"BALLISTIC FISH"

Spinner Dolphin Pod (Stenella longirostris)
© 2000 by Image Quest 3-D
Read our copyright notice

 

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 been.

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.

Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris)
© 2000 by Image Quest 3-D
Read our copyright notice

 

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 and South.

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!

Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris)
© 2000 by Image Quest 3-D
Read our copyright notice

 

This article was written by Peter Parks

 

If you have an article of general interest that you would like considered for the article of the month then we would love to hear from you. If you are also able to supply images then we can include those as well. You can email us at iq3d@imagequest3d.com

Click here to read other articles

Search Images
 

 
Search Articles and Info
 
2001 by Image Quest 3-D
Read our copyright notice
Click here to go to the Stock Photo Library