On The Clean Line Toby stowed away her gear and tied down the cooler in which she had packed sandwiches, fruit, soda and plenty of water. She consulted the local NOAA station for conditions on the Gulf. Today there would be a steady SW breeze and, with the normal near shore current that ran west along coastal communities, Toby knew she would be running before the wind going but tacking to the wind on her return which would double the return time. She figured she could make it to the Institute for Marine Mammal Research by 10 am, stay until 1, and then get home right at nightfall, barring any changes in the weather. She checked the bow, stern, and mainsail lights and radio batteries. Stowed on board was a dry box with sleeping bag, foam liner and blankets, rain gear, and a first aid kit and flares. She felt prepared.
Toby had been taking longer and longer excursions on the Gulf to harden up her courage and to make sure she could handle the lines and sheets in strong winds or inclement weather. But until today, she’d never tried a solo venture this far from her home port. She could have driven but Toby sought the solace of the sea.
The pod moved through warm waters along the coastline. A calf was jumping and playing up ahead. She chased after him. He was coming along in his knowledge of the sea and pod life. Since losing her own baby, she had adopted the little orphan. The youngster was curious and quick to investigate a new situation – too quick.
It was July and the fishing had become more difficult along the Gulf shores. In fact it had been harder for the pod to find food. The elders in the pod decided to join a group hunt farther out to sea. Larger fish swam there in abundance.
This would be the little dolphin’s first experience in deeper waters away from the coastal shallows where he was born. She signaled to him to stay near her.
As days passed, more and more pods joined together until there was a dolphin herd. Together they swam out over the Continental Shelf. The flat sandy bottom gave way to deep canyons in the sea. Using sonar the herd located a school of red snapper which would provide good protein for hungry dolphins.
The pod formed a ring of bubbles around the school of snapper, a living net. In turn each dolphin plunged amidst the swirl of snapper to grab a meal while others maintained the net. Red snapper bared rows of teeth like saws–powerful predators and fast swimmers they made the hunt more fun. Life quickened in the face of death.
She had seen a bull shark feeding among the snapper. A fury of predators churned the water: sharks, dolphins, and red snappers rocketed across the conflagration. Size and speed made the difference in who lived or died. The infant dolphin used no caution. She swam to him and they left together for the surface where she kept him safe until the pod had satisfied its hunger.