Legends Of The Sea: The Mythical Splendor Of Dolphins
Many ancient religions and cultures have drawn extensive inspiration from nature as
they’ve progressed. This includes our complexly intelligent friends: dolphins. From the warm
islands of Greece to the spanning rivers of India, dolphins have inspired many tales and legends
from around the world.
In the old Greek culture, dolphins held the role of messengers for Poseidon, the sea god
(Catton, 1995). They also carried a sacred status in the eyes of the gods Apollo and Aphrodite,
and their followers viewed them in a similar light. Typically seen as rescuers, these creatures
were entrusted by the gods to guide stranded sailors safely to land (Catton, 1995). Due to these
beliefs, the people of ancient Greece held dolphins in high reverence, deeming any harm towards
them as reprehensible.
In Amazonian folklore, Amazon River Dolphins, or Botos, inhabit mystical realms
beneath the water’s surface, wielding special abilities. Known as ‘encantado,’ Botos are
shapeshifters, becoming dolphins during the day and transforming into young men by nightfall.
(Dunnell, 2019). Following this transformation into, the encantado departs from the river depths
to partake in festivities and captivate young women (Dunnell, 2019). Despite the clever guise,
these shapeshifters retain remnants of their dolphin selves, unable to entirely conceal their
origins. To safeguard their true selves, they put on white hats, concealing the blowhole that sits
atop their heads, and must return to the river before the break of dawn (Dunnell, 2019).
Within Hinduism, dolphins occupy a unique and meaningful role intertwined in the
religion. These creatures are often venerated due to their connection to the revered Ganga
(Ganges) River, where the South Asian River dolphin is regarded as a symbol of purity.
Furthermore, dolphins find themselves linked to specific Hindu deities, like Varuna, the sea deity.
Reflecting their playful demeanor, dolphins represent the concept of Lila, which means “divine
play” and symbolize the joyous voyage of the liberated soul. The presence of dolphins in
Hinduism encompasses a fusion of reverence for their inherent existence and their symbolic
portrayal of virtues, thereby contributing to the intricate spiritual tapestry of the religion.
Dolphins are remarkable creatures, inspiring wonder and fostering connections across a
multitude of both ancient and modern societies. They have navigated the currents of human
cultures and belief systems, imprinting themselves on the stories that define our interaction with
nature. Dolphins persist in being treasured as awe-inspiring creatures from the depths of ocean,
highlighting the harmonious relationship between humanity and these amazing mammals.
Research Intern at Cape May Whale Watch & Research Center
University of New Haven ’24
Catton C. 1995. Dolphins in Mythology. Dolphins. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/whales/man/myth.html.
Dolphins-World. Dolphins in Mythology – Dolphin Facts and Information. https://www.dolphins-world.com/dolphins-in-mythology/.
Dunnell T. 2019 Feb 1. Myths And Legends Of The Amazon’s Pink River Dolphin. South American Vacations. https://www.savacations.com/myths-legends-amazons-pink-river-dolphin/.
Puputaka of the Ganges: How dolphins swam through history. 2020 Oct 13. The Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/meerut/puputaka-of-the-ganges-how-dolphins-swam-through-history/articleshow/78624341.cms.