dolphin day

photo-heavy post in which i attempt to recreate a once-in-a-lifetime experience for my readers. you kinda had to be there, but… this is my best representation of what it was like, to see them coming from the distance, from far away off the port side. wait, what? we’re 21 nautical miles offshore, it’s supposed to be all empty and blue out here. but they kept coming, and coming, and coming…

then there were hundreds of dolphins crossing our bow

when i worked on schooners, there were standing orders to “wake mb if we see any whales or dolphins.” i was only 4 days into this trip a decade later, and a half hour earlier the mate had called down “where’s mary beth? there’s a whale breaching!” ha, i guess it’s written all over me. later, after the dolphins interrupted our trawl work twice in a row, i was dubbed “mammal magnet” and sent below with my camera so we could get some work done. 🙂 anyway, since i happily already had my camera strapped around my neck due to the humpback whale’s performance (i’ll show those eventually i’m sure), i was able to catch these photos. because goodness knows i would not have left the deck to go and fetch it! i know once-in-a-lifetime when i see it! (though i’d love to see that many more times!)

did i say from the port side? why, these dolphins are coming from starboard! ahh yes, then they doubled back. on us, on each other, it was insane. what does it look like when a thousand dolphins change direction in near-synchrony? oh, the things that can’t be captured in photos. the movement, the over and over again-ness of their leaping. the way the sound increases until there is splashing right below you and you can clearly tell the exhalations apart from the splashing… the feeling of magic in the air… you know, those things.  (the photo above is the one i posted friday, it just seems to want to be posted in very large format!)

for those of you keeping score, you are looking at pacific white-sided dolphins Lagenorhynchus obliquidens, and northern right-whale dolphins Lissodelphis borealis. the huge group we saw contained several hundred, maybe a thousand (the other mammalogist on board and i both arrived at the same estimate, so we think it’s pretty sound) individuals, and apparently it’s “common” to observe these two species co-occurring. that sounds so sterile- co-occurring? a colleague supplied a term i like a lot more: a jubilee. it (and the humpback we saw moments before, and all the anchovies we were catching in our own nets nearby) indicates good feeding grounds. the above photo shows both species in one shot, with the white-sided dolphins in the background and a mama-calf pair of right-whale dolphins in the foreground- they are the ones sans dorsal fin (smooth back) and darker in color (shown again below, cropped).

which brings me to one of my favorite shots in which a white-sided and a right-whale dolphin are jumping side by side. the group consisted of far more white-sided dolphins (or that’s what we could see at the surface), who all seemed to be jumping in formation, while the right-sided dolphins would sometimes break into crazy acrobatics (none of which i really caught very well on film). i just love this inter-species pair leaping in synchrony (cropped):

that’s the only acrobatic stunt i managed to capture, but believe me, they were doing a lot of it, and much more twirly and magical. you know, because they were moving and stuff. (still photography has its limitations…)

a cacophony of free beings at play, as far as the eye could see. ok, i know that’s very anthropomorphic of me. do i look like i am going to take that back?

and just as mysteriously, they began to recede

with a few rogue swimmers cruising briefly across our bow, where we could hear every exhale…

and inhale (that’s how you know you’re really close) and then… they were gone.

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