As much as I love beautiful scenery, mountains and water, geological wonders and amazing plant life (think minuscule flowering flora clinging for dear life flat to the ground at 10,000 feet and their distant cousins, the grandest sequoias) for me, nothing rewards the spirit like watching "charismatic megafauna" (as referred to by those charged with managing both the wildlife and the humanlife that comes in droves to view, and sometimes get in trouble with it). At the top my list are the grizzly and black bears, wolves, and cats when I'm in the mountain west. At the top when I'm in Sanibel, Florida, are the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Like many other top-of-the-list, top-of-the-food-chain predators, they can be very difficult to view, because their element is not our element. Fortunately, though, like just a few other predators (e.g., bears and our garbage, wolves and our livestock) they are attracted by certain human activities. But unlike other wildlife, dolphins exhibit apparent curiosity about us and our water-going contraptions. In Sanibel this December, we took the best dolphin-viewing boat tour ever. Not that it's necessary to be out in a boat to view them--they're not hard to spot from shore for those who watch. A fellow beach-comber told me she was once very startled to see one slide up on the sand and then back into the water. This one was only, who knows, maybe 50 yards from the beach at lighthouse.
This one was a bit farther out. I hope all those people on the beach below the lighthouse were enjoying the show!
As the tour operators know, there are certain speeds at which the churning propellers attract the dolphins if they're not busy feeding (though that is also very fun to watch as they splash and roil around in a school of confused and terrified mullet, sometimes tossing a fish into the air before consuming it). As frequently depicted through history, dolphins around the world have always been interested in the disturbance humans and their vessels make in their watery world:
|Depiction of Dionysus among the dolphins by Exekias, c. 530 B.C.|
How could we believe otherwise than that this one was checking us out?
Why, exactly, they engage in such entertaining acrobatics in the presence of a foaming wake is not clear, even to experts. It seems possible these intelligent mammals do it for joy. Note the one on the left is completely upside down:
If you're built to withstand enormous belly flops, then this is for you:
They even teach their children what do when the tour boats come through: