Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Playing to the Crowd

Now that we know they are out there, Mr Tabubil and I see the dolphins all the time. At mid-afternoon, they're gliding through the water underneath the fishing jetty, or running time trials up and down the rock wall of the breakwater. In the early evening we go down to watch them follow the fishing boats in and skulk around the pontoon jetty while the sailors haul the boats out of the water.
            A few weeks ago we took Mr and Mrs Tabubil-in-law down to the boat ramp to meet the dolphins. The whole pod was there that evening - three grown ups, one half-grown teenager and the brand new baby. There was a big crowd of humans on the pontoon and we watched the adult dolphins playing in the water for the children. We grown ups they ignored. But for the children, the dolphins were jumping and curvetting and rolling and standing on their tails - they were practically doing somersaults. The children screamed in excitement and the louder they howled the higher the dolphins leaped and the tighter they rolled. They were - there was no other word for it - showing off.

And the baby dolphin was everywhere. Upside down and sideways, practicing its own swoops and dives and somersaults, swooping up through the water and losing momentum halfway through an upstroke. It simply wasn't long enough for a proper porpoise and stalled half-under, half-above the water it would flap, hugely, with its whole body to drive down below the water. And its concentration was simply terrible; half-way through a high speed run along the dock it would forget where it was going and decide - abruptly - to do something else and do a little flop in the water and dash off - sideways and upside down again.
            There was also a predatory pelican in the party, stomping flat-footed around the pontoon and calculating that anything in your hand was a fish (one fisherman had fed him a small leftover whiting, which was probably a mistake) and tried to eat Mr Tabubil's camera. It took a beak-ful of arm instead - and spat out the nasty plastic jacket. Mr Tabubil matched it stare for nasty glare.
            Pelicans have a mad animal intelligence. They look hard at you and you flinch to look back. You see the hook of their beak in their eyes. Dolphins meet your eyes and examine you while you examine them. Looking a dolphin in the eye is like looking at a man from a far-away country - a familiar, if foreign, intelligence. You have no conversation or common conventions - should you smile? Shrug? Avert your eyes? Put your hand out boldly for a shake? Do any of these things mean to him any of the things you mean them to? And when he gets bored and walk away - you don't know what it was you did or what you didn't or if you didn't meet his hopes or if you presented yourself exactly has he expected that you would. They are kin to us, but they speak ocean, not land.

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