Thursday, August 21, 2014

Going Places, Seeing Things

A quick snap with an iPhone
This is the third time I've been to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana—well, fourth if you count the time my father picked up my mother and me in New Orleans and drove us down into Florida to see the mermaids swim in a place called, I thought, Crystal Springs. But that's wrong, the place, that is. He did pick us up; we did drive to Florida; we did see a show put on by women dressed as mermaids.

What I saw in Mississippi, though, was a first for me this time. I saw a dolphin. A wild dolphin. In the ocean, perhaps 30 or 40 or 50 feet from shore. There he is in the picture. There were actually two, and of course, I have no idea whether they were male or female. But I was amazed. A dolphin, near shore in Long Beach, Mississippi—and it was the day after we'd been to the marine mammal rescue facility and glimpsed dolphins up close and personal, two of which were retired U.S. Navy dolphins, whose purposes in the service of our navy are classified. One was 34-years-of-age; the other was 37-years-old. The life span of a dolphin in the wild is about 20-years, and so whatever ethical problems you or I might have with training dolphins for military service, we cannot complain about the treatment and environment that apparently extended their lives. If dolphins enjoy (in dolphin-terms) life, the navy gave them more time to do so.

They seemed happy, the pair, if "happy" can be judged by appearance and demeanor. They did their flips and tail-walks in response to whistles and got their fish reward. I suppose that's a better outcome than being strapped with explosives and sent to sink an enemy warship. Why not re-release them into the wild? Never a good practice, I suspect, with any animal who no longer fears humans (even those intending to turn them into torpedos), and additionally, one of them had cataracts sufficient to render it blind. I forgot to ask why the cataracts hadn't been removed.

Back to the wild dolphins: Long Beach has a fishing dock that extends perhaps a hundred yards out into the bay, and as we went out to its tip, there were two fellows netting bait (mainly mullet) to fish. That's when I saw them, and one of the fishermen said, "Yeah, there around here almost every day, coming in at about 9am and 2pm."

The bay isn't pristine tropical water, but there are plenty of fishermen-and-women (Did you know there are two species of catfish that live in ocean saltwater?) and perhaps the dolphins find prey stirred up or perhaps they like to glimpse human activity and have yet to realize we are an invasive specie. 

I'm older than I want to be. I've seen coyotes, bear, deer, elk, raccoons, opossum, squirrels, an eagle, and probably more wildlife running, sailing, flying free, but this was a first for me.

And I'm happy too I think I remember reading somewhere that the navy has given up its dolphin program. 

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