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Dolphins are magical creatures who have been on Earth for some 25 million years, according to fossil evidence. The first recorded studies of dolphins and dolphin behavior was undertaken by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) in Historia Animalium, (The History of Animals). Aristotle was the first to correctly claim that dolphins were mammals. He observed that they bore their young alive and suckled them, breathed air and communicated by underwater sounds.

Through the ages, people and dolphins have had a special bond. There are many well-documented stories throughout history of ancient mariners who were guided to safety by dolphins. Dolphin insignias were commonly used on ancient ships for protection. Ancient artifacts show dolphins being used in decorative ways. Prehistoric engraved images of dolphins have been found in South Africa. One shows a man swimming with dolphins. At the palace of Knossos, an Aegean civilization, the bathroom of the queen was decorated with a frieze of dolphins. This palace is dated at 1600 BC. Dolphins have been found on funeral frescoes dated from the sixth century BC. Greeks decorated their ceramics with dolphin images in the fifth century BC. Forty Greek cities had images of dolphins on their coins.

The Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, tells the story of a boy who rode on the back of a dolphin called Simo. Roman coins dated at 74 BC depict this dolphin scene. There is a similar story from Greece about a dolphin named Lassos, who fell in love with a boy and took him far out to sea for dolphin rides. As recently as October 2000, it was reported that a small boy drowning off the coast of Italy was rescued and brought ashore by a dolphin.

In mythology, it is said that Apollo first appeared at Delphi, the site of the oracle, in the form of a dolphin. In Greek, Delphi means dolphin. Taras, son of Neptune, founded a city called Tarento on the pot he was carried to safety by a dolphin. It is also said that Telemachus, son of Ulysses, fell into the water as a child. He was rescued by dolphins. Thereafter, Ulysses wore a ring engraved with the image of dolphins. The dolphin was sacred to the Greeks, and they would never dream of harming a dolphin.

Plutarch, around 75 AD, told the story of Korianos, a native of Asia Minor. Korianos pleaded for the life of a dolphin who was caught in a fishing net. The dolphin was saved. Later, Korianos was shipwrecked and his life was saved by a dolphin.

Throughout history, there are stories told of the relationship between dolphin and man, particularly of dolphin helping man catch fish. Oppian, a Greek poet of the second century AD, told stores of dolphins pushing fish into the nets of fishermen.

The aborigines of Australia have had many connections to dolphins. The natives of Amity Point in Moreton Bay called the dolphins to them to help them with fishing. The people would sit on a hill waiting to spot mullet. When they saw a school they ran to the water and splashed the water with their spears. This action called the dolphins who would swim in and block the retreat of the mullet, thus allowing the natives to catch all the mullet they could use. And the dolphins shared the mullet.

In the northern part of Australia there is an island in the Gulf of Carpentaria called Groote Eylandt. The natives there consider themselves to be the direct descendants of dolphins. The dolphin is celebrated in their stories and ceremonies.

There is another aborigine tribe living on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria who call themselves the Dolphin People. Young boys go through a series of tests as they grow up in order to determine their sensitivity and intuition. The most sensitive boy will become the tribal shaman. The Dolphin People believe the shaman is a dolphin spirit who has chosen to reincarnate in the form of a man. The shaman performs a complex series of whistles designed to bring the dolphin closer to shore. When the shaman stops whistling, he makes a mind-to-mind connection with the dolphins.

To the Maoris of New Zealand, the dolphin is sacred. Authors Amanda Cochrane and Karena Callen, in their book Dolphins and Their Power to Heal, quote one Maori elder who described dolphins as being a "human being in the sea." They are only to be called upon in very difficult times.

The Polynesian people of the Gilbert Islands called dolphins to them. They would enter a dream-like state and then seek the dolphins out in their homes. They would invite the dolphins to a feast in the village. If the invitation were worded correctly, the dolphins would swim into the bay. The Gilbert Islanders then rushed into the water and dragged the dolphins onto shore whereupon the dolphins became the main course at the feast. The natives believed that the dolphins who came did so voluntarily with the knowledge that their bodies would be used to nourish the islanders.

In Native American traditions, dolphins symbolized manna or life force. It was thought that the dolphin was the "keeper of the sacred breath of life and was a healing totem used to release emotional tension" (from Dolphins and Their Power to Heal). Totem Power Stones say a dolphin is indicative of kindness, play, and is the bridge between man and ocean.

Dolphins are the symbol of rebirth. Christ is sometimes represented in the form of a dolphin.

So, what is it about dolphins that strikes such a chord in humans? We view dolphins in anthropomorphic terms. Dolphins love to play and seem to take great joy in the playing. We would say that dolphins live in the moment. They are compassionate, caring, loving and gentle. Dolphins will assist ailing dolphins to the surface so that they can breathe. They have never been known to attack man in the wild. They get annoyed with each other, but always appear to reach a settlement of a dispute quickly and don't appear to hold grudges. They are highly intelligent. They are beautiful and graceful in the water. Some say we are so attracted to dolphins because they embody the qualities we want in ourselves. As Rosie O'Donnell said on one of her programs, "It's such a magical, mystical thing when you see dolphins."