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The Green Man
The Sun and the Moon

The Celts
Dragons and Serpents
Whales and Dolphins

Faerie Folk
The Knight's Templar

They are among the most intelligent creatures on Planet Earth.  They have dwelled in all the oceans of the Planet for over 3 million years.   They are some of the largest creatures Earth's history has ever known.  They have captured the imaginations of countless Human cultures and individuals.  And yet so little is known about them.  What, or who, are whales and dolphins, and why is there such a close bond between our two so very different species?

Whales, dolphins and their smaller relatives, the porpoises, are known to science as cetaceans.  Although similar in appearance to many species of fish, whales and dolphins are warm-blooded, breathe air from the water's surface, give birth to live young and feed their young on milk. These characteristics mean that cetaceans are in fact mammals, just like humans. There are over 80 species of whales and dolphins recognised by science, and there may be even more yet to be discovered. They come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the tiny Vaquita porpoise at 1.3 m in length, to the well-known friendly bottlenose dolphin, to the enormous blue whale - the largest creature Earth has ever known.

Whales and dolphins inhabit all the oceans of the world, and a few species dwell in freshwater. Yet this has not always been the case.

Millions of years ago, a cow-like creature resembling a wolf in appearance, walked on the land in the continents now known as Europe, Asia and North America. These animals were of the now extinct family of Mesonychidae, and as they competed for food on the land, some began to search the waters for food. Generation after generation passed, and the Mesonychidae began to adapt in their new environment. They lost their fur to become more streamlined, enabling them to swim more easily, leaving bare skin over a thick layer of blubber to provide insulation in cold water. Their entire body too was re-shaped to become streamlined; external ears vanished, front legs became flat pectoral fins (flippers) to provide steerage and the back legs were replaced by a muscular tail ending in broad flukes (tail-fins) which, when moved up and down, provided propulsion. To make breathing at the water's surface more efficient, their nostrils moved to the top of their heads and became blow-holes. Thus, from the land-dwelling family of Mesonychidae a new family was born: the family of whales and dolphins.

Such is the origin of whales and dolphins according to science. However, many cultures have told different stories. Perhaps the most vivid account of the origin of dolphins is that of the ancient Greeks. Legend tells us that Dionysis, the god of wine and mirth, was once voyaging across the Mediterranean islands of Ikaria and Naxos disguised as a traveller. But the sailors had evil intentions, and unknowing the true identity of their passenger, planned to kidnap Dionysis and sell him as a slave. Once Dionysis discovered this plot, he used his divine powers to fill the boat with vines and the sound of pipes. He caused leopards and lions to appear and changed the oars of the boat into snakes. In order to escape this madness, the sailors leapt over board into the sea, where the ocean god Poseidon changed them into dolphins, forever destined to help sailors by guiding their boats.

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Dolphin brooch, available at the Spiral Online Shop

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