INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY
It was just one of those foggy afternoons when, suddenly, my dad’s phone rang. Of course, his phone rings a lot considering he’s a marine biologist, and people call him about sea lions, seals, and whatnot. But this call was different. It came from a local fisherman, fourteen miles off the coast of Northern California. He said he had found a bottlenose dolphin trapped under fishnets and that he didn’t know how long it had been there or how it got there, but he was certain of one thing: without help it was going to die.
My dad frowned, drummed his fingers along the countertop, crossed the room, made a few quick calls, got some equipment, and headed for the door. Right then and there, I decided to go with him. “Dad,” I began, “I was wondering if I could… go with you?”
He shrugged and pushed out his lower lip. “Should be OK.”
I smiled, and together we left the house.
We met up with four of my dad’s friends at our boat, The Porpoise. I realized that all of them were dressed for the adventure, while I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Oh well, it was too late to go back, so I just stepped on board, and we started off.
We live in Berkeley, so we had to cut across the San Francisco Bay in order to get into the open Pacific. The ride took us under the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, although we could barely see it; it was veiled in mist. As we continued out to sea, I kept hoping to see some sign of the perishing animal. I never like that feeling, when you know somebody or something is dying, and there is nothing you can do to help. I could feel a coldness in my stomach and perspiration running down my neck. I glanced up at my dad’s fellow biologists and saw them talking comfortably. I gotta say, I was envious. I mean, I’m sitting here all queasy and they are chatting away!
Everybody looked up when my dad turned off the boat’s motor. I started staring out at the sea, which was as smooth as glass. I was about to ask where the dolphin was, when my dad seemed to read my thoughts. He said, “We are gonna go in silently. We don’t want to make the dolphin anxious.”
I liked the way my dad was saying “we.” It made me think that I might be included. His next words confirmed my thoughts. “Your wetsuit is on the boat,” he said, “and I’ve got an extra pair of goggles you could use. Do you wanna come?” I nodded happily and crossed the boat to get changed.
Our boat slowly drifted toward a tangled mass of fishnets and buoys. When we were about twenty yards away, my dad, two of his friends, and I slipped into the water. The only exposed part of my body was my face, but still, my whole body got chills when I dunked under.
Getting to the fishnets was slow progress. I could have gotten there much faster if I didn’t have a life jacket on; it gave my arms a very limited amount of space, to say the least. It took a while to get to the nets, but let me tell you, it took a whole lot longer to find the dolphin. It was somewhere in what looked like a massive knot. Finally, we found it, and it was in pretty bad shape. The dolphin was almost in a vertical position in the water. Ropes ensnared its entire body. One of the traps was weighing down the animal’s tail fluke. We were all armed with knives, and both my dad and his colleagues had oxygen tanks, meaning they could dive under to free the dolphin’s tail. I had to free its mouth and head.
When you’re freeing a dolphin, you’re going to want to be super careful. And when I say “super,” I mean it. If I were to miss any of the ropes and cut the dolphin, it could freak out, thrash around, and maybe hurt us and itself. So it was slow work. Now, I’m up at the surface sawing away at the ropes, and my dad and his friends are down at the tail. Do you think the dolphin was enjoying all this activity? No. It’s slashing its pectoral fin at me and flipping its tail. In fact, it was using all its remaining strength to get us away! And if it didn’t have any more strength left… That thought made me work faster. After half-an-hour’s work, many of the ropes were already loosened or cut away. But that wasn’t enough; I wanted every one of these horrible nets at the bottom of the ocean.
In another fifteen minutes my wish was granted. The nets slipped down, down into the endless abyss. The dolphin was free! My dad, his two colleagues, and I, swam happily to the boat to celebrate. When we turned back, the dolphin was still there. We waited for ten minutes. Twenty minutes. The dolphin wouldn’t leave. Then I noticed a small gray object, in another set of nets, eight yards from where the dolphin was swimming. I pointed it out to my dad and his eyes widened. Then he smiled at me. “She has a calf!” he exclaimed. That got me and all four of my dad’s friends diving into the water.
The mother dolphin reached her calf before us, but surprisingly she let us touch and untangle it. Once it was freed, she nuzzled it. We smiled and swam back to the boat. I climbed aboard and turned around. She’d followed us. She popped her head out of the water and gave a short whistle. It could have only meant one thing. “Thanks.”