A Blip on the Radar (Blip# 35) “Die with the Dolphins (2) “

Posted on May 7, 2011

A Blip on the Radar

Blip# 35 “Die with the Dolphins (2) ”

Surrounded and blinded by bubbles, he thought only of his mouthpiece. Experimentally, he sucked air, and relief flooded through him as his lungs expanded normally.
The bubbles occasioned by his mighty splash entry abated a little, and now he could see that he was on his side, still heading down beneath the waves. Now he could see the black ominous net below him, spreading out like a malevolent creature, that probed into the pale blue distance. Visibility underwater was surprisingly good. But something was wrong. He seemed to be popping back up to the surface too fast. He was too light…
Instinctively, he reached down to check his weight belt. It was gone. His crazy, wild, slithering , splashing entry must have somehow jerked the release lever. His first thought was:

“Well, that’s the end of THAT! “

It would be impossible to dive, and swim the depths, without the weights. Then he looked underwater. There, caught in a fold of the net, lay his blue weight belt! He tried to swim down, but was unable to. There was still air in his jacket, plus he was now in a state of positive boyancy. He looked back towards the ship, and realized that if he would only swim back a few yards, that he could then grab the net, and probably lever himself down hand-over-hand towards where his weight belt lay…

It took some effort but soon, head down, he had managed to pull himself along, hand over hand towards the fold that contained his target. He had to extend his arm completely down into the fold, and was aware as he did so that the net was extended tight and being hauled inwards rapidly. His hand closed over the belt, and, relieved, he swam further away from the ship, watching the net falling away into the abyss. He re-donned the weight belt quickly, mentally grateful to his old instructor for how often he had practized the same manoeuvre.

The swell was powerful, rocking him back and forth, and he quickly dumped more air from his BCD to sink deeper down into the blue depths. Visibility was good to astonishing. Maybe eighty to a hundred feet or so. His depth gauge read twenty feet, and now he could concentrate on finding the dolphins. He had no idea what he would do if and when he did find them, beyond some hazy idea of helping them find a way out.

A few minutes later he was down to fifty feet, and he had swum some distance from the ship.
He knew the net extended down to one hundred and fifty feet, and, at this stage, the set was still three or four hundred meters in diameter. It was a large volume of water, equivalent to a reasonable size office block. Somewhere within this building of nets and water, he had to find a handful of dolphins.
More time went by, and some small fish came by in loose formation. They had two horizontal blue stripes down their sides, and yellow forked tails. He wished he knew what they were.

Still on he swam, slowly and deliberately, both exultant and fearful in his aloneness. He knew he was inside a closed purse seiner net, but he could not see any part of it. Somewhere below him was an ominous floor of black, shiny net. Somewhere ahead of him was an impenetrable wall of net. But for now, he was alone in the sea, with no man made influence visible anywhere.
Still on he swam, searching everywhere, marveling at the uniqueness of the experience.

A school of Yellow Fin tuna went past below him. Several hundred fish, including some larger specimens each well over three feet. They swam in formation, still unhurried, with no sign of panic or bewilderment. That, unfortunately, would come later, he knew. Other fish appeared and disappeared. Some Skipjack tuna went by, smaller, but moving faster than the Yellow Fin. Still there was no sign of the opposite wall of net.
A shadow appeared in the distance, maybe eighty feet away. A large shadow. Another joined it, and then another.

A mental picture of sharks disturbed him. In his imagination, a large Oceanic White Tip shark was even now bearing down upon him. He had seen them before, whilst hovering low in the helicopter over a stricken humpback whale. The unusually large, smoothly rounded fins with white tips were unmistakable. Three of them had been tearing into the whale, which had blood pouring from a gaping wound. He knew the White Tips fed on Tuna and Mahimahi, and sometimes were attracted to the blood from the nets of purse seiners. He hoped none were about on this day.
The two shadows disappeared, and he changed course, and swam in their direction.

More minutes went by, until he started to wonder if he had in fact somehow swum out of the set. The disturbing thought came into his mind that he was now out in the open sea, heading away from the ship, being carried swiftly along by dangerous unknown currents. It seemed astonishing that he still had not reached the other side.

Then, almost as he was seriously considering reversing course, the net wall came into view. He swam up to it, and marveled at the oddness, the strangeness, of this geometrically perfect structure that reared up from unseen depths to an unseen top. At his depth, he could see neither top nor bottom, only an impenetrable, cruel, unfeeling wall of small, impersonal, mosaic like rectangles. His eyes seemed to play tricks on him as he tried to judge distance. The closer he swam to the net, the more his eyes seemed to become confused, causing the net to swim in and out of focus.

Was that what happened to fish, he wondered? Even as he turned away, he caught his breath as a large tan-coloured Manta Ray appeared, heading straight for him. It was the first time he had ever seen one under water, and he fought down an urge to panic. Rays were docile creatures, inoffensive as long as one did not provoke them. Some people liked to stroke them. Still, the ominous flapping winged shape with the long tail made him uncomfortable. He was glad when it changed course slightly. Then, much to his surprise, it aimed straight at the net, and swam full tilt into it! It seemed to really dent the even rectangular shape for a second, but then the wall sprang back to become the cold, impenetrable frontier of before. The ray started to swim along it, its long tail – the last two inches of which were bright white – gliding along behind the rhythmic flapping wings.

He shook himself. It was all so unreal. It was impossible that he was really doing this, diving in a closed purse seiner net, five hundred miles from land, somewhere north of Papua New Guinea in the Western Pacific Ocean…
He retraced his steps, and headed up towards the surface. Maybe the dolphin pup had surfaced again.

Maybe…. Then, suddenly, he saw them. Eight. Ten. Twelve. No, thirteen dolphins, including two pups. Huddled close together, the dolphins seemed indecisive, not knowing which way to go.
Slowly he swam towards them, trying to formulate a plan.
Above all, he must not alarm them. He had to try and swim slowly and smoothly.

And then what? Introduce yourself and shake flippers?

The sarcastic voice was back. A feeling of despair welled up again, increasing as the dolphins moved away as a group, swiftly disappearing into the distance. Once again he set off in pursuit, automatically checking his depth and air pressure. A few minutes later, the story repeated itself. He found the dolphins, huddled together, not moving in any particular direction. He would swim towards them, and they would move off and disappear from sight. Maybe they were nervous of him.
A third and a fourth time the same sequence unfolded, until he was forced to realize he was getting nowhere. All he was doing was reducing his supply of air. Air which he might well need later…

It would be wiser to surface, rest, and wait until the set became much smaller. He kicked slowly upwards, listening to the familiar hiss in his ears as his body outgassed excess nitrogen. He rested for a while at fifteen feet to aid a safe decompression process, and then listened hard for the sound of
a net boat engine. This was his next big worry. Being run over by one of the small net boats, and killed or seriously injured by the propeller. However, from fifteen feet he could see the surface very well.
Although the water carried many man made ship and winching sounds, they were distant. Nowhere could he see a small dark hull cutting through the water, or the powerful throb of a nearby diesel engine.
He decided it was safe to surface, and cautiously kicked upwards. His head broke the water for an instant, and then a large wave broke over him, its force overpowering him totally. He felt like a discarded bottle or can, bobbing about helplessly, at the mercy of far superior forces. Staying calm,
he fully inflated his BCD, and soon he was able to take stock of his surroundings.

He was in the middle of the set, which was still as large as before. He looked towards the ship, from which the tannoy blared forth a stream of angry instructions. They were having some kind of problem, and the winches were stopped. He decided to swim to the edge of the set, and wait things out there. The water was warm, so there was no problem with hypothermia. He could stay in the water a long time.

Fifty yards away, three, no, four dolphins surfaced simultaneously in line abreast, unhurriedly, smoothly, graciously… and dived once more. They were beautiful to watch. Sleek, shiny, harmless, gentle…
they had every right to be there. To live in the sea. To survive.
He groaned inwardly, and tried once more to formulate a plan. When the set became much smaller, maybe he could lean across the yellow bouys that marked the net edge, forcing the net down with his body weight. Then the dolphins might escape that way. It was a plan, anyway.

He studied the yellow buoys, and experimentally grabbed the cable that ran through them. Hauling down with all his strength, he managed to deflect the cable half an inch, whilst raising his body up.
No good. He tried throwing himself right across the cable, bringing his whole weight to bear.
The deflection downwards he achieved was less than six inches. Hopeless. The floats were not even remotely submerged. It was no use. Dispirited, he swam down the line towards a large red buoy.
Every one hundred meters or so, one three foot diameter red buoy helped the fishing master assess how much net he had played out. With no particular plan in mind, he reached one, and tried to climb onto it. After several futile attempts, which involved some clown-like manoeuvres, he gave up, and rested.

How in hell’s name…?

There just seemed no way for a diver to lower the net on his own. It needed some kind of assistance from the ship. Which was not going to come, he knew that…

Thirty minutes went by. The winches were working again, and whatever problem they had had, it had obviously been overcome. The dolphins surfaced at regular intervals, usually several at a time, diving again almost immediately. If it had not been for the terrible fate that he knew awaited them, he would have enjoyed watching the show. He would have been thrilled at his underwater close up observations. People went on very expensive holidays just on the off chance of catching fleeting glimpses of dolphins.
He had met some divers who had excitedly shown him their photographs. Small, distant, blurry specks you needed a microscope for to examine, had been presented as the crown jewels in a privileged private viewing. He had picked up the mood, and oohed and aahed at the appropriate intervals.
What would they say if he told them that he worked on a tuna ship, and saw dolphins quite often? That his ship occasionally murdered them casually, simply because they got in the way of profit making?
That here he floated, helplessly wondering what to damn well do next?

Oh, brother…

He was quitting, that’s what he was doing. He was getting the hell out of this business. He would just fly tourists for fifteen minute rides around Los Angeles, or fly traffic watch up and down the same freeway, or maybe instruct at a school. Anything was better than this…

Fifteen minutes later, the set was smaller again, and he decided to dive once more. This time he located the dolphins easily. They were all together again, all thirteen, seemingly indecisive but still calm. They looked at him as he approached slowly, and this time it was more difficult for them to simply disappear. They moved off, but he swam after them. They moved off again, and still he quietly pursued them. They were even more beautiful than he remembered. No captive dolphin he had ever seen in a small, concrete prison, came near to the splendor of these creatures in their own domain. There was a fluid grace, a supple flowing of a gentle life form, that spoke only of a desire to live in peace. A desire to protect and nurse the young. There was no malice, no badness, no cunning, no calculating intrigue. Just an intelligence that Man will never understand.

One of the dolphins, the largest one, slowly detached himself from the group, and swam slowly and purposefully towards Bob. Amazed, he stopped swimming, and hung there, his eyes almost popping out of his head. He felt no fear, only a force that scrutinised him. Assessed him. Was he a threat?
Did he constitute danger? He wanted to cry out, and shout that he only wanted to help. That the last thing he wanted was to see the dolphins die.
Despair hammered at his brain. He felt a communication between him and the dolphin.
He simply knew its…



“Something very strange is happening today. I am worried. There are noises here I do not like. I would like to take my family and swim away. But I cannot. There is something in the water. Something that blocks my way. No matter what way I swim, it is there, blocking my way. I don’t understand it. But I am worried. Worried for my family as well as myself.
Now there is this creature following us. I have never seen one before. I do not recognize it. Is it a threat? Does it want to hurt us? I don’t know. I need to investigate, carefully… “

The dolphin stopped fifteen feet away, and hung there, its head moving slowly from side to side, the watchful eyes clearly assessing Bob Meyrick in his ridiculous, clumsy, lumpy, non streamlined unnatural shape.

“It doesn’t look dangerous… It doesn’t behave very dangerously either… It’s a funny looking fish… looks awfully awkward… however… I’ve got other things on my mind… “

Another dolphin detached itself from the family group, and slowly swam over to join the first one. It too slowly moved its head from side to side, with its eyes watchful and examining.
Side by side the two dolphins scrutinised Bob, who was almost forgetting to breath, so startled and amazed was he at this scene mere feet below the waves.
The two dolphins looked at each other, and then, together, back at Bob. Then they looked at one another again, unhurriedly, and a wordless communication passed back and forth.

“No dear, I don’t think it’s dangerous. It’s not attacking us, or making threat movements, and I don’t think it’s even got any teeth… it’s clumsy too… I wouldn’t take any notice actually… “

Crazy thoughts raced through Bob’s mind. Telepathy? Could the dolphins pick up his thought waves? Could they sense his intentions?
Nonsense! Nitrogen narcosis! He had been down too long!

“I think we should be getting back to the others, dear… this creature is just an oddity… “

They turned away, and headed back to the rest of the group.

“Whatever you say, my love… “

In spite of himself, Bob bounced thoughts after them.
I only want to help… I think you are beautiful…. I’d do anything I could to help, but I just don’t know what… unless we get you out of here, you’re all going to drown…

The minutes crept by, and the set was closing all the time.
Now it was impossible for the thirteen dolphins to evade Bob. But they had far greater worries on their minds now. Horrendous noises cascaded down on them, close and loud. The straining and howling of the winches, the throb and grumble of the engines, even the blare of loudspeaker instructions, all rained down on the dolphins, whose puzzlement at this stage had to be extreme. Still, Bob marveled, their movements were composed, with no sign of panic. Only their heads turned this way and that, frequently
looking upwards at the source of all these strange and unnatural sounds. Sudden sounds, like a sudden howl, or metallic bang, or shouting over the loudspeaker, would cause many heads to turn and look up.
Every so often, four or five of the dolphins would surface, breath, and return back down to the family.

Bob, watching and waiting, was struck by their composure. They had to be concerned, upset, maybe frightened, maybe terrified… but still the mothers stuck close to their young, still the movements were fluid and composed… Only the heads, that turned, this way and that, frequently upwards, showed the level of their apprehension.

Now the skiffboat was arriving. This was no time to surface, and Bob knew it. He hurriedly checked his depth gauge. Twenty feet… he went down to thirty for comfort, and watched and listened as the unmistakable shape of the skiffboat motored in to take up station beside the lower working deck.
Now the top of the set was closing in. It was like a bag, with a narrow opening at the top, and a large, billowing bag slowly being pulled in. Common sense told Bob he should be getting out, but he was unable to leave. The net was now swirling and billowing in strange shapes, with tunnels forming, opening and closing. It was a dangerous place to be. He thought of his knife, and knew that he could always cut his way out. Assuming, his arms were not pinned by the force of cables or nets being hauled in… Every instinct told him he was being stupid, irresponsible, and asking for trouble.
But still he could not tear himself away…

Up to this point, the dolphins had always surfaced in the diminishing set. They had been able to breath, and return to their family. But now, with the top of the bag becoming more and more constricted,
suddenly their route to the surface was becoming blocked by a sloping roof of net. Bob flinched, knowing what had to happen.

The first dolphin to panic found its way upwards blocked, and instead of following the slope up to the small open water between the skiffboat and the mother ship, it tried to ram the net. It headbutted the net with increasing force and desperation, and suddenly its whole body movement spoke of raw panic. It moved desperately to another portion of net, and tried the ramming manouvre again. Bob was already moving towards it, as it slumped for a few seconds, its mouth tangled in the net, but it shot free, swept past him and rammed yet another section of net.
It was as if the panic was contagious. As if the first dolphin communicated its terror to all the others swiftly and with a means wholly unknown to Man.
Within seconds, dolphins were going crazy everywhere. They would ram the net in one place, then shoot off to another, and then shoot back to the first section. Astonishingly, two dolphins remained with the two calves. Only their head movements, now rapid and jerky, demonstrated their anxiety at the surrounding chaos.
Bob, watching in horror, was aware of the net billowing in and out into strange shapes.

This was no place for a diver to be. He decided to surface. Looking up he could see the skiffboat propeller had stopped, and that he could more or less safely ascend. He gave a last look around, despairingly, and
then he saw… the first dolphin succumb. He knew in a flash that it was drowning. Something in the way the head slumped, the mouth tangled in the net, was unmistakable. He swam across, and tried to grab the dolphin. But it was impossible to get a grip on the smooth, silk like surface. Pulling and pushing at the net and the dolphin, he managed to free it, but now the net was collapsing on top of him.
It was as if they were at the end of a tunnel in the net, with the mouth of the tunnel rapidly closing. If he stayed any longer, he would be cutting his way out. Common sense kicked in, and he quickly retreated into the main chamber of the shrinking net. He tried to grab another dolphin, but he could not get a grip. It came suddenly alive, and shot out of his grasp, and rammed the net five yards away.
Yellow Fin tuna and other fish were also beginning to panic now, and were whistling around his head like runaway torpedoes.
His own breathing rate, he realized, was way up. He was gulping air with the tremendous exertion, and now he was down to less than seven hundred pounds pressure. He tried grabbing another dolphin, with some vague idea of guiding it up to the surface, but it easily evaded him, and crashed into the net further on.

If he stayed any longer, he ran all sorts of risks, not the least of which was being crushed by the weight of fish. Helplessly he watched the carnage, for the first time maybe just glimpsing what it must be like for a dolphin to die in a purse seiner net…

It was a bedraggled Bob Meyrick who slowly stripped off his gear, stepped out of his dive skins, and stood, swaying wearily, on the rolling floor of the shower room. He turned on the water, and stood, his eyes closed, under the welcome spray of water that gently washed away the salt.
He wished it could wash away the memories as well.
Out of thirteen dolphins, he had been unable to rescue a single one.
All had drowned.
He had watched their bodies scooped up with the fish, and, one by one, manhandled and dropped carelessly over the side. He had counted, hoping against all the odds that one might have escaped.
He had found himself stroking the last one, feeling its soft skin, wishing that it would revive.
So this was fishing…

That night, he had drunk three cans of beer, instead of the usual one.
He had retired angrily, frustrated, and wondering. Stormy thoughts had tossed through his mind.

What kind of intelligence did dolphins possess? Surely they were capable of feelings.

Maybe deep feelings. The way the mothers had supported their calves, hovering close to them. The way the two dolphins had come to investigate him. The way they had studied him, looked at each other, and then re-joined the group…

What was intelligence anyway?

The ability to split the atom? And bomb Hiroshima?
The ability to develop the micro chip? And become reliant on computers, cellular phones and satellite television?

How about the dolphins’ ability to live in complete harmony with their environment? If it wasn’t intelligent, it was at least more than Man had achieved…
Maybe intelligence required the existence of language. The ability to express ideas and feelings about the present, the past, and the future.
Could dolphins communicate ideas and thoughts to one another concerning the present?
The past? The future?
Who knew for sure?

One thing though, he felt for certain.
Any man who could not appreciate the dolphins, just as they were, with all their agile, sleek beauty, was a man devoid of soul.
Any man who saw dolphins only as minor, irrelevant obstacles on the path towards profits, was to be pitied.

For such a`man was insensitive to his own insensitivity…

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on August 15, 2012, 6:35 am

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