Homo Delphinus:

maylhseThe Dolphin Within Man
Excerpt from a book by Jacques Mayol

Jacque’s Freediving Sled

Jacques Mayol is a world-famous diver widely acclaimed for his pioneering work in the field of deep breath-hold diving and for his historic, record-setting dive of 100 meters (330 feet) during a program of experimental and medical research in deep breath-hold diving in 1976. He was the first man to reach this remarkable depth, diving the way dolphins do, with one breath!

What many people may not realize is that Jacques Mayol has been entranced with the Turks & Caicos Islands–South Caicos, in particular–since 1959. He is still a resident of Belle Sound, South Caicos and can often be found there when not traveling the globe.

Even at the age of 74, Mayol continues to swim and dive almost every day. It is not unusual for him to stay underwater for as long as four minutes without taking a breath and free-dive to 40 meters (120 feet).

Jacques Mayol’s life was the subject of Luc Besson’s film, “The Big Blue” (Le Grand Bleu), in which he was portrayed by actor Jean-Marc Barr. Mayol is especially popular in Japan, where he now spends much of his time writing and producing documentary films, and, as a result, many Japanese people have interest in the Turks & Caicos Islands.
His beautifully illustrated book, HOMO DELPHINUS The Dolphin Within Man, is considered the “bible” for breath-hold divers. The high-quality volume serves as both autobiography, adventure tale, travelogue and scientific text as Mayol explores the question of whether or not man can develop the potential of his aquatic origins.

Of special interest are Mayol’s profiles of people who still dive for food the way it has been done for years, in “apnea” (suspension of respiration). Besides describing Japanese Ama divers and Philippine Badjaos, Mayol talks about the lobster and conch fishermen of the Turks & Caicos Islands, including two who were protagonists of Mayol’s first novel, The Blue Abyss, and subjects of two film documentaries.

Foremost in the book is Mayol’s analysis of his spiritual connection to the sea and its creatures. He introduced the powers of Yoga and Oriental philosophies to deep diving, which makes him psychologically very powerful. He stresses the benefits Yoga and Zen can have to future generations of free divers.

In the early 1960s near Iguana Cay, Mayol interacted with a young dolphin who he firmly believes is Jo-Jo, today declared one of the Turks & Caicos’ national treasures. Following is an excerpt from HOMO DELPHINUS which describes Mayol’s encounters with the famous dolphin.


I have always preferred the Islands. My parents lived in China beginning in the early 1920s. They enjoyed spending their summer holidays far from Shanghai’s sweltering humidity, on Kiou Shou, one of the islands of the Japanese archipelago. Here, in the great Bay of Karatsu, I swam for the first time with wild dolphins. I was only a child. Later, as an adult, I swam with dolphins many times, but I can recall in particular one totally unexpected meeting with a young lone dolphin off Joe Grant Cay in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

It was in the mid 1980s. I would usually leave my home on Belle Sound on South Caicos in a fast flat-bottom boat with one or two friends to go to my favorite place. It was a wild spot around 20 nautical miles away, at the northern tip of the large island of East Caicos in the middle of Jacksonville Bay. There is a very picturesque islet there named Iguana Cay. It’s the ideal place for camping because, for a reason I never really understood, there are never any mosquitoes and very few insects. The iguanas reign on the island, but they don’t bother people at all. Who knows? Maybe the mosquitoes and the iguanas don’t get along!
The inner lagoon is strikingly beautiful. The reflections of the crystal-clear water are reminiscent of a kaleidoscope depending on the time of day. Fish and lobsters are everywhere.

maylobOne day, when Sylias Elliot (nicknamed Bull-Joint) and I were hooking lobsters from the cracks of one of our favorite rocks, a young dolphin suddenly swam toward us and looked like he wanted to play. We were flabbergasted. Of course, I had often seen dolphins, usually in groups, around South Caicos. But never here, even though I had been coming to the area for years. Where in the devil did he come from? What was he doing here? He looked like a male and behaved like a male: powerful and firm, and he looked like he was trying to get attention.

Once again, I would test my very own method of communicating with a wild dolphin: I did not go near him; I let him come to me out of curiosity or the desire to meet me. I immediately added five kilograms to my lead belt–already heavy. I put on my flippers, mask and snorkel and allowed myself to glide softly in the crystal-clear water.

That’s my usual technique, but it takes a lot of wind and breath-holding to make it work. Here is how I go about it: I descend in vertical position (standing), arms out, staring at the dolphin. I get down to the sand or other surface and just sit down with my legs and arms far apart. From deep in my throat I let out a few vibrations, imitating the sounds dolphins make. Generally, if the dolphin hasn’t left by then, he starts to swim around me and ultimately moves into the field bordered by my two extended arms and my body.

As soon as he passes through the invisible and subtle border, contact is actually established. It works just about every time! In this case, it was a cinch. After a few moments of hesitation, the young dolphin did exactly what I thought he would do. Was it a kind of telepathy or just hypnosis? Regardless, he entered my field of “aura” and I felt that I had won him over.

jojacWe repeated the little game a few times each time I saw him over the next few years. It was my very own way of making certain he recognized me.

He wouldn’t leave us alone for the rest of the afternoon and the next day he was still there, alone. Sometimes he would disappear for a few seconds and we expected him to return with other dolphins. But that never happened. He actually looked very happy, all by himself.

When the sun began to set over the horizon and it was time to return to South Caicos, we decided not to go back via the inner part of the bank, which is faster than going over the high seas. The water level there is so low that sometimes you have to push the boat. If the dolphin had wanted to follow us, he would not have been able to do so. We took the cut that led us out to sea away from the dangerous reef.

We were delighted that the young dolphin followed us. I had always dreamed about having a dolphin as a diving buddy in South Caicos! But our young wild friend certainly had different intentions. Just after the cut, when the water becomes bluer and bluer, he stopped suddenly. And we did as well. It was a very moving moment. He came toward our boat and looked us right between the eyes. There were a few seconds of absolute silence. Then he let out two or three hefty whistles, turned his head, and swam off in the opposite direction. I didn’t want to start up again right away. I hoped he might come back. But we saw him swim straight toward Iguana Cay.

* * *

Two weeks later, I had the opportunity to go back to Joe Grant Cay with another group of divers as we were returning from a little exploratory dive in the Ocean Hole, about 15 nautical miles from there. We were in rather deep water and my friends already had their tanks on their backs since they were not experienced in holding their breath. Suddenly, beneath the water’s surface I noticed the streamlined shape of a rather small dolphin. My friends backed into the clear water wearing their equipment. I dropped anchor a few meters down on the sandy bottom and I was far away from them. Just like the last time, I descended quickly and slid vertically to sit down on the bottom.

I was certain it was “the” little dolphin. He seemed a little disconcerted by the bubbles from the scuba tanks and hesitated a bit before coming toward me. As soon as he recognized me, he placed his rostrum between my stretched-out arms, stared at me and made all kinds of sounds typical of his species.

This wonderful reunion only lasted a few instants, because my friends came along and broke the magical silence of breathlessness with their racket of bubbles. The dolphin didn’t like that and he disappeared from the scene. I let him go. This time, the little dolphin didn’t even accompany us to the reef. Still, I was satisfied and promised myself that I would return in a few days.

Since I am somewhat familiar with the way dolphins react and behave–sometimes inexplicable to humans–I thought it would be better for me to return to the spot with the same breath-hold diver as before, Bull Joint. That way, all three of us could recreate the situation. The dolphin’s reaction to the divers with their tanks made me realize what was wrong. I thought he had probably met other local breath-hold divers who were there to dive for lobsters, but certainly not scuba divers because fishing with scuba gear is illegal.

So Bull Joint and I returned to Iguana Cay to camp out and enjoy ourselves while we fished, especially with the hope of seeing “our” little dolphin again. We were very disappointed because he never showed up. After spending 24 hours there, we decided to go back to South Caicos.

A few weeks later we heard that a very similar situation occurred, but much further to the north in a small sheltered bay off North Caicos. Several local divers were trapping lobsters under the water using their hooks. They played with a young wild dolphin for a few hours. This happened again several times at different locations and it became obvious it was the same dolphin.

Over a few months, we heard credible reports of the same kind of event. A few years later, the news became “official”: A dolphin of average size (he certainly had grown a bit!) was consistently being seen near the Club Mediterranee that had just opened on the other side of the Caicos Bank to the west off the coast of Providenciales island.

One fine day I was near the Club with a diver friend who was also an amateur filmmaker. I had made a kind of underwater wing, a small glider, for him out of wood so that he could be towed by a boat along the surface or underwater and have a good look at the sea floor.

A wild and lone dolphin got attracted by this strange vehicle and swam right toward us. I recognized him immediately: he was certainly “our” little dolphin (who had grown). Leaving my friend with his board and camera, I let myself sink quickly and was on sand five meters below the surface.

Just as though our first meeting was yesterday (even though several years had already gone by), the dolphin reacted the same way and came between my wide-open arms. I was in seventh heaven!

* * *

I later found out that the lone dolphin was actually looking for human company. He was even given the name Jojo (like the famous giant grouper in Jacques Cousteau’s first film, “The World of Silence”).
I never had any real proof, such as photos, ID cards or other such silly official documents that this was actually the same dolphin. But I knew it was him and it was all the proof I personally needed. In fact, he was simply a citizen of the sea world where freedom and freedom of choice reign. The animal in question–let’s also call him Jojo if you like–continued to fascinate me for the next 20 years he swam around these Islands.

jojovDuring my many boat trips in the archipelago, I sometimes ran into him in the most unexpected places, often a 100 kilometers away from his home around the Club Med. If possible, we would always greet him under the water using our method, but that was all because I have total respect for his freedom.

Of course, I do not want to be hypocritical! Jojo also served as an unpaid actor for several international documentary productions about me, including working for the Japanese who adored him. In fact he has now become very popular in Japan!

He was even a co-star in a French television production on Canal Plus. His behavior surprised us all! There was one scene in which Jojo dived down to 35 meters right beside me, following my 25-kilo weighted line which is a kind of sled with a braking system that slides freely on the way down along a cable guide.

After my last experimental dive down to 105 meters, I’d always dreamed of being able to dive down to at least 60 meters with a weighted sled or of doing it freestyle, accompanied by a dolphin. I always thought the dream could come true with Jojo. But all sorts of problems, mainly the official documents, red tape if you will, prevented it from happening.

It was not until the early 1990s that I was able to do the impossible: pull together all the permits required by the TCI government, the diving technicians and the filmmakers from Canal Plus to arrange a serious expedition to Providenciales to film at least one descent of myself, pulled by a 25-kilo weighted sled, with Jojo at my side, along a guide-line, to an unspecified depth.

It took several days of preparations to select the ideal site, near the drop-off, 40 meters down. Mr. Jojo was not always available! I had brought my highly sophisticated yellow sled back from Italy. You may have seen it in the film “The Big Blue.” Jojo is excessively curious by nature, and had never seen a contraption quite like this.

I certainly did not want to scare him or bore him, because he tires quickly of anything new, before the crucial filming episode, scheduled to last no more than three minutes. Before getting into the water on the small platform on the stern, I introduced my sled to Jojo. With his head out of the water, he analyzed it in detail. Then I got into the water, at his side. The sled was inserted onto the cable and held 50 centimeters from the surface.

Jojo and I were floating on our stomachs on the surface. A cameraman had already begun shooting. Two others were spaced along the cable and the last was 35 meters down on the orange finish disk which would suddenly stop the fall of the weight sliding along the cable.

When I gave the signal, the weight was released and began the descent into the blue. I hung on to it, turned my head and saw Jojo at my side, exhilarated and determined to follow me. Ten meters: Jojo was still there, looking at me out of the corner of his eye. Twenty meters: the bubbles from the cameraman’s tanks were blowing in our faces. At one point I thought Jojo would leave me, but I was wrong! He loved this new game! Thirty meters: I could begin to feel really the pressure on my eardrums. I envied Jojo, who didn’t seem to have any problem coping! Thirty-five meters: I stopped the braking mechanism of the sled and we gently reached the orange disk where we spent a long while together for the “souvenir” photo.

I began to pull myself back up along the cable, moving my flippers from time to time, staring at Jojo all the while, almost until we arrived at the surface. The dive was not even three minutes long, but it was a complete success. The purpose of this very expensive and complicated mission was accomplished. Thanks to Jojo!

And then Mr. Jojo surprised us all! As if he understood that all of us had taken a little advantage of him, he looked at us disdainfully and disappeared, pouting, for a few minutes.

As a precautionary measure for the shooting, we wanted to repeat the scene. Nothing doing! Jojo had no intention of doing it over again. Nor was he interested in the sled anymore, despite my insistence. He simply left the plateau and quietly swam toward the coast!

Everyone in the Caicos Islands knows Jojo the dolphin, from the humble lobster fisherman to the American multimillionaire who built his luxury home at the edge of the magnificent beaches along Providenciales and Pine Cay.

He even enjoys popularity among the dogs, including those who do not hesitate to jump into the water from the beach to go and take a closer look at him. There was that white terrier who used to keep Jojo company for hours. Just to play together along the Pine Cay beach or even go far from the coast, swimming alongside each other.

I spent a long time admiring them, meditating on the “pure” relations between species. I told my friend and Japanese painter Shomei Yoh about it. He too is a great lover of nature, dolphins and the canine species. His books, with few words and a very simple style, with illustrated images that make people stop and think, are widely read in Japan.

Even though he never visited the Caicos Islands (but I told him so much about them and Jojo, it’s as if he were there), his philosophy on life, nature and “ten thousand things from Tao” is such that I was unable to resist including a few of the drawings in the book. I consider them to be absolute gems.


HOMO DELPHINUS The Dolphin Within Man (ISBN 1-928649-03-3) was a tremendous success in Italy, France, Russia and Japan. The English translation finally became available in 1999, also to widespread interest. The oversized (9 1/2″ x 13 1/2″), hard cover, coffee-table book is packed with 300 color illustrations in its 380 pages. List price is $95.00. In Providenciales, the book is sold at the Unicorn Book Store and Beaches Gift Shop or at Club Vacanze in North Caicos. It can also be purchased via www.amazon.com or www.thejacquesmayol.com. For more information, contact Idelson-Gnocchi Publisher at candotti@worldnet.att.net.


JoJo is a wild and uniquely sociable dolphin who lives in the waters of the Turks & Caicos Islands. Dean Bernal, JoJo’s officially appointed warden states, “JoJo’s protection and continued existence in our waters has brought international recognition to the Islands. The continued protection of JoJo and his habitat has both important practical and symbolic meaning which carries far beyond the Turks & Caicos.”

Please remember, if you see JoJo, only observe him and do not harass him. He is a wild animal and a highly protected National Treasure to the Turks & Caicos.

The JoJo Project is an International Dolphin, Whale and Wildlife Project working for marine and habitat protection and with the unique sociable dolphins in the world.

For more information, see JoJo’s web site at www.jojo.tc or www.jojodolphin.org.

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