Beach balls and whistles were enough to keep Flipper occupied, but today’s A-list dolphins at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas have their own yoga instructor and personal music soundtrack. What floats their flippers? Radiohead and sitar music!
“Our dolphins seem to really resonate with Radiohead music, and especially the song Lotus Flower,” says yoga instructor Willow Withy, who hosts “Yoga with the Dolphins” excursions in a windowed room at the dolphin enclosure. “As soon as I put it on, they come up to the window and their play patterns become more fluid, friendly, and they are curious about what is going on in the yoga room. They rub against the windows, walls, and express more sensory connection. It feels like mutually shared experience as they appreciate the yoga and music together. I would say they are happy.”
The dolphins didn’t exactly squeak out a request for new tunes, however. Withy says their soundtrack has evolved naturally.
“The speakers do not go into the water, but through the windows the dolphins absorb the vibrations of the music,” she explains. “Dolphins don’t have great hearing, but hear and see through sonar resonance. It is how they interpret the world.”
After noticing them respond to Radiohead, she’s exposed them to hundreds of bands including Sigur Ros, Earth Rise Sound System, Andrew Bird, Inspired Flight, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and MC Yogi, among others.
A close second to Radiohead, she says, is the sitar music of Anoushka Shankar.
“They appreciate the music, the way it flows with the yoga practice, and their movements are more in tune with that,” she explains, noting that they also like The Beatles and Pink Floyd.
She even claims that the music has inspired them to participate in her yoga classes.
“When I first come in, I often do headstands,” Withy says. “They swim down and wait at the window like happy puppies and wait for me to do a headstand. They often mimic my moves and go upside down like they are joining in. It is a very moving experience and I feel I have bonded with them.”
Withy offers that kind of spiritual experience to hotel guests who join her for yoga in the dolphin’s enclosure, an experience that has been offered since 2011.
“The levels of oxytocin released by humans around the dolphins is off the charts,” she says. “The science backs that up and I feel the work I do really is oxytocin therapy. It is strange how I feel they can sense when I am having a good day or bad day because their behavior is connected to me.”
Dr. Horace Dobbs, the Honorary Director of International Dolphin Watch, agrees. The author of Dolphin Healing, he says, “I feel what this lady is saying is plausible. The dolphins relate to people outside of their environment and they attach significance to their energy fields.”
In addition, Tori Cullins of the Wild Dolphin Foundation explains that their preference for Radiohead has a basis in science as well.
“Different types of music have different effects,” she says. “The percussive tunes seem to provoke the most interesting responses. It is a tell-tale sign that when they look into the windows, that the sounds are changing their behavior.”
“I haven’t heard of them specifically listening to Radiohead,” she admits, “but it is common knowledge among our community that they like new-agey music like Enya. Rock music seems to stress them and jazz is the worst, while classical and country music has seen them relaxed. Human beings react in many ways to music, so it is logical that certain music can trigger different reactions.”