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About A Week: Dolphins

“What a shock to human vanity if visitors arrive from outer space and plunge into the sea to commune with its creatures, ignoring us and our problems…’’ Peter Hinchliffe writes about those wonderful creatures, dolphins.

Frenchman Bernard Moitessier had an astonishing encounter with porpoises while competing in the first solo round-the-world yacht race in 1968.

As he sailed his 39-foot-long ketch Joshua off the southern tip of New Zealand dark clouds obscured a view of Stewart Island.

A school of porpoises, perhaps a hundred of them, appeared around the boat. The creatures made whistling and clicking noises, turning the water white with their leaps and splashes.

The porpoises gave Moitessier a show the like of which he had never seen before. Twenty-five of them swam in a line off his starboard side, veering off sharply to the right.

They lined up to repeat the manoeuvre time after time, veering to the right. Always to the right.

The other porpoises in the school were behaving in a nervous and erratic manner.

The boat had been steering itself, guided by a wind vane. Moitessier checked his compass, something he had not done for a while. The wind had shifted. Joshua was racing north, not east, heading towards the reefs of South Trap.

The yachtsman altered course, steering to the east, making a right turn.

The porpoises calmed down. They behaved in their usual playful way, staying with him for three hours until he was past South Trap and its dangers.

Amazing creatures, porpoises. Likewise their cousins, the dolphins.

* Dolphins seem to have a sense of humour. They have been known to slide up behind an unsuspecting pelican, snatch its tail feathers, then let it go.

They also grab fish by the tail and pull them backwards and annoy turtles by rolling them over and over.

A dolphin was seen to place a piece of squid near a rocky cranny in which a grouper lived. When the fish came out of its hiding place the dolphin snatched up the bait and swam away, doubtless chuckling.

* Dolphins stroke each other with their flippers, revealing a need for physical contact, much like humans.

* Dolphins are among the few creatures which recognise themselves in mirrors. Researchers at a marine laboratory in New York marked two bottle-nosed dolphins with black ink. Different marks were put on them on different days. The dolphins swam to mirrors to examine the latest markings.

Someone suggested that dolphins and porpoises wear happy grins because they understand our language and are patiently waiting for us to learn theirs.

Maybe we should pay more attention to their lifestyle. They don’t fill their days with work, houses, highways, cars, crime, credit cards…

Their food is readily available. They get it without endless hours of toil.

They have three-quarters of the planet’s surface in which to roam and play.

So which is the lucky species? Mankind, or dolphins and porpoises?

By the way, can anyone tell me why we call our home Earth when 75 per cent of its surface is Sea?

What a shock to human vanity if visitors arrive from outer space and plunge into the sea to commune with its creatures, ignoring us and our problems.

Perhaps there was something of the dolphin in Bernard Moitessier. He could have won that first solo round-the-world non-stop Golden Globe race.

Instead of finishing it and pocketing £10,000 he turned back to sail towards the Pacific.

Content to be at sea.


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