Monday, September 14, 2020

Tasting The Salt Life Part 3: The Hundreth Dolphin


Mind you, I've been vacationing in Bokeelia, that little redneck version of Sanibel Island, since I was 18 years old. Before that time, I knew little or nothing about salt water, except what you could learn from going to the beach. Pam's family brought me into the fold, and showed me how to catch snook, how to fish the sandbars, and learn about all of the wildlife. There is so much to see and know, and yet, I can still be amazed after all of these years. Buddy the dolphin, was a unicorn as far as I knew. I've kayaked, surfed, and paddleboarded all over Florida and never saw a dolphin that would give you the time of day..Buddy was different. Buddy could work a crowd, and entice you to give up whatever you had left in the hold...especially if there was a girl in the boat. There have been other dolphins that would hang around and snatch fish after you took them off the hook, but that was different than this guy. I thought he was a singularity, a hurt dolphin that had been nursed back to health and released by Mote Marine or something like that. What happened this trip blew my mind.

There was a story I heard back in my college days (you can look this up on Wikipedia), in Psychology class. Some scientists that were studying monkeys on an island came up with the idea that once a new behavior was shared to 100 monkeys, it became something they all knew. There is even a book called 'The Hundreth Monkey'...but the idea is that at some point a behavior can be observed and repeated and soon enough everybody is doing it. After this trip to the southwest islands of Florida, I'm wondering how many more years before we reach the hundreth dolphin.

As I later found out, the dolphin at the Icehouse wasn't Buddy. Nope, Buddy was still out in the Boca Grande pass working his magic on the boaters there. The thing was that you could tell that Buddy was an older dolphin merely by looking at him and his battle scars. The dolphin at the Icehouse was a young dolphin with smooth skin and no age spots. And...Buddy would let you pet him. He'd probably climb in the boat if there was enough fish in there to make it worth the effort. Did Buddy have offspring? Or were there two released dolphins making their stake in separate areas of the harbor?

I got the answer on our third day out, when we ventured to an area called 'Twin Pines'. We raced across the flat calm water, giving no mind to the already building thunderhead clouds above, figuring an epic day of fishing would be worth the chance of getting caught in a storm. Twin Pines is merely a spot on a map, but there were already a few boats working the spot, so we cut the motor and started some drift fishing. First cast, Dusty had a fish on that broke his line. Dustin is a born boat captain, and when he hooks a fish, it's always a monster and is always most likely a tarpon. He is very good at telling you about the strike, and how the fish is attempting a run at the boat, and what a challenge it will be to get it in the boat. Now, in the family I married into, the prescribed behavior for situations like this is to chant our encouragement when someone hooks a big fish. It goes like this "Catfish! Catfish! Catfish!". Dusty would loved to have proved us wrong, but his line broke and as he examined the cut line, he vowed that it must have been the biggest tarpon that ever swam those waters and nothing less than 150 lbs could have severed that expensive braided line he had on his pole. He was totally wound up and we probably would still be there trying to catch that tarpon if something more exciting didn't happen right then. The rest of us in the boat had been catching small trout, none that you could keep, and we kept seeing a dolphin hanging around the boat. I was sure it was just taking those trout as we tossed them back, but soon she actually came right up to the boat...with her baby. We tossed out some of our live bait, and my eyes went wide as I watched mom push the fish towards the baby's mouth. She was teaching the baby how to take fish from us. Even at that moment, I thought, "hmmmm, is that the best thing to do?", but if dolphins have one thing on their side, it is cuteness....we were helpless against the creatures with the built-in happy smile...




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