached the point where the porpoise is giving her commands. When they are speeding through the water with Betty clinging to Dai's dorsal fin and the porpoise says "Hup!" it means they are going to dive to the bottom.
Betty's ownership of the porpoise is due to a combination of reasons, not the least of which was a desire on the part of her husband to keep his wife out of deep water. Little Torch Key is two-thirds of the way down the Florida Keys, just beyond Big Pine Key, about 20 miles from Key West. Sitting at poolside, Bern Brothers related how he and Betty forsook the paint factory in Ohio, came to Little Torch Key and hewed a home and a small motel out of a wild tangle of mangroves bordering the ocean. Located between the house and the ocean, the pool is freshened twice daily by the rising tide. "This is the pool I built for my wife," Bern said. "When we first came down here she was afraid to go swimming or skin diving in the ocean by herself. She soon outgrew it. Then I couldn't keep her in the pool at all. It seems the fear of the ocean exists only in the mind of the novice. She was interested in porpoises, so I figured that might do the trick. I bought her this one a year ago. The people who sold it came down and fed it for a while and made sure everything was all right. Including the trucking and everything, it cost around $400."
Betty now spends longer periods with the porpoise in the pool and less in the ocean alone. During the winter, when the water temperature gets down to 58�, she swims with Dal for an hour each day, but in the summer the two spend three or four hours in the water together daily. She dons a diving mask, flippers and a dark bathing suit, which blends with the dark, smooth back of the porpoise. The fun begins as soon as Betty enters the pool. The porpoise rushes up with her head raised above the water, her large expressive eyes enhancing her jovial friskiness. Betty gives her a pat of greeting and the two begin to dive, roll and swim together.
Betty will say, "Down, down!" pointing downward with one hand. Then they go into a simultaneous dive, the two heads disappearing together. As they descend, the tail and the two flipper-clad feet point skyward and then pass from view, side by side. Betty has improved her breath control, and they stay under a long time, or what seems to the observer a long time. Betty will reach out and hook one hand over Dai's dorsal fin, a signal for the porpoise to go into high gear. Speeding up and down the pool—which has a maximum depth of 14 feet and rough coral rocks along its sides—Dal pulls Betty on a ride that proves the slowness of even the best human swimmer.
At other times Dal will roll over, swim on her back or do other tricks in response to Betty's commands. In mischievous moods the porpoise will tease Betty, keeping just beyond reach of her hand, or dash to the bottom in a game of hide-and-seek.
When she and Bern first discussed buying a porpoise, Betty thought the idea ridiculous. She had been fascinated by them since 1946, when the Brotherses moved to the Keys, but only as wild things: she watched them when they came up beside the boat to look at the occupants, and she studied the porpoise families that played along the seawall by the Brotherses' home. These early observations led to deeper study which, in turn, led her to write and illustrate a book called Ra-00 and the Porpoise, about a small boy lost at sea who is adopted by a band of porpoises. The boy becomes a sort of seagoing Tarzan, taking long ocean trips with his porpoise friends.