There I was quietly minding my own business, thinking
about nothing in particular other than how much I enjoyed doing
plankton hauls when a small pod of bottlenose dolphins surfaced
twenty or thirty metres ahead of my Zodiak. This particular pod
was resident in and around the lagoon of Lizard Island. Their
number was only seven and visibly one was larger than the others
and I assumed it to be the bull in charge. It may well not have
Over the several years during the 70's and 80's
of working from Lizard Island Research Station, all of us at the
facility had come to recognise the small pod as our pod. They
were part of the scenery, part of the family - like the pair of
ospreys, the pair of sea eagles, the children's python in the
workshop and the big chinaman wrasse who prowled the inner lagoon.
Frequent and friendly though these dolphins were,
we were all a bit disappointed that they never ever let any of
us get closer than about thirty metres - especially underwater.
They would happily accompany our small boats all over the place,
but they always kept their distance.
So on this occasion I was happy to have them join
me for the haul, but I had no expectation of anything more exciting
than that. Together we passed through the fringing reef along
the outer limit of the lagoon and into deeper water west of the
island. Idly I watched the pod and decided not to veer off for
the usual area of repeat hauls, but to tag along with the dolphins
for a short while.
I became aware that, ahead of the boat, the water
was disturbed by some species of shoaling fish. In these parts,
invariably it is a small species like Hardyheads, being attacked
by Jacks, or Trevally. My attention was diverted from the dolphins.
Out of the corner of my eye I got the distinct
impression of one of the small predatory fish flying into the
air some twenty or thirty feet. I must have imagined it. Now I
could see that the bottlenose dolphins were amongst the commotion.
Then I quite clearly saw a dolphin fluke flip up from the surface
of the sea. Into the air, propelled by the fluke, one of the predatory
fish rose fully twenty feet before falling back into the water
with a splash. Promptly a small dolphin claimed it and dived from
view. This had to be a one-off. The seven dolphins stayed close
to one another. The fish no longer disturbed the water.
The largest dolphin surfaced once again. Its tail
flukes momentarily remained sub-surface, then suddenly flicked
into view. Atop the fluke was a fish lifting from a launch pad
like a ballistic missile. It rocketed skywards, head over heals
and descended to fall with a splash. Immediately it was grabbed
by one of the smaller dolphins.
Dolphin (Stenella longirostris)
For about five minutes I watched the activity.
In all, about eight or nine flips were made - some more effective
than others - two seemed to miss their intended victim altogether.
As suddenly as it began it ceased. The seas calmed, the dolphins
disappeared and I turned for my plankton reach.
Two years later, again I was on Lizard Island.
I was ahead of my colleague by a few days and I had assembled
our inflatable and 30 H.P. marine engine, so decided to take it
for a quick trip around Lizard's two companion islands, Palfrey
Close to my furthest point from base, with engine
and trim behaving well and the Zodiak showing no signs of leaks,
I settled into the return run. My thoughts returned to two years
before and the dolphin incident. By coincidence or telepathy a
lone dolphin came alongside at precisely that moment, raised its
flukes and smacked them loudly onto the surface of the sea. I'd
never seen that before and have never seen it since!
Dolphin (Stenella longirostris)
This article was written by Peter Parks
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