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Mackenna Lee


Disembark, Grow, Illuminate.

Back to our Aquarium

Orcas and dolphins delight humans. My family never excluded the dolphin show from our once-a-year excursion to the local aquarium. I by sheer luck spent one day as a “Trainer”. The upfront access to our “dogs of the sea” warms my childhood memories, earning a prestigious spot alongside Razr scooters and morning cartoons.

Movies like The Cove, Blackfish and the proliferating research highlighting the mental and cultural complexity of these animals places a film over these memories. But a recent podcast episode of Dax Sheppard’s Armchair Expert resurfaced their glory, breathing new life onto them.

Dolphin or Orca?

In the podcast with esteemed CEO of Instagram Adam Mosseri, Dax asks the Social Media Magnet, are you an orca or a dolphin? Dax further explains, a dolphin does the same tricks over and over again, performing an identical show day-after-day. Dolphins are happy perfecting their flip then eating the reward. An orca, on the other hand, must learn new tricks to be satisfied, or else they grow bored. The prize of fish does not keep them content.

Dax’s premise raised my imaginative pendulum. Further desktop research did not support the science behind Dax’s exact anecdote. Hidden in a recess of the interwebs is a scholarly journal depicting each creature’s threshold for boredom – I could not find it. Though scientists have publicly noted the biology and social habits of orcas and the expressed creativity of cetaceans.

Facts aside (just this once), I immediately heard the question, and it was as if Dax called on me. Dolphin or Orca?

Without hesitation, Orca.

But why, an orca?

As quickly as I came to the answer, in came my dismay. I do not walk a straight, clear climb, I mosey. My attention rotates on a never-ending jukebox of stories and art. My mental fuel pivots from week-to-week, as witnessed by the motley subject matter of my writing. Much inspires me, except perhaps depth. My interests remain shallow and broad, a generalist at heart.

Dolphins, in my framing of the question, can do a couple tricks very well. Society’s dolphins include food critics, purveyors of antique jewelry, and court justices – all of whom stack knowledge and deliver opinions upon a concrete foundation. They know their tricks, they perform them multiple times over, and they don’t refresh or revise their approach out of boredom. Food critics do not pursue an excellent meal by playing the bongo’s in a park. The pursuit is finite.

My mind – and its interests – wander as much as my feet.

If you frame the question toward experiences, I’d argue there are indelible components to my history that inch me closer to dolphin-dom. The notable points in my timeline involve intimate relationships and a feast for the unseen. I consistently seek people and newness.

If those are my two “dolphin” tricks they translate to “orca” results, serving up hobbies ranging from photography to horseback riding to hiking to volunteerism.

But why, a dolphin?

Why do I want to be a dolphin? There is a certain power that comes with dedication. You command a room as an expert compared to an enthusiast. The “expert” label is sought after and accessorized with appearances, books, and an even more delectable concept. Once you claim to be an “expert”, you become the imitable “best” of a field. With this, I revere those who hunt a singular passion.

The missing option

Though Dax left out an important option in his original question. He asked, are you an orca or dolphin? In other words, what number of tricks fulfill your boredom?

Dax excluded a key role. The originator of all tricks. The one who teaches, who rewards, and who ultimately decides what the orca or dolphin does. The trainer. Few claim the role of trainer. Human enrichment is a crapshoot. The economy, our media, the internet, and the mood of our human family define the value we put forth.

The trainers instruct the orcas and dolphins to perform tricks to bring glee ceremoniously. Marine animals lying on their back do not lift audiences to their feet.

The trainer estimates the value of what we do. And perhaps the dolphin-orca dichotomy questions why our mind clamps down on tricks, rather than being. Us orcas and dolphins may find more fish and fulfillment swimming in our pods.

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