Chapter OneThe Dolphin Poachers
The little white dog paddled furiously as she tried to keep up with the large dolphin. "Woof! Woof!" She let him know she wanted some attention. The dolphin rolled over on his side and repeatedly slapped the water with his right pectoral fin, his bottlenose seeming to smile at the game.
As the little dog began to tire and sink lower, the dolphin disappeared and, with a rush of clear Atlantic water, came up under her, picking her up on his back. As he did, another little white dog jumped from the boat bow and landed with a splash. She did her best dog paddle and soon joined them, barking as she swam.
We were anchored about a mile off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida, and for about fifteen minutes the dolphin took turns carrying the dogs around in the water. Baby loved to play and take them for rides on his broad gray back, even though they were never quite sure if they liked to go so fast. Baby sensed their discomfort and chirped in delight as he swam in a big circle, always bringing them back to me as I sat on the swim platform with my feet in the water.
It was always a wonderful experience, and I never worried about sharks bothering the dogs, because Baby's dolphin family provided a ring of safety nothing could get through.
"Okay, Baby, we've got to go home now," I called to the large male Atlantic bottlenose dolphin who has been my companion on nearly every dive and outing I've been on since I rescued him as a two-month-old baby years ago.
"Bambi, Blossom, come here," I called to my two dogs. They turned and swam to the platform on the back of the boat, and I lifted them on board.
As I started the engines, Mama, Papa, Bluebell, Scarback, and Angel, members of Baby's family, joined us alongside the boat and stayed with us until we pulled into the Intracoastal Waterway. There they stopped. The dolphins usually don't like getting too close to boats and other signs of civilization something I was thankful for because they could get hurt in the heavy boat traffic.
At the dock, a Florida Marine Patrol officer walked over and gave me some disturbing news. "We've had reports that a Bahamas-based dolphin-poaching operation has been seen netting dolphins off South Florida. They are using Zodiac rubber boats to chase them down. I knew you would like to know, considering your buddies out there."
The next afternoon my longtime friend and diving partner, Amos, the dogs, and I went out onto the ocean to correlate the GPS with our various diving location sites for future use. Amos didn't dive much anymore because of his arthritis, but he was still the best seaman I had ever known.
As we turned out of the inlet, I was mildly surprised that no dolphins joined us. They'll come in a few minutes, I thought to myself. It was a beautiful day with calm seas, blue skies, and puffy white clouds. The beauty of it always thrilled me.
"Amos, the dolphins don't seem to be around today," I said, a little concerned.
Amos, his eyessquinting in a face nearly leather after fifty years in the sun, was scanning the water around us. We'd always figured the dolphins recognized the particular sound of our boat's powerful engines and came to us because no two boats sound alike.
Amos and I had named the dolphins one by one as we got to know them, and over time each dolphin learned to respond when called individually. Whenever we pulled one of our two boats out into the open sea from the waterway, the whole dolphin family joined us, sometimes bringing along as many as twenty dolphin friends.
They loved to race along with us and play in the bow waves, especially Baby. Since I had saved his life by cutting a large fishhook from his body, we had developed a unique man-dolphin relationship a friendship that few people ever experience or understand.
Bambi and Blossom, both bichon frise females with curly white coats, always wore little red life vests my wife had sewn for them. Whenever I went scuba diving, they would both stay on the boat, lying on the bow, watching for me to reappear.
My wife had made them pink bonnets and insisted I tie them on to keep the dogs from getting sunburned eyes and noses. The dogs in their bonnets were a sight that made everyone laugh. Even the dolphins that surfaced and chattered to them from their watery home seemed to be grinning. It was not unusual for Bambi to bark while the dolphins stood high on their tails and bobbed their heads in unison, like church deacons dressed in black suits with white shirts.
Bambi, at fourteen, is top dog and Blossom, at six, is underdog, a ranking each follows carefully. Bambi likes swimming with the dolphins so much I have to be sure she doesn'toverdo it. On this day, I smiled as I thought about all the fun times we had had with Baby, still wondering why he and his dolphin family hadn't joined us yet.
As I tested the GPS, Amos grunted, "Dadburned little black boxes." He hated the idea of the gadget and never let me forget it.
"Relax, Amos, I just want to test this thing using your visual landmarks for correlation. I still trust your eyes, old friend," I assured him.
Wayne Grover's dolphin friends are in trouble again. Baby's father is found bleeding from a gaff wound, and someone is preying on the members of this intelligent pod. What can Wayne and his diving colleagues do to save Baby and stop the band of poachers from netting wild dolphins?
Wayne Grover is an accomplished freelance journalist specializing in marine research, historical wrecks, conservation, and ecology. Mr. Grover is the author of Dolphin Adventure, Dolphin Freedom, Dolphin Treasure, and Ali and the Golden Eagle.He lives in Lantana, Florida.