The onset of the monsoon brings about a fantastic transformation in the diversity of life on beaches. If you are a regular beach-stroller, you have probably noticed the myriad of creatures that start to appear around this time of year, many of them having been washed ashore by the very strong near-shore winds that bring the rain-loaded clouds. One such very pretty, curious-looking creature is the blue button (Porpita porpita).
“Dolphin!” the driver of the fishing boat said to me excitedly, as he shook me awake from my slumber in the cabin. It was pitch dark outside. I looked at the time – it was ten past one in the morning. We were far from shore, almost eighty kilometres off the middle of the Karnataka coast, on the crystal clear, inky blue waters of the continental shelf, just over two-hundred feet deep at our location.
Out on these seemingly endless open waters, sighting dolphins takes more luck than in the coastal areas that I am more familiar with, where not a single survey day passes without at least a few humpback dolphins showing themselves. A few dolphins had indeed passed our boat the day before, and were seen by many of the crew but completely missed by me (I only saw distant splashes a few minutes later, and was cursing myself all day for having missed a valuable sighting). “Dolphin?!” I presently asked the driver, rather amused. I was half-convinced he was saying it to pull my leg, just to add insult to injury after that missed sighting. Bleary-eyed and confused, unable to find my glasses and barely able to see anything in the little light cast by the lamps on the boat, I stepped out onto the wet and slimy deck, taking care to avoid tripping over a huge, freshly landed marlin that lay just outside the cabin. It took me a few moments to realise that they had stopped to fish at night, and that the fisherman was pointing not at the open sea, but to the enclosed space within the net. As I peered, a couple of sleek grey fins quickly appeared where he was pointing, glinting quite brightly in the lamplight, and I froze as the reality of the situation sank in. There were dolphins inside the net.