On cruises across the Santa Barbara Channel this year, my heart is filled with fun because pods of common dolphin we encounter include a bumper brood of youngsters. As are kids of most species, they are playful, curious and cute. I can recall years when there were very few baby dolphins. But this has been a great recruitment year for our fast friends of the sea.
This week, for example, I was running my charter boat, WaveWalker, back from Santa Cruz Island where we had enjoyed a day of good fishing. When I saw a large pod of hundreds of dolphins, I altered course to parallel them a respectable distance off and then slowed down to match their speed so that my passengers could enjoy the grand spectacle of nature.
As is their nature, the critters happily raced each other over to us and played on our bow waves and in our wake. Some came right up alongside and rolled partway over on their side so they could look up with those soulful eyes and watch us as we were watching them.
As I typically do, I looked carefully at the pod to see what I could learn from observation. It struck me that there was an unusually high number of young dolphins. When we first saw the pod at a distance, the distribution of the individuals was a matter of functionality. The big animals were in the vanguard leading and all around the perimeter doing guard duty. The younger adults roamed at will. The mommas and youngsters were near the middle, where they were most protected.
When the pod raced over to play with us, all rules were off and all individuals played as they wished. It was particularly fun to watch the mommas teach the babies to ride a bow or stern wave.
My passengers were ecstatic and grinned ear-to-ear. We finally waved goodbye to our critter friends and resumed our course back to harbor. The dolphins regrouped and continued on their way. It was a wonderful experience.
For much of your information about the sea and her critters, you do not have to wait for a grant-guzzling scientist or researcher to issue a report that you can barely comprehend and which mostly just describes the need for more grant funding. Instead, ask a fisherman or professional captain. We’re happy to tell you what we see and what we have learned during our considerable time at sea.
Charter captains, whale watch captains and commercial fisherfolk spend the most time at sea and, in general we love sharing our knowledge of the sea and her critters.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.