Magazine article Natural History

Who's Watching Whom?

Magazine article Natural History

Who's Watching Whom?

Article excerpt

To make ends meet during the summer-a season when graduate students like me often lack funding-I took the job of "natural-ist" aboard the Juliet. The 104-foot, steel-hulled, three-masted schooner embarks out of Miami each week. Carrying about fifteen passengers, mostly scuba divers, she leapfrogs along the reefs of the turquoise and teal-ribboned waters of the Bahamas.

When your life is at sea, time passes differently, and every voyage is unique, even if you've been in the same waters hundreds of times. But some of those moments stick to your soul and change your perspective forever. Such an event began one sunset when the Juliet was anchored in preparation for a night dive: suddenly a pod of more than one hundred dolphins came toward the schooner from all sides. My shipmates and I watched as they jumped and dove, surrounding our boat; and then, in a matter of minutes, they vanished into the dying embers on the horizon. For the next three days, about ten dolphins-primarily Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis)-paid us a visit two or three times each day.

When someone spotted "our" dolphins, the dive master and I would each grab a mask, snorkel, and fins, and with an approving nod from Captain John, we'd leap overboard. Typically, dolphins in the wild ignore humans. Yet in my struggle to keep up with the creatures, I accidentally hit on a way to get their attention. I would freedive down about fifty feet-and here's the key-kicking with my legs and feet locked together, like a dolphin. seeing this, seven or eight members of the small pod would immediately rush towards me and then swim alongside, clicking and squeaking.

If I turned, they'd turn; if I spun, they'd spin. They nailed my every move. When I ran out of breath, I'd head up. Some of my escorts would bolt ahead with effortless flicks of their tails. Those defectors would wait in a circle near the surface, and watch as I emerged in its center for much-needed air. …

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