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Dolphin Jackpot

I kayak almost everyday living close to the water in Corpus Christi. Occasionally see dolphins, and over the last 9 years have had some close encounters. Once while surfing in the Gulf, a pod of dolphin were surfing into the beach with me, then ducking under and swimming back out to do it again. Lasted about 10 minutes. Have had one or two chase the boat at an angle and then jump in front. Last year I found myself in the middle of a group that must have been having their rite of spring mating ritual...they all looked were frolicking and completely oblivious to my presence.

But the jackpot came Saturday in Corpus Christi Bay. It was a beautiful sunny day in the 70’s, clear blue sky, and I had crossed the bay from Corpus Christi, and was about half way between Indian Point and the Alcoa Aluminum Plant on the Ingleside side. As I was paddling along (about 5mph) I saw some dolphin jumping in front of me, passed them to the side of me, and they followed after me. I could hear them surfacing and breathing close to my rear quarter, and was getting a kink in my neck from trying to paddle while looking back at them. Slowed down and waited for them to get in front of me, and then followed for a while to one side of them. There were about four dolphin, two very big ones, and two smaller. They didn’t get too close to the kayak and were pretty much doing their own thing. I tried my bag of tricks to catch their interest....paddling fast, paddling slow, not paddling at all and remaining very quiet, sliding my wet finger along the fiberglass hull to make various squeaking noises (high, low, short, long). They reminded me of the typical puppy who wants to play, but is afraid of the stranger, but once familiarity is gained, won’t quit. The group of four grew to two groups of 4, and they were all around the kayak as I alternated between paddling and coasting. Then in the distance I saw a wave in the glistening sun/water horizon. As it got closer, I saw a V formation of dolphin (largest in front center flanked by two smaller on the sides) and they were bounding at what looked like full speed over to our group. From that point on, the play intensified, and on several occasions a group of three dolphin in V formation would come bounding towards the kayak, and then dive and go under at the last moment. I think their game was to see how close they could come without hitting. I saw them swim very close under the water, and saw the whirlpools come to the surface from their swimming activities. Water was boiling at times...I don’t know if it was from their releasing air under the boat or if it was merely the whirlpools from their strokes. I was in a Dagger Meridian (white hull, yellow deck) with my skeg all the way up in its slot, so I began to wonder if they thought I was a female dolphin from under the water, and maybe this was foreplay rather than horseplay. Many times they would jump out of the water just before coming by the boat so there was lots of eye-to-eye contact. I was so totally engrossed that I it wasn’t until they finally left that I realized this had taken place in a 1-1/4 hour period. It was only as I paddled back home that I also realized that my camera was sitting inside my cockpit and I never once thought about it or taking pictures. Chance of a lifetime and I missed it entirely. The dolphin were beautiful, gleaming in the sunshine, and romping with abandon. Maybe next time I’ll remember to pull my camera out.

A Christmas Eve Dolphin Encounter

Twas the day before Christmas, and all around us in Corpus Christi Bay, we were surrounded by dolphin. It was like a special Christmas present from King Neptune….with his special little dolphins dancing the Nutcracker Suite all around us for our entertainment. Mark Arnold and I had front row seats. It was a large pod of dolphin, and perhaps as many as 15 jumped and swam to within 6 feet of our kayaks. There were large muscular males, medium sized females, and smaller babies. Many swam jumped in close formation, practically touching each other side by side in unison.

Mark Arnold and I launched from the L-head at 11:00am. It was 62 degrees, partly cloudy. with a light wind from the north at 5mph. The bay was almost flat as the wind died down to nothing before switching from the east by 2pm. The sky was spectacular, with patches of sun and blue skies surrounded by clouds on every side. To the south of us towards TA&M and the Naval Air Station, heavy clouds tinged with rose and blue that almost looked like a sunset. Ahead of us towards Ingleside, it changed to a teal with a slight yellow cast. To the north of over North Beach, it was again rose and blue. There were hundreds of subtle color variations. Everything seemed still and quiet….almost unreal, with only a one shrimp boat and one tug pushing a barge on the horizon in front of us. Without a noise, a large tanker slipped past us from behind, passing just to the north of us. No bow or stern waves on the glassy water, but instead a rather high mound of clear water building up at its bow as it’s bulbous protrusion below the waterline slipped through the water and pushed the water ahead of it. As the tanker drew closer, even the diesel engines sounded strangely muted.

At about 1:00pm, we decided to turn around, disappointed that we had not seen any dolphin. Just as we turned around, the sun came out from behind the clouds. We spotting several loons, and then one lone dolphin fin far off ahead of us towards Corpus Christi. As we paddled back to the harbor, we were suddenly aware of individual dolphin sightings in a wide 180-degree sweep from side to side in front of us. I didn’t have my camera, but Mark came prepared and was angling into the sun to get some shots of the dolphin. I kept calling out the individual sightings all around us at some distance. Soon the entire pod was encircling us. I could hear their heavy breathing 360 degrees around me. I kept turning to spot where the sounds were coming from. For about a half hour, numerous dolphins in groups of 3 to 5 swam and jumped in unison, with some of the larger males swimming alone. As we paddled slowly, several of the dolphins swam slowly behind us, arcing out of the water in high short bounds that looked like artificial slow motion. Groups of 2 or 3 would swim at us from the side, dive under the kayaks, and then turn and come back. You could see their eyes clearly as they gracefully streaked through the water close to the kayaks.

Mark was using a brand new digital camera he had just received for Christmas. For about 1/2 hour the dolphin did everything but lean over and snap the camera for him as they cavorted. Mark was shooting pictures as fast as he could focus, but in the end realized that he did not get one dolphin picture. He didn’t realize that his camera memory was full, and then when he deleted pictures to make room for more dolphin pictures, the battery went dead. Oh well…next time. There were no jumps completely out of the water today…perhaps next time Mark will have mastered his new camera and I will remember my camera and the two of us will be prepared to capture some acrobatic jumps on our next encounter.

All in all, a mystically beautiful day on the bay and a great way to spend the day before Christmas.