Feb 8, 2013

Dolphins at Dawn

Dolphins at dawn
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/echeng/303368934/

I drove up to the beach at dawn.  It was foggy, and light offshore winds gave the waves a majestic quality.  Smooth misty winds clipped off the top of a breaking wave, and the spray settled delicately back into the ocean.

I paddled out, nearly alone in the vast lineup.  I ducked under a wave and to my surprise, a dolphin was waiting to greet me.  He looked ahead and breathed, exhaling from his dorsal blowhole–  a deep, crisp woosh– as he dipped back under water.  He wasn't alone; more than a dozen dolphins surfaced unpredictably around me.  They came up close– close enough to nudge me.  Some were huge– up to 9 feet long.  They weren't the pristine specimens that you see on TV.  Instead they had tattered fins and deep-set eyes that suggested a hard life.  They showed each other great love.  They nuzzled each other with their long snouts, and tumbled over one another in an odd slow motion dance.  It looked like playing, though they were probably protecting each other from what lay in the depths below.  They dove underwater and flicked their tails, splashing their mates.  The pod was largely paired off, and it seemed that they had been together for a long time.

A swell lumbered towards me and the pod.  The dolphins instinctively snapped to attention, and glided into the wave.  I saw 6 dolphins flow naturally and gracefully through it.  I thought they were playing– surfing– as I have seen dolphins do many times before.  I paddled over the wave, turned my head and saw 50 fish shoot into the air.  The fish lashed this way and that, straining and gulping to get an extra inch into the air.  Some looked as if their eyes were bulging from their bodies from the effort.  Two dolphins arced out of the water.  Snap.  Each was rewarded with a meal, as 48 lucky fish rained back down into the sea.

I had often watched dolphins and other porpoises hunt in teams on BBC Life, but it was something else to experience it first-hand.  For 20 minutes, their fishing session proceeded.  I didn't want to disturb them nor add any more scars to their already weathered hides with my fins, so I didn't catch any waves.    Instead, I paddled towards the pod and just watch.  I was entangled in a moment that seemed to last an eternity.  When they had had their fill, the dolphins left and didn't look back.  I like to think that this is how my dolphins spend all of their time– jubilant, loving, hunting when necessary, undisturbed by the occasional human spectator.  I imagine their lives are harder than mine has ever been– fighting to survive everyday, trapped in a treacherous icy mass of water.  I may not know the truth, but I'm a dreamer, and I'll see my jubilant pod another day.


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