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The Dolphin in the Mirror: Exploring Dolphin Minds and Saving Dolphin Lives Hardcover – September 20, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


The director of dolphin research at Baltimore's National Aquarium retraces the path by which science has come to understand dolphin intelligence.A committed activist on behalf of dolphin welfare, Reiss provides an account of her personal journey and the history of the development of proofs of the creatures’ high intelligence. The author chronicles the evolution of the field, beginning with John Lilly's groundbreaking work on their language and concluding with a description of her own experimental work that demonstrates that dolphins are creatures endowed with self-awareness. Reiss also discusses her struggle to get these important findings published in scientific literature. In her doctoral thesis, she proposed a series of rigorous experiments that laid the basis for documenting dolphins’ ability to communicate with symbols, recognize their mirror image and even reflect upon their experiences. While involved in her scientific studies, she was also struggling to secure funding and protect the animals she was working with from being sold for commercial exploitation. Reiss movingly conveys her deepening relationship with the dolphins, and she documents how, through each step of the process, and with each new generation, there is a tremendous emotional pull built upon the establishment of communication and empathy between our different species. This has historical antecedents—reflected in classical mythology, as well as in the actual experiences of people rescued at sea by dolphins. Among the author’s purposes in writing this engrossing scientific memoir is to build support to stop the annual massacres of dolphins in Japan and elsewhere.
8-page insert. Author tour to San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C.

About the Author

Dr. Diana Reiss is Professor in the Psychology Department at Hunter College and in the Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Program of The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She directs the Dolphin Research Program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. She is also adjunct faculty in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University, and she served as a member of the Animal Welfare Committee of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Her research focuses on dolphin cognition and communication, comparative animal cognition, and the evolution of intelligence. She has authored papers published in numerous international scientific journals and book chapters and her work has been featured in many television science programs. She has authored papers published in numerous international scientific journals and book chapters and her work has been featured in many television science programs.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (September 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547445725
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547445724
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #325,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Someone Else on August 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Who is that dolphin in the mirror? When a dolphin looks in a mirror, does it know it is looking at itself? Dolphin expert Diana Reiss says yes, and her colleagues agree. Reiss has spent 30 years studying dolphins and getting to know them as intimately as one can hope to know a marine mammal species. Central to her research were experiments to determine if a dolphin could recognize itself as itself in a mirror, rather than thinking it is seeing another dolphin.

Mirror self-recognition is considered a sign of extremely high intelligence, and was previously believed possible only in humans and higher primates such as chimpanzees. Dolphins have now been added to that elite category. Once a dolphin figures out that the image in the mirror is himself, he will explore his body, gazing into his own eyes, checking out his teeth, and displaying various body parts for self-inspection. If a researcher makes a mark on a dolphin's body, the dolphin will quickly swim to the mirror and orient himself so as to look at the mark. This "mark test" was first used on primates and is considered the definitive proof of mirror self-recognition.

The self-recognition findings are the pinnacle of Reiss's work, but there's much more to the book. She discusses dolphin myths in various cultures and the centuries-long history of man's fascination with dolphins. She also outlines some of her other dolphin intelligence studies, including an underwater keyboard dolphins could use to select a specific toy or other reward. The stories of dolphin antics during the various experiments were my favorite parts of the book. The author is careful not to ascribe human traits to these animals, but it seems to me they have quite a sense of humor. They're also prone to behaviors strongly resembling empathy and service.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What led me to take an interest in this book was author Dr. Diana Reiss's relationship with Dr. John Lilly who was probably the finest and one of the earliest researchers on the Dolphin mind. Lilly was a Cal Tech trained physicist and biologist who went on to get a medical degree from Dartmouth College. He was a very big part of the counterculture during the Viet Nam era. His expertise in dolphin research probably led to two Hollywood movies.

Dr. Reiss, the author makes it very clear that John Lilly was very influential on her own development as a scientist. She was also blessed with certain corporate sponsors who believing in her work were willing to help fund it by giving her the necessary equipment to carry on when it was necessary.

The Dolphin in the Mirror is the story of a lifetime of work devoted to trying to understand the mind of another species, not only different from our own, but also from a different environment - the SEA. We as humans occupy the land, we breathe through our nostrils. Dolphins on the other hand were once land creatures, and somewhere in the last several hundred million years made the journey into the sea and never came out again.


The first chapters are devoted to the author's attempt to save a humpback whale that are lost in the inland waterways of California. She is successful at helping the whale make it back to the open ocean. She then proceeds to tell us about the history of dolphins as it relates to mythology and origin stories. At times she goes all the way back to ancient Greece to tell us about the impact the dolphins had on history.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was really looking forward to this book (I typically eat up anything that has to do with the ocean), but as much as I wanted to like this book it never really clicked for me. I readily admit that the story of how Diana Reiss started a career in theater and then returned to school and switched over to the life of a marine mammalogist/researcher was interesting. She is now considered to be one of the nation's leading researchers in marine mammal cognition, learning, and marine mammal psychology(?).

If you are a psychologist interested in questions like what it means to be self-aware, what it means to have intelligence, or related questions then you should enjoy this book. In it Reiss spends many pages detailing how she did different experiments designed to discover how smart marine mammals are, especially bottlenose dolphins, as well as to see if they really are self-aware. Reiss also spends many pages reflecting on her conclusions and her bonds to her subjects. I imagine that it would be virtually impossible not to develop emotional and deeply sentimental connections with dolphins if you worked with them every day. The risk of having those kinds of emotional connections and trying to do objective, empirical research, however, is that it becomes increasingly difficult to minimize bias in that kind of setting. You see, if you love dolphins and you have a pre-existing bias that they are intelligent, there is a very real risk that when they do something it will be interpreted as intelligence. Am I saying that dolphins are not intelligent? No. What I'm saying is that what Reiss did was extremely manage to separate bias and observation enough to do some good science.
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