Monday, March 7, 2011

Sharing a Bowride with Dolphins

From Hardy Jones

The following is a brief sample of my forthcoming book, The Voice of the Dolphins. First one to tell me who is the true voice of the dolphins gets a free DVD of The Dolphin Defender, our show on NATURE.

The year was 1978 - our first encounter with the spotted dolphins with whom we would maintain contact for more than thirty years.

Dolphins intercepted our course, and took up positions on both sides of the bow, keeping pace with barely a flick of their tail flukes, pushed along like surfers by the pressure wave made by Albury’s forward motion. We cruised for ten minutes and shot two magazines of film, but there were only so many ways to photograph the same action. Then Jack McKenney had an idea: he and I could hang by our arms from the rope off the witch’s cradle under the bowsprit and suspend ourselves in the water to share the bow wave with the dolphins. It might scare them off, or it might be seen as initiation of a game.
With barely a thought that if we lost our grip, we’d be run over and pulled through the ship’s propellers, we lowered ourselves into the glassy waters. The dolphins barely reacted, moving only slightly to the side or ahead of us. After a moment, they settled back into their former positions, including Jack and me in their formations. I was beyond ecstatic. I had passed through the looking glass and entered a parallel universe.
Two dolphins swam just in front of me, mottled shadows two feet under water. Another surfaced and blew just an arm’s length to my right. The warm, salty Bahamian waters lifted us, and the pull of the boat allowed us to skim along the surface. My arms felt strong. The sun made the world warm with golden light. I wanted to freeze or distill this moment to somehow hold on to it.
I stuck my head underwater and rolled to the side. The dolphins became excited and barraged me with sonar. A youngster bolted in from the stern wake and nearly touched me before its mother called it away. More dolphins arrived, and now it was clear we had reached the middle of their territory, so Mike slowed the boat and Ray dropped anchor. The dolphins lingered and began to play among themselves only a few feet from Albury. My own private moments with the dolphins came to an end as the rest of our crew jumped into the water. Excited, the dolphins responded, pink bellies flashing against the deep turquoise background.
We swam with the dolphins as the sun melted into the horizon. Jack and Jim filmed, but the rest of us sought out individual dolphins. Both dolphins and humans were more relaxed than during first contact. The mood of the encounter reflected the calm clarity of the sea. Perhaps we had gone through the introductory stage of excitement and wonder and could now begin to get to know one another in a calmer mood. We looked the dolphins in the eye, and they looked back. Although it was only a day after our first meeting, it felt like a reunion in the open sea, more than thirty miles from land.