"The Paramount Importance of One’s Fishing Companions"
[Saturday, July 11, 2015]
Bhuvana Fushi was one of
two islands that had once been
resorts and now were given over
to scientists and other nerds
moving into the Maldives.
Tolli walked barefoot through
the soft white sand as Simon
trundled along beside him
with his beach wheels.
"Do you think it will
work?" Simon mused.
"I have no idea," Tolli said,
"but I can't wait to find out."
They spilled out of the jungle path
onto the pristine sand of Dolphin Beach.
From there a wooden jetty reached out
across the aquamarine shallows to
where the water turned deep blue.
A pod of dolphins frisked in the waves,
and nearby a young man stood in
the shallow water with a rope
tethering him to his dhoni.
Caique Alegre had grown up in
Laguna, Brazil where he fished
in cooperation with the dolphins.
When his support of indigenous rights
made him unwelcome, he moved to
a villa in Bhuvana Fushi, hoping that
he could teach the locals about
cooperative fishing techniques.
The dolphins had been all in favor,
excited to learn a new trick and
an easier way to catch fish.
Then the Maldivian Navy heard
about it, and things got ... interesting.
"Good morning!" Tolli called as
they made their way to the jetty.
"Morning!" Caique shouted back.
"Look how many helpers we have!
I didn't even have to ring bell."
The dolphins wouldn't be
assisting directly today, but
they had agreed to help scout
for fish in exchange for getting
to eat some of the stragglers.
"Yeah, everybody's heard about
this by now," Tolli said. "Look,
there's Siggy. I wonder if Steel
and Moderato are here yet."
Right on cue, Moderato
launched himself out of
the sapphire waves and
breached in a white plume.
Good morning, friends!
he called. The fish are
busy today. There are not
so many as in the cold north,
but enough to eat if we can
drive them together.
That was the motivation
for the whales to join in,
of course -- they normally
fed in the Arctic, but now
with more of them moving
to the Maldives, they had
to figure out other ways.
One challenge was that
a humpback's gullet was
only about as wide as
a grapefruit, limiting
the size of their food.
Steel surfaced nearby,
blowing a cloud of mist.
Beside him, Shale wallowed
to the surface and spouted
a much smaller cloud.
Of course, if you had
a sperm whale willing
to shred big fish for you,
that made life a lot easier.
Morning, Steel muttered,
sounding about as enthusiastic
as Shiv before the first cup of coffee.
Tolli strode onto the jetty, its wood
warm and smooth under his bare feet.
Simon rumbled alongside of him.
"I see that the support team left us
some storage tubs for the fish,"
Tolli said. Peeking inside of
the big blue containers, he
saw that one was empty
and the other one held ice.
That way, he could start filling
the empty container, and shovel
ice cubes over the fish in layers.
"Ready, everyone?" Simon said
as he gathered up his cast net.
The plan for today was to test out
two methods -- Moderato's bubble net
and Steel's stunning tail slap -- to see
which worked better with human partners.
Moderato had volunteered to work
with Caique, while Steel would
team up with Tolli and Simon.
Ready, everyone else chorused.
The whales disappeared, and even
the dolphins got out of the way,
the water suddenly smooth.
"Watch for signal," Caique said,
waving at the flat blue sea.
Suddenly the water seemed to boil
as a ring of bubbles appeared.
Then Moderato lunged up through
the center, bulging with fish and water.
As he fell sideways back into the sea,
Caique cast his net to land in a circle,
then hauled vigorously on the rope.
In a minute, he dumped a mass
of flopping fish into his dhoni.
"Our turn," Tolli murmured,
and Simon readied the net.
Steel arched and then slammed
his tail into the water with a BOOM
that resonated even on the jetty.
Simon flung his net out and
then hauled on the rope.
"Nuts," he muttered. "I
think it's hung on something."
Steel's laughter clanged like
loose parts in a sunken ship.
It is not hung. Pull harder.
Tolli grabbed the rope and
heaved, muscles bunching,
and one wet foot of rope
emerged from the water.
Groaning and straining,
they managed to haul the net
close enough to see clearly.
It was bursting with fish.
Working together, Tolli and
Simon just barely managed
to drag it out of the water and
dump the fish into their tub.
Tolli shoveled ice over them.
"What do you think?" he said.
"I think we need a bigger box,"
Simon said faintly. "Wow."
Caique laughed at them.
"You need boat, man!"
"Yeah, he's got a point,"
Tolli said. "Guess I better
call the support team and
ask them to bring us one."
While Tolli was calling
for backup, Simon said,
"Moderato, Steel, did you
get anything for yourselves?"
FISH! Shale shouted, too excited
to modulate his mental voice. He
was still mostly drinking formula,
but already he liked chasing fish.
Steel emerged from the waves with
half of an enormous tuna wedged in
his teeth. His jaw snapped, the rest
of it disappearing down his throat.
Quite satisfactory, he said.
We cannot hunt in the shallows,
and you cannot hunt in the deeps
without a boat. But together we
can trap the fish between us,
making them easier to catch.
The deep water has more fish,
and bigger ones, but I can't swallow
those whole, said Moderato. Here on
the edge, though, there are schools
of little fish that I like very much.
Tolli looked at the mass of fish
in his tub. They seemed bigger
than that -- any bigger, in fact, and
they would have ripped the net.
Checking the dhoni, though, he
saw that Caique had fish from
hand to forearm size instead.
"You happy with that catch?"
Tolli asked the fisherman.
"Oh yes!" Caique said.
"Little ones, I cook on
metal sheet. Medium,
I sell to chefs for plate."
Tolli looked at his tub.
"I don't know what to do
with these," he said. "I
don't even recognize
what kinds they are."
"So?" Caique said. "Not
your job to name! Put fish on
ice table, people buy what they want."
"Okay, that will work," Tolli said.
The scientists who set up
the experiment had agreed
to weigh and measure the fish
so they could compare results,
and then sell off the catch.
Nobody needed a license,
because they were fishing in
a reserve with the permission
of the cetaceans who held it.
If the techniques worked, then
other people could use them
in private, recreational, or
Of course, the earlier worry
was valid -- nets could get hung
on reefs or rocks. People would
have to choose their methods
carefully for the territory.
Just then, a dhoni came
around the edge of the island.
Simon waved to bring it close.
"The experiment is going so well,
it's hard to lift the fish up to the tub,
and we're afraid that the weight
will break the net," Tolli explained.
"So we're taking a page from
Caique's book and putting
the fish in a boat instead."
The sailor nodded agreement,
and took up a position beside
the jetty and out of the way.
Simon looked at the screen
for the underwater scanner
that had been attached beside
the seabell to observe the fish.
"Yeah, we're getting great results,"
he said. "Look, when the whales
attack, about half the fish that they
miss wind up bolting to the shallows
in a blind panic. They're easy to catch."
Tolli looked at the fuzzy dashes that
represented fish. "I think they're
hesitating to come all the way in
before that -- they know we're here."
"It's like Steel said, we're trapping them
between us," Tolli said. "The ones that
scatter, the dolphins are picking off."
"Yah, yah!" Caique said. "Like that
in Brazil -- fish turn to miss net,
and dolphins catch them. We
catch ones that turn too late."
"Someone will have to figure out what
all this does to the carrying capacity
and the sustainable fishing, though,"
Tolli said. "We don't want to run out."
"Not our job," Simon said cheerfully.
"We're just here to collect the data.
Pounds and pounds of delicious data!"
Tolli laughed. "You have a point."
The whales swam out to sea again,
then surged back to shore and
repeated their techniques.
Simon cast his net, and
Tolli helped him haul it in.
"We really," Simon huffed,
"need to warn people ...
about the weight!"
It was a lot easier
to dump the fish into
a water-level boat than
to haul them up onto
the jetty and then the tub.
They were still heavy, though.
Drop nets might be a good idea
to install on some of the jetties.
"Good fishing here, yeah?"
said Caique. "I love it. Whales
even better than dolphins!"
"One thing becomes
clearer as one gets older
and one’s fishing experience
increases, and that thing is
the paramount importance
of one’s fishing companions,"
Simon said with a grin.
"Can't argue with that,"
Tolli said, and kissed him.
* * *
This poem is long, so its notes appear elsewhere.