At five in the afternoon of the third day, we reached the northwest edge of the Little Bahama Bank where it intersects the Gulf Stream, the location Bob Marx had indicated on the chart. It was only then that the preoccupation of gathering the film crew, chartering a boat, and sailing across 150 miles of shallows gave way to the realization that I didn’t know Marx from Adam. He might be a man with a sense of humor. We might have been sent on a preposterous wild-goose chase. And I remembered his remark about the dolphins up here being descendants of lost mariners. Not exactly hard fact.
The sun was twenty degrees above a horizon, scalloped by clouds edged in pink gold. The depth of the water went from twelve feet to twenty-five, and the bottom turned from irregular small coral heads and patches of sea grass to pure white sand. Amazing sugar white sand! The wind and swells continued to build. I scanned an empty ocean.
As the bow of the Albury rose and fell, cleaving a path through the swells, a phalanx of dolphins appeared, porpoising down the golden path made by the low-angled sun reflecting off the sea. They came flying out of the tops of the six-foot swells, droplets of liquid gold streaming behind them. They came at us with unfettered energy and unreserved curiosity and with a grace, speed, and power that filled me with awe.
From Dolphin Hunter to Dolphin Lover
At the hour set for departure, Larry, Sakae, and I, along with the international enviro contingent and a few television crews, went aboard Mr. Ishii’s boat, the Kohkai Maru. So many reporters had shown up that a second boat had to be hired to accommodate everyone.
We departed Futo harbor at 1:00 p.m. The weather was gorgeous: sunny, warm, and flat calm. We sailed for an hour and saw nothing but birds. We ran southeast and then north. Cameramen who had been on alert as we left the harbor took their cameras off their shoulders and lay down in the sun. I began trying to accommodate the idea that the dolphin watch might be a failure that would unfold before the eyes of all Japan and what impact this would have on our efforts to stop the dolphin slaughter. Ishii, captaining the boat from the flying bridge, was biting his lip. He stared desperately at the sea looking for the telltale glints off the oily skin of dolphins.
At 4:00 p.m., he turned for home. Although he normally masks his feelings well, there was no mistaking the stricken look on his face. I could only imagine the extreme stress he felt. He had invited the entire press corps of Japan to witness a triumph. Now it appeared he would lose face while fully in the spotlight. The dolphin-loving Westerners looked at one another. They’d come thousands of miles to see a glorious event that now appeared to be a pipe dream.
Then the radio crackled. “Ishii-sencho.” Ishii grabbed the handset for his radio and answered, “Hai.”
“Makko kujira!” came the excited report from the captain of the other boat.
Ishii’s excitement exploded. “Makko kujira, makko kujira, Sperm whale,” he screamed. And there it was: a single sperm whale rolling from side to side only a few yards from the press boat. Not only had we found a sperm whale, but it was friendly, spyhopping to look at the boats and their human occupants. Ishii went wild with joy. He began to sob and shudder as he watched the frolicking whale and the ecstatic passengers. The reporters scribbled, and cameramen rolled tape.