Dolphin Whisperer

One day I was out on the water surfing, in the early hours of the morning, as is my wont, and after I'd caught a wave I was paddling back up again to Party Central, the place where I fully intended to take off on more waves, come rain, shine, hell or high water. All of a sudden, out of the blue, that is out of the Deep Dark And Murky Green-Brown of the underwater world, five dolphins appeared next to me. This is not unusual, as there's stacks of them living in the bay: the shallow and generally warm water of the bay is a pleasant and luxurious place for them to live, and there are several hundreds of them that live here more or less permanently.

There's a dolphin research institute around here, and one of the things that they have discovered over the years and have shared with the broader dolphin-loving community is the fact that dolphins appear to communicate with each other over quite long distances by means of a combination of squeaks, clicks, clacks, teeth snaps, snorts, head shakes, tail wobbles and fluke flaps. They also seem to be inquisitive by nature, are quite used to and occasionally attracted to human company of the non-murderous kind, and at times have apparently been known to assist people in distress of their own free will, out of the kindness of their heart and free of charge. Furthermore, most of the pods that cruise the area on a semi-permanent basis are thought to be breeding groups, that is small clusters of females with babies and juveniles.

It has been suggested that males over a certain age get kicked out of the happy family and go off on their own, eventually settling into groups of random blokes, where they enjoy each other's company and, when not gainfully employed chasing fish or females, spend most of their time surfing waves, talking about the footy, scratching their nuts and farting. Word on the street has it that they are waiting impatiently for the invention of the underwater cigarette lighter so they can set their farts on fire, undoubtedly a dead-set milestone on the road of evolution towards A Higher Intelligence for any species. Dolphin bachelor parties will reach new hitherto thought unattainable levels of hilarity, and to mark their progress on the road towards Superior Sentience a brand new notch will be carved into the stock of The Shotgun Of Evolution. Darwin will be proud.

Another interesting bit of dolphin-behaviour related information that has been produced by this research is the fact that these groups of bachelor males will habitually assault the aforementioned groups of nursing-caring-and-loving females with kids, bash the juveniles' brains in and then gang-rape the women, who, research suggests, don't otherwise feel overly inclined to have sex while the kids are around. Inexplicably this tantalising bit of insight into the dolphin psyche has not received anywhere near as much publicity, exposure and airplay as some of their more well-known behavioural traits, like those mentioned above. Can't imagine why.

There's a lot of tales around of people being helped by dolphins, and while it's easy to dismiss these as cock-and-bull stories I know of at least one that I myself have heard from two people who were involved in one such dolphin-assisted rescue, and they both give the same account. I used to work as a seakayak guide, doing tours on the bay where, ideally, the group of customers got to observe and sometimes interact with dolphins and whales in their pristine and unspoilt natural habitat, although quite frequently they didn't and just paddled around in circles. On one such trip, when I was not there, the group got blown way off course by a violent westerly that came up out of nowhere, and got blown to the shithouse all the way around the headland, out onto the open ocean and right up shit creek. Out of necessity the guides made the call to try to put in to shore on the south side of the headland, on a beach that is hairy at the best of times, open and exposed, with strong rips and sweeps, and where innocent, clueless and gullible visitors from overseas with zero swimming skills go to drown at least once a year.

Most of the group made it onto shore relatively unscathed, scoring only a few minor bumps and bruises, and, in the case of one particularly impressionable individual, a few turds in their pants, but one unlucky pair of punters capsized their kayak in a rip and got washed out to sea again. They lost their paddles, their kayak and their faculty for rational thought, and flayed their arms around erratically and hysterically, splashing around like an aquaphobe in a crocodile infested billabong who can feel something nibbling their bum and they're pretty sure it's not a fish. Clearly, this was a case for Baywatch To The rescue, so one of the guides threw off her lifejacket to be able to swim better, obviously a very smart and well informed move, and swam out through the surf after the two poor buggers. She was a pretty good swimmer, but the sea was rough and difficult, and when she eventually got to the scene of the crime she could feel herself fading, and while she managed to get to both hapless punters and get them close together she saw the kayak get picked up by a wave and swept irretrievably out of reach. This is where she was starting to get worried, as you would, and this was also when, out of nowhere, a pod of dolphins appeared, right at their backs. And she swears high and low that these dolphins pushed them and nudged them gently towards the beach, providing them with momentum and propelling force, assisting them through the surf until all three of them made it to the beach safely and alive, in one piece if considerably shaken, and, possibly, mildly hallucinating.

The kayak washed up on a beach a few kilometres downstream and was eventually retrieved. Three months later the paddles were found on the shores of Easter Island, with a tag saying 'please return to Australia COD thanks very much'. One source has it that after the rescue was completed three dolphins performed synchronised backflips in the surf while a fourth one stuck up his snout, clicked and squeaked, and said in a clearly audible voice, speaking impeccable English with a slight northern Queensland accent, 'there's a bushfire 15 km down the road and three kids are stuck in a shed, go get the SES and do something about it'.

I've heard this story from the mouth of the girl who performed the rescue, and it was corroborated by one of the other guides in every detail. I have no reason to doubt any of it, and I know them both to be intelligent and highly capable people, with many years of experience on the sea in all conditions. So, who knows?

This story, always close to the surface of my supply of bits of random trivial information collected and nursed along for that moment after fifteen beers when people's brains are sufficiently anaestethised to believe anything, stuck in the back of my head as these dolphins surfaced next to me and blew air out of their headholes with a snorting sound. Now, I have always been intrigued by the notion of their alleged amazing ability to communicate with each other, and, supposedly, with us humans. When I worked as a guide I would often bring a tin whistle out on the water and play rollicking jolly tunes in a bid to lure dolphins towards us with the irresistable charm of traditional Australian bush music, tapping directly into the spirit of The Bunyip, The Yowie and Lethal Grade Moonshine, usually while standing up in my kayak and dancing Heel-And-Toe. While this had no discernible effect on any dolphins the customers usually thought it was quaint in a puzzling sort of a way and faintly entertaining, especially since sooner or later I invariably lost my balance and fell flat on my face in the water, blowing bubbles out of the whistle underwater, and it was generally considered a bizarre but enjoyable addition to the tour.

I figured this time was the opportunity of a lifetime to up the ante and take dolphin whispering to a whole new level, and to see if I could get those dolphins to come closer to me and hang out with me by singing them a song, seducing them with the wonderful timbre and melodiousness of the human voice. Now, I love singing, and I have a great voice, if I say so myself. I used to be a stockman, and we used to catch rogue half-grown bulls that had escaped being mustered for a few years after birth, hiding in the bush, by running them through a series of ever-narrowing races, like tunnelways made of steel bars, until they ended up in a cradle, a contraption with two solid steel sides with a hole at the front just big enough for their head to stick out. We'd slam them into that and then throw them on the ground, hitting the deck hard. Then one bloke would grab a backleg, hold it tight and, usually, get shat upon, while another bloke would stick the bull's head between his thighs, and with the points of the horns millimetres away from their own nuts, cut off the horns, while a third person would get a razor sharp blade, or, sometimes, a rusty old saw, and cut the knackers of the fella. As can be imagined these would-be bulls didn't appreciate that treatment a whole lot, and they would rear up their head and moan and snort and bellow and low and grunt and howl in pain, agony and rage.

Well, that sound of the bull who's being castrated while having his horns cut off, that's what my voice sounds like. On a good day.

So I mentally cast around for suitable singing material that would be likely to appeal to intrinsic dolphin-ness, and, thinking a maritime theme would be appropriate, I hit upon my supply of sea shanties. One welled up from my subconscious spontaneously, and I mentally went over the words in my head:

''t was on the good ship Venus

I swear you should have seen us

the figure head

was a nude in bed

sucking on a red-hot penis ...'

Maybe not that one. Don't know how well that would be appreciated by your average baby-blue-eyed dolphin cub, not yet murdered by his father while his uncles gang-rape his mother. How about maybe The Drunken Sailor, always a fall-back-position starter for anything sea-related?

'what shall we do with a drunken sailor ... early in the morning ... we'll shave his balls with a rusty razor, shave his balls with a rusty razor ...'

Hmmm. Maybe not that one either. They might get the wrong idea.

So eventually I hit upon the perfect song. I opened up my mouth and in the pleasant tones of an asthmatic goose that's getting its neck wrung I started singing a beautiful, lilting and melancholic song about some bloke sitting around in a desert somewhere pining for the sea, the salt water and a spear for skewering turtles. Uplifting, melodic, and with a promise of massacre and bloodshed, perfectly suitable for innocent little dolphin ears raised on an audio diet of dolphin squeaks, whale song and Bay FM, The Hits of The Twenties, Thirties And Forties. So I cleared my throat, opened up my mouth and went:

'I come from the salt water people

we always lived by the sea'

Then, gathering momentum and enthusiasm, and not restrained by a total lack of any musical ability, I threw my head back with a dramatic gesture, and, with great gusto, enthusiasm and complete absence of skill launched myself into the chorus:

'my island home, my island home,

my island home, is waiting for me'

The sound reverberated around the ocean, rolled over to the mountain ranges across the bay, echoed off the sides of the vulcano and came roaring back towards me and the dolphins, in three part harmony with itself and enriched by the rich but completely unintentional harmonics of Mongolian deep-throat singing. Surely these dolphins could not fail to be wooed by such a deep-felt ode to their beauty and majesty, and would come over and have a yarn with me.

The group of dolphins, which up to now had been hovering placidly and peacefully about five metres away off to the left hand side of my board, as one laid their ears down flat, took a massive, audible, maximum-capacity lung-filling gulp of breath, splashed their tails on the water in soul-rending agony, and dived nose-first straight down to the deepest possible reaches of the ocean. I saw them reappear about a hundred metres away from me, racing as if possessed, leaving skidmarks and black smoke on the surface of the water. Within minutes they had reached the beach on the other side of the bay, crawled on shore, got up on their fins and, reversing 50 million years of evolution in the blink of an eye, ran for the hills, never to be seen again.

So much for dolphin whispering.