"We aren't sure if this is simply an extremely complex example of imitative behavior, or an independently developed alternative health system," Greta Bowen, director of Cetacean Physiology at AWIIMB, explained. "Regardless, this represents a stunning advance in our understanding of cetacean culture and will change the way we interact with these majestic and highly intelligent sea creatures from now on."
Though long considered to be one of the most intelligent nonhuman animals, dolphins have never fully distinguished themselves as capable of using tools in a complex manner. With this amazing discovery, dolphins have now surpassed nonhuman primates in this regard. Not only are dolphins clearly tool users, but it appears that they have also developed a fully fleshed out system of diagnosis and treatment of illness.
Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese practice, involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body in order to unblock the stagnant flow of Chi. Chi is the life force, or energy, of the human body and must flow freely through the many channels, or meridians, in the body in order to maintain balance and a state of health. Researchers at AWIIMB discovered defects in dolphin carcasses, and even some live specimens, which roughly correspond to traditional Chinese acupuncture points.
These defects, although larger than what would be expected after human acupuncture treatments, are felt to reflect the crude use of floating branches sharpened with the use of seashells. Bowen revealed,
"The defects in the dolphins' skin, which are about the size of the tooth of a tiger shark, reveal the difficulties of underwater acupuncture. They range from clean punctures to open gashes and are found in various stages of healing. What we don't know yet is if the variations in technique are intentional or a complication of strong ocean currents during treatment sessions."The AWIIMB, fierce advocates for holistic veterinary medicine, are taking advantage of this discovery to reach out to the public. While no surveys on the use of traditional alternative medicine by animals have been done to date, the use of therapies such as acupuncture and chiropractic on animals is growing in popularity, although this usually takes place in neighborhood veterinary clinics and on household pets. Bowen concludes, "We now know that this is out there in the wild. So wildlife and marine biologists, regardless of whether or not they accept that these treatments are effective, need to be aware of their use."