Friday, June 24, 2011

Poor Darlings and Dolphins

Dr Tabubil came to spend a week with us in her Time Off between night and day shifts.  She flew down straight off her last night shift and stumbled off the plane looking like the prototypical walking zombie, and largely slept her way through the next week.  Poor Darling.
            Between restorative naps and fourteen fabulously uninterrupted hours a night, she and I spent our time down at the water.   The very first evening, after she'd "Not been asleep, really, I swear!" for an hour and forty-five minutes on the sofa underneath two quilts and a sleeping bag (I may have mentioned that she's a Queenslander.  She's never felt much affection for winter weather,  Poor Darling.) I dragged her out of the house and down to the foreshore to look for dolphins. 
            It was an evening worth getting out of bed for. After two weeks of stiff north winds the air was still and the water was as smooth and clear as a pane of glass.  We walked out onto the jetty and leaned over the rail and watched the big red cuttlefish jetting across the sandy seafloor between the fields of sea grass. 
            We'd hoped for dolphins at the boat ramp where the sports fishermen come in, but there were no boats - and so no dolphins.  On an evening like this one, everyone with a boat was out at sea.  So we hung on the jetty rails, counting cuttlefish and counting clouds.  A laconic fisherman with a hand line caught our eyes and nodded out toward the bay - and there they were,  a fully grown female and an mostly grown  baby, standing on their tails in the water underneath the jetty and begging for fish.

            Or not begging for fish - fishermen tossed them freshly caught whiting, but the dolphins ignored the offerings - they bowed to the fishermen and  stood up higher on their tails and let the fish sink past them into the deep water, while the baby swam in rings around its mother and played keep-away with her tail.  They were simply being sociable, killing time until the boats started to come in.

And soon enough, one did.  The dolphins rolled onto their bellies and dove deep.  A minute later we heard the sound of an outboard motor, far away, and soon it came into sight - shining chrome and fresh white paint, with the rest of our local dolphin pod surfing on its wake.

Dr Tabubil and I followed the boat through the marina to the boat ramp.  The whole pod was there for the party, five adult females and three babies, two so small and new that they were still working out the whole complicated swimming thing - they thought it was marvelous, but hadn't quite nailed down all the technicalities and lost momentum in their curvettes and their loops.
            From a dolphin's perspective, it wasn't much of a speedboat.  Three small whiting, offered over the side, and that was it.  The aunties nosed over to the pontoon ramp and gazed  up at us, eye to eye, and then, bored with the extremely limited entertainment, rolled sideways and headed back out into the open water.

The two smallest babies weren't half way done.  They thought that the marina was fine.  They were puppies, roughhousing and wrestling, playing chase and keep-away around and around and around the marina.  An auntie stayed behind to mind them - or rather, to mind US up on the pontoon, in case we had designs upon the babies.  She lay on the water at the side of the pontoon, with one calm eye staring into mine, breathing deep dolphin breath onto my face.

The babes became terribly bored with wrestling, every three minutes or so, and ran sprints between the pontoons, ending when they tried a loop and became stuck there, half-in and half out of the water.  One great sideways waggle and they were back in motion, but the moment was lost and it was time to sit on each other and give terrible, squeaky batterings with fin and nose and tail.  Gradually, their rumbistications drifted outward toward the open water, and with one last deep fishy breath, the auntie dropped under the surface of the water and moved to follow them out to sea. 

A woman trudged down the boat ramp with a plastic bag full of frozen bait fish.
            "Do you think the dolphins would eat them?"  She asked us.
            We held out the fish popsicles, but the dolphins were entirely disinterested, heading out for open water and accelerating.
            A pelican on the next pontoon over was all interest.  He shifted from one great blue foot to the other, and spread his wings and opened his great beak and shook out his enormous crop - that pelican thought we were the greatest things on land or sea. 
            Dr Tabubil and I headed for dry land.  We didn't know what it would feel like to find your crop fill of cold frozen fish, but we didn't want to be around when he found out.  Pelicans can have nasty tempers.  And very sharp beaks.  And carry grudges.  Poor Darlings.

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