HUNTING WITH SPINNER DOLPHINS
Forty miles from the Pacific shores of Costa Rica, I am about to experience what the local fishermen call "a happening." I ease off the end of the drifting boat into blue water 2,000 feet deep, just ahead of an advancing school of dolphin. The water is quiet. It appears as clear and insubstantial as air; the uninitiated would surely fear an immediate plunge into the abyss.
Suddenly, the silence is broken by sea birds, screeching and wheeling into high-speed dives. As they crash through the water around me, I see a blue football-shaped tuna squirt by, followed by others of increasing size. Now the ocean is full of yellowfin tuna streaking beneath me, intent on driving up the bait fish layered a hundred feet below.
A giant tuna, weighing over 200 pounds, changes direction and swims toward me. He turns just a few feet away and presents an image of incredible beauty. Dancing shafts of penetrating surface light play over his cobalt blue body. His center and finlets are highlighted in intense canary yellow. In a second he is gone, called to join his mates in the hunt below. There are fewer tuna streaking by now; their departure is heralded by an increasing cacophony of clicks and whistles as the dolphin catch up and feast on the morsels left behind by the marauding tuna ahead.
There are at least a thousand spinner dolphins in the approaching school. Many of them prove that they are appropriately named by making spectacular vertical and horizontal leaps incorporating multiple, twisting mid-air spins. A vanguard of seven adult males protects the school by challenging me with their penetrating clicking and close circling behavior. They quickly lose interest and rejoin the main school, its members swimming and leaping by. There are many pups sheltered against their mothers' sides. A surprising number of dolphin are engaged in sexual intercourse, with the female on the surface and the male undulating below, as they, too, speed by.
Within three minutes "the happening" is over. The animals are traveling at a speed of six knots. It is quiet again. Only fish scales remain, a mute testament to the passing of this ancient ritual. The flurry of iridescent blue and purple sequins shimmer and dance in the reflected sunlight as they slowly make their way to the ocean floor a third of a mile below.
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