Dolphins

Dolphins
Eric Ozolins, fishing alone on PINS Feb 9 08, hooked up on three sharks at once. He tagged and released these two sandbars. Oz managed to land, tag and release a total of six in two days.
Ten species of ocean dolphins (family: delphinidae) are found in the Gulf of Mexico. Two species of porpoise (family: phocenidae) are found off of North America. Harbor porpoise are not found south of North Carolina and Dall's porpoise are only found in the Pacific. Thusly, no true porpoise are found in the Gulf of Mexico.

In common usage, dolphins are commonly called porpoise and Webster's Dictionary approves of such usage, but the fact remains that it is scientifically incorrect. Dolphin normally encountered in Texas bay systems and nearshore coastal waters of this state are Atlantic bottlenosed dolphins and those most often encountered offshore are spotted and spinner dolphins.

I know there are any number of fishermen who dislike dolphins due to the fact that their diets regularly include the same species that sport fishermen seek, but I'm not one of them. I made a conscious decision long ago not to pass judgement on the worth of any of God's creatures. I simply have never considered myself qualified to be second-guessing the handiwork of my Creator. I've also always felt that labeling inhabitants of the natural world as good or bad is inappropriate as they are simply functioning in the roles they were intended to fill. Some of my favorite memories involve observations of these creatures and I'd like to share this very special one with you.

One late summer's morning we were heading south on the beach looking for food chain activity. The weather was hot and sticky without a hint of a breeze and lines of heavy rain squalls were moving inshore from the Gulf with short breaks in between. The water was flat and crystal clear with only one 10-inch swell breaking the surface on the wade bar and not a sign of life was to be found on the surface of the sea. Down around the 44-mile I noticed black objects moving in the very shallow surf up ahead and occasional large splashes. My first thought was that several sharks had wounded a large fish or other sea creature and had pushed it into shallow water to finish it off.

I hurried to the scene with the plan of sightcasting to one of the sharks but upon arriving I was shocked to find not sharks but sixteen adult and three baby Atlantic bottlenosed dolphins threshing madly about in water only a few inches deep. My first impression was that we were witnessing a mass stranding and I was not very hopeful that my two customers and I would be able to help very much.

I've been involved in returning stranded adult dolphins back to the sea numerous times over the years and knew all too well the genuine dangers of handling these heavy and tremendously strong creatures. There was no way I could take my totally inexperienced customers in there to help me and I knew that I would be incapable of moving even one of them alone.

The scene in front of us was total chaos and I instructed my customers to stay out of the water and just observe while I attempted to call the mammal stranding network, PINS personnel or anyone else I could reach by phone. I sat on top of the suburban for some time, placing several calls unsuccessfully. As I waited I kept constant watch of the actions of the dolphins in the surf and soon realized that what we were seeing was not a mass stranding but rather was a planned rescue.

The three juveniles were literally beaten, pushed and driven back out into deeper water and then four adults surrounded them and denied them access to return to the shallow water. One large adult in the shallows was plainly in a stressed condition and at the point of complete exhaustion. This was the one actually stranded and the others had intentionally beached themselves in an attempt to help this individual return to the sea. Their flanks and bellies were solid pink from being abraded by contact with the sand.

Four or five adults would take turns working side by side, rapidly pounding their flukes up and down and churning the sand of the shallow bar between the stranded individual and the sea. After a few minutes they would be replaced by another group that would continue the task. When I realized what they were doing I was utterly amazed; they were using the rapid up and down motions of their flukes to "blow" sand out of that section of shallow bar directly in front of the weakened and stranded individual. They were literally using their flukes to dredge out a tiny pass across the shallow bar.

Two big dolphins struggled to get into position on either side of the stranded individual and then worked diligently to get their pectoral fins under it. Pushing their bodies tightly against it and working in unison, they lifted the stranded one, all the while pounding their flukes for propulsion and literally bulldozing their way through the tiny pass they'd made toward deeper water.

It took three attempts from three pairs of rescuers until they finally reached deep water. The stressed individual seemed totally recovered after circling briefly and shortly thereafter they all disappeared leaving only a few swirls on the calm surface of the sea and a lifelong memory burned into the minds of the three men lucky enough to have seen it all happen.

Every time someone gets on a rant about how many fish all the dolphins are eating I remember this event and I just grin. I remember that while I fish for a living by choice, the dolphin wasn't given any such option and I can find no fault in him being good at what he was put here to do. I never see one frolicking in the surf on a cold winter's day without thinking of the grandeur that is the natural world and I am glad they share this world with me.

Remaining in this fishing business for as many years as I have is a lot of work and I couldn't do it without the help of some really great sponsors. I'm proud of my sponsors and am proud to announce that I have a couple of new ones; Sufix Lines and Temple Fork Fly Rods. Good people and awesome product.

I would like to take a second here to encourage as many as can to attend and support the benefit for Capt. Chris Phillips that is scheduled for March 30, 2008. This event will run from 1:00-5:00pm at Blanco's on West Alabama in Houston, TX. Capt. Chris is a past-president of Texas Fly Fishers and helped pioneer fly-fishing in Texas saltwater. Chris has been a good friend and guide to many anglers over the years and it's time for us to band together and help out as best we can. Chris will undergo surgery on February 11 for a brain tumor and will likely face a long and expensive recovery. For more information you can contact Andy Packmore at Fishing Tackle Unlimited 281-481-6838. You can also email to: [email protected]

Don't forget the Big Shell Beach Cleanup is Saturday March 8, 2008. One and all are cordially invited to participate and be a part of helping us achieve the Million Pounds of Trash Removed milestone.

Boy, don't you know them dolphin were some kind of sore from all that "road rash" for a couple of days after that rescue! Life's A Hoot. Get You Some of It. Be Careful, Be Courteous, Be Kind, Capt. Billy L. Sandifer