Monday, 19 September 2011

Intelligent Life: The Proof

I found this in the surf last week. It's a porpoise skull.

And yes, it's all there. They really look like that, under the grin. I can't think of any other animals, apart fellow cetaceans, whose eye sockets are actually below their teeth. It's like a life form designed by Picasso.

As if that weren't alien enough, there's also that bulbous cranium bulging up aft, like the superstructure on a bowpicker.

The reason for both oddities is the same: this porpoise negotiated its complex environment not by sight or smell, but by sound. Hence any high-riding eyes would just have been show, and a waste of critical bone; this skull is built to amplify the echoes of tiny, high-pitched squeaks made by its owner, and secondarily those of podmates. Thus, much of that beetling brow roll is a resonator, like the bulb on a freighter's bow, meant to detect vibrations and measure their intensity and direction.

Dolphins and porpoises are also highly sophisticated animals whose behaviour is still largely unfathomable to humans. They have consistently demonstrated extremely advanced cognition, extending possibly even to altruism, morality, sexuality, language, and existential autonomy.

So here it is, at long last: reason to hope that there may be intelligent life on this planet.
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