Welcome to You Ask Andy

Paula Gayle Shelton, age 8, of Nashville, Tenn,

Is the porpoise really friendly to man?

Porpoises and dolphins are roly‑poly sea animals. They are not fish and cannot breathe under water. Very often, they make a game of coming up for air. A whole group, or school of them loves to leap and frolic in and out of the water. Since early times, sailors have said that a school of playful, deep water dolphins is a sign of fair weather. Porpoises attract attention as they frolic off shore and up the mouths of wide rivers. From a distance it is hard to tell whether the playful fellows are dolphins or porpoises. But close up, we see that the porpoises have rounded noses. The dolphins have long snouts that look like beaks. Both families belong to the Cetacea order of animals, which makes them related to the monster whales.

Round nose or pointed nose, the dolphins and the propoises all have charming faces. The big mouth is up‑turned at the corners and seems to be smiling. The small round eyes seem bright with fun and intelligence. And the face gives a fair clue to the character. The porpoises and almost all the dolphins are friendly, charming creatures, full of intelligence and always ready for a game. There are countless stories of their fondness for human beings and there are reliable reports that porpoises have saved human lives.

The ancient Greeks had a tale of a boy and his dolphin friend. The dolphin came at the boys call and the two of them romped together in the blue waters of the Aegean Sea. What's more, the old story says that the dolphin rode that boy on his back to and from school every day, The Greeks had a coin stamped with a boy on a dolphins back and Andy,for one, believes that wonderful tale to be true.

We have proof in modern times of smart, friendly dolphins. A certain bottle‑nosed dolphin in Florida was trained to pull in harness and he loved it. His favorite passengers were a girl and a dog and he pulled them on a surfboard, rollicking over the water. He would also retrieve a stick or ball tossed into the water, like a playful puppy. And he was especially proud of the way he could jump through hoops, even when they were covered with paper.

In character the porpoise is very like the dolphin. He loves people and he loves to play. Whatts more, since he tends to frolic close to shore, he often meets up with swimmers. There are many stories of swimmers being muzzled back to shore by a playful porpoise. Not so long ago, a woman swimming off Australia was swept out to sea and almost gave up hope. Suddenly she felt herself pushed and prodded to safety and she was landed safe and sound on the beach. Out in the water was the fat, smiling porpoise who had saved her life.

Some swimmers, however, say they have been badly bruised by this friendly assistance from porpoises. A porpoise is six foot of blubber and powerful muscle and therefore not very gentle. In fact, some people wonder if he is not more interested in playing ball with a lost swimmer than in saving his life. In any cases we must give the friendly, fun loving fellows credit for getting a few floundering swimmers safely back to the beach.

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