"DOWN UNDER ALL OVER - Excerpt"
WE CAME TO Monkey Mia, I with much anticipation. What would I feel seeing wild dolphins right next to me? I knew I'd be greatly moved. And I was. Moved by their innocence and beauty and grace, and for the gift they give to us humans by choosing to venture into our waiting circle.
Ten hours north of Perth, and 25 wind-driven kilometers across from Denham on the Peron Peninsula, on a sealed* road no less, we turned into the red dirt parking lot of Monkey Mia. I was pleased to find a ranger and signs and brochures telling us HOW TO MEET THE DOLPHINS: Don't touch the blow hole. Pet them on their side. If a dolphin gives you a fish, accept it gratefully, don't give it back, etc.
In the attractive new ranger building overlooking the beach, we learned more from a well-done presentation. History is replete with instances of dolphins befriending mankind, but nowhere else in the world today do a number of dolphins make regular contact with humans. The puzzling name of Monkey Mia may have derived from the fact that Chinese once worked in the pearling industry there and were known as monkeys, while Mia is an aboriginal word for abode. Another speculation is that monkeys once were found locally.
Stepping off the red packed dirt parking area, we stood on a wide white beach commanding a vista of a turquoise bay. Groups of people were scattered along the beach, some reading books, some chatting, many looking expectantly at the water. It was a patient group, quiet, almost subdued as if awaiting a holy event. No one knew when the dolphins would come, or if they would appear at all. A pair of dolphins had already shown up earlier that morning. We were told that they were especially predictable during the summer months and had been so since the 1940's. What attracts them to this particular place and this contact with man? No one really knows. Sid and I sat on our towels reading and sunning like the other waiters. An hour--perhaps two--passed. The breeze was brisk, though not too cold. The sun was warm and the sky, sea and beach were as pristine and inviting as a virgin tropical island.
Suddenly we were aware of people crowding in the water off to our left. A dolphin swam just in front of them. We hurried to join the group that was standing hushed and smiling and clacking cameras in the presence of this phenomenon. I managed a brief slide of my hand along the dolphin's slippery body. He was gliding two to three feet away--just enough out of reach to make it inappropriate to lunge out to touch him. Mostly I stood knee deep in the clear water, along with the 30 or so others, waiting for a chance to snap a shot, or to pet him, all the while silently communing to the dolphin: "Thank you. I honor you and the gift of your presence."
Out of the turquoise waters, a second silver flash appeared arcing smoothly toward us. It, too, glided along our waiting ranks, lolling sideways, much the way a cat tips belly-up, displaying its vulnerability and hence its trust. The dolphins seemed to be smiling up at us.
A young lady ranger wearing hip boots stood in the water directing the crowd to stand back, cautioning us not to put our hands on the dolphins' heads -- which is their sensitive sensory area. They let us know they didn't like being touched there by quickly rearing backwards and thwacking the water. Another ranger appeared with fish hidden in plastic bags inside his jacket. Already the giant pelicans, who earlier were dozing or strutting among the beach people, were furiously paddling around the dolphins, ready to dive for the fish. It became quite a tempestuous scene, the ranger driving back the ardent lumbering pelicans as well as some very cheeky cormorants. Three or four fish were handed to watchers to feed the dolphins, who gracefully seized the fish and glided away.
Several times the dolphins disappeared into the deeper waters only to return again. After an hour's visit, though, they apparently decided it was time to return from whence they'd come. We, the watchers, continued to stand gazing into the distance, as if reluctant to release the experience of that incredible past hour.
I felt a loss as the two silver shadows disappeared, returning to a watery world where they were at home and where we couldn't follow. The loss, too, was of these gentle creatures who harbored some special wisdom that urged them to leave their domain and to associate with the world of men.
The dolphins take the initiative. It is their choice to come to Monkey Mia. What is their message? What do they teach us? To respect and honor all creatures, one for the other. In that unique place it is man that does the responding, and I was pleased by what I saw. Monkey Mia was not commercialized and sensationalized. Great care had been taken to respect the dolphins and to instill a sense of wonder in those who come to see them. The special quality of Monkey Mia is summed up by Wilf Mason, the local "grandfather of the dolphins". In a world of seeming darkness, says Wilf, Monkey Mia represents a tiny speck of light: "This speck of light we speak of, we should never let it die. We should fight to keep it glowing, every one must try. We should nurture it and cherish it and always keep it warm. For this little speck of light we see will one day be a dawn."