A small dolphin breaks the surface and comes into view followed immediately by its mother.
Then they descend and, as if on cue, a second mother and calf rise into view, one after the other.
There is a pause, a break in the rhythm.
Finally, a third mother emerges with her new calf and they fall into line like a couple tardy musicians – the tuba players perhaps – scampering to join the marching band on the field.
It is a heartwarming spectacle but that delay haunts me a bit. The third mother is a dolphin we had named Skipper and I am reminded that seven years ago she was facing certain death.
The thing that tipped the balance back toward life was timely and extraordinary exertions by a team of volunteers. If not for their efforts, she would not have survived long enough to mark her first year let alone usher a new life into the world.
That pause would not have been followed by the delight of seeing Skipper alongside her first calf. Instead he surface of the water would have remained undisturbed, silently marking an absence. I wonder if the two other mothers –Payton and JingJing – would have felt it, that absence in the place their former contemporary would have been.
You see seven years ago, Skipper approaching one year old and a calf herself at the time, contrived to get a metal fishing leader wrapped around her tail stock where it met her flukes, those essential fins that provide the dolphin with its means of propulsion. The entanglement was life threatening.
A metal fishing leader encircles Skipper’s tail
When I first saw the line, I had a sense of what would come next because, by some coincidence, her older brother Seymour found himself in an almost identical predicament. By the time human observers noticed, the line had become deeply embedded in his tail stock, a prodigious amount of scar tissue had built up and Seymour was visibly uncomfortable. He had taken to slapping his flukes upon the water in distress.