Animal Studies Bibliography

DeMares, Ryan. 2000. Human Peak Experience Triggered By Encounters with Cetaceans. Anthrozoos. 13(2): 89-103.

Reviewed by: Amy Fitzgerald

In this article, DeMares explores the unexamined phenomenon of animals serving as triggers for peak experiences. Abraham Maslow was the pioneering researcher of peak experience. DeMares focuses on spontaneous encounters with cetaceans (whales and dolphins). He interviewed six individuals and recounts their narratives. He analyzed his data using phenomenological reduction (which he explains in detail). Five themes emerged from this analysis: reciprocity of process, intention, connectedness, aliveness, and harmony.

DeMares explains, Connecting with another being and ultimately being fully connected within oneself is the underlying desire of the cetacean-triggered peak experience. The feelings that are part of this process intention, eye contact, connectedness, aliveness, and harmony provide the human with validation and a benchmark against which personal growth can be measured (page 94). DeMares describes the five emergent themes as follows: (1) Intention the cetacean seems to be present specifically for the benefit of the human, and seems to have a message or lesson to impart; (2) Reciprocity of Process this is characterized mainly by eye contact. This eye contact elicits a positive emotional response, rather than being interpreted as being threatening, and creates a bond that is felt with the animal; (3) Connectedness the human percipient develops an enduring sense of connectedness with the animal which is generalized to all others of the species; (4) Aliveness the human percipient feels a sense of aliveness through their feelings of their experience of awe, elation or unconditional love; (5) Harmony this is evident in the animals' relationship to each other and with the environment, and it is measurable in humans as an inner state that is considered optimal and results from spontaneous unfolding of being through self-determined actions (page 97).

DeMares concludes that the human-cetacean peak encounter incorporates the elements of the emotional peak, demonstrating that cetaceans can serve as triggers for peak experiences. He also concludes that certain species are more likely to trigger peak experiences. One hypothesis is that a positive correlation exists between species that hold the greatest fascination and species that trigger peak experiences.


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