05 November 2015

Survive

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it's not."
-- Dr. Seuss [The Lorax]



No doubt Nicky and Surprise had rough upbringings, but they weren't the only ones in the area with gut-wrenching stories.  In fact, the common theme in Shark Bay -- the UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing Monkey Mia Marine Reserve and the entire peninsula -- was hardship.

Like the other two, elder matrons of Monkey Mia's feeding program (Nicky & Surprise), many of Puck's calves passed away soon after birth.  Fiesty Piccolo was her first baby to survive weaning. However, Piccolo almost lost her mother as a yearling when Puck became entangled in a large net, the seamen oblivious to Puck drowning.  A nearby research tinny noted Piccolo's frantic whistling and zipping back & forth. The scientists alerted the fishing boat. However, Puck's dorsal fin and melon still bear the markings of her brush with death; the cartilage from her fin never reformed.
Other dolphins bore similar -- if not worse -- scars.  The tip of one poor irrabuga a.k.a. dolphin's dorsal fin limply dangled in the breeze; another's looked like it was almost ripped off entirely. India, a haughty juvenile male, displayed his battle wound every time he dove: a dark gray, almost complete, elliptical shark bite.
In Shark Bay, the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins weren't the only species prone to adversity.  Of the throngs of jurrunas a.k.a. pelicans [in Malgana dialect], Rogue was notoriously famous amongst the staff.  Whenever she appeared during a feeding -- and it was quite common for Australian Pelicans in general to turn up -- she was a force to be reckoned with.  Rogue swooped in to steal Puck's fish, terrorized the crowd and created havoc at feedings as she swam from vollie a.k.a. volunteer to vollie in search of Whitetail, refusing to let tourists in the water.

But by the end of my stay at Monkey Mia, I grew to pity Rogue & whenever I shared her history with inquiring visitors, they too left changed I think.  Rogue would be entertained for a moment then suddenly nip at the air with her dangerously hooked beak.  One day, Rogue performed an all-too-close dance with me in the Indian Ocean.  I was forced to put myself between her and the shiny metal bucket of fish, but she had her eyes set on the prize.  She must have known her food was behind my back, but all I could do was continue to twirl despite my dizziness, attempt not to topple over Puck & wait until a ranger came to lure Rogue away.

However, Rogue's erratic behavior & scariness stemmed from a caveat: her brain injury.  She snapped at the air because she saw forms that didn't exist.  One day, I observed her repeating the all-too-close-dance on land with a ranger, encircling her prey.  In reality, Rogue shuffled about unpredictably because she was a scared peli protecting herself.  She had a crooked gait and her deformed right wing stuck out awkwardly.  The reason she got unnervingly close to people was because she actually felt safe there. Rogue endured bullying from all the other jurrunas, especially the males. Perhaps due to her disability or her gender; maybe both.  She was forced to be a loner. And when she bit a little Asian boy on the beach,  I didn't rush over to save or coddle the child.  His bite was a natural consequence for harassing the wildlife of Shark Bay. Sure enough, the crying boy and his older sibling stopped chasing Rogue.

The pelagic life patrolling the nutrient-rich sea grasses of Shark Bay did not scourge the dolphins compared to the harm humans wrought in the area.  You've already read the horrors involving Nicky's offspring. Lazy fishermen illegally dump offal a.k.a. fish remains overboard which draw sharks ever closer to the shore where dolphin calves find security.  Rangers have caught tourists picking up dolphin calves and posing for photographs in the shallows! The resort at Monkey Mia generates at least 85% of the trash scattered around the Marine Reserve but cleans up 0%, despite being the only business in Monkey Mia.  Yet, it reaps 100% of the revenue. My last day volunteering, a lady in the campground confessed she stood up from her lunch on the lawn & threatened to beat up a man who grabbed an irrabuga's tail.  He proceeded to jab the female dolphin in the eye with a selfie stick as he chased the irrabuga through the sea.

Assuming you were an animal already subsisting the vicious social scene and food chain of Shark Bay, you would still have plenty of travails with the environment.  Despite being at the 26th parallel, parts of Shark Bay are two times saltier than the ocean and water temperatures have reached 45º C a.k.a. 113º F. Can you imagine swimming in water that hot?

As a homo sapien, the environment was equally ruthless. Despite my olive complexion, the sun & its intense reflection off the Indian Ocean left my skin frequently burnt. I suffered a nasty, deep gash in my right heel from a busted seashell.  While strolling the water's edge, I was one step away from stomping on a stingray. It must have sensed the commotion because it scurried away kicking up sand in its wake, but from then on I dredged my feet as recommended.

Blissfully unaware of hidden dangers my mother and I hired a.k.a. rented a kayak one afternoon and paddled far from Monkey Mia Marine Reserve.  Preoccupied by surveying for dolphins, we eventually drifted to a distant pearl farm, waves peacefully lapping against the side of the vessel.  A tinny approached us at full speed.  I assumed the metal boat would pass us, but instead the man commandeering the small motor abruptly shut it off.  The passenger, a middle-aged woman, lifted the brim of her sun hat and shouted in an Australian accent "There's a Tiger Shark around here that's damaged our [oyster] traps.  I reckon I'd go closer to shore since its biggah than our boat!"  My mind flashed back to yesterday -- during the sunset cruise aboard the catamaran -- when I glimpsed a Thaaka a.k.a. Tiger Shark so large I thought it was a Whale Shark (the largest fish in the world.)  In a flurry, fatal scenes from Jaws sped through my mind and I imagined a massive, dark shadow gliding under us.  Filled with growing uneasiness we furiously rowed closer to Monkey Mia.
The world is a trying place, for humans, Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins & other creatures alike; even crueler here in Shark Bay.  These are not simple-minded animals; they are complex beings who -- like so many of us -- fight every day to survive. Let us not make life any harder for them.

No comments:

Post a Comment