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Janet Elaine Smith "Star" Books

Dolphin excerpt


Chapter 1: Some Background

       The name of the island where I live and share my life with the dolphins is Tybee. Tybee means "salt" and was named by Indians that lived here hundreds of years ago. They named it that because of all the salt deposits they found here.
       There is a town in Japan named Taiji, which sounds a lot like Tybee. I sometimes feel we are sister cities because for both of us dolphins are important but for different reasons. In Taiji, hunting dolphins for food is an ancient tradition. Part of the reason I am writing this book is to encourage seeing dolphins in a new way so no one will ever have to eat them again. 
       Tybee is one of many barrier islands off the coast of Georgia and the lower East Coast of the United States. We are connected to the mainland by a bridge. The population of Tybee's permanent residents is around 4000. Also, many people visit here just to be close to the ocean.
       Many artists live here as well as retired people and people who love the sea, including the shrimp fishermen who make their living from the sea. The people on this island are very supportive of each other when anyone is having a hard time. We may not all agree about things like politics but if anyone needs help, the neighbors supply it.
       We have no big shopping centers and barely even have a grocery store. To get supplies, it is necessary to go to the mainland. But that does not stop people from wanting to move here. We are currently having a building boom with many new houses going up.
       The weather here is hot in the summer, in the 90 degree F range and it cools down in the winter to the 30's and 20's F. Spring and Fall are like paradise.
We have hurricane season from June through November and so we get to live with the threat that represents. We have only had to evacuate the island once in the past nine years which is as long as I have lived here.
       I ride my bicycle on the island to go places and use my car mostly for going off the island. There is something you will hear people say who live here full time, and that is a reference to "Tybee Fever" which refers to the fact that the longer you live here, the less you ever want to leave the island. There is something special about this place.
       Once a year, at the end of May, we have an island ritual to mark the beginning of tourists invading our island, after school lets out. The whole island has one great big water fight. There is a parade with funny looking floats and people throw water from the floats onto the crowd lining the streets, and the crowd aims the hose on the passing floats. It is wild and crazy and very much  a Tybee thing. Visitors who come here seem to recognize Tybee is unique and usually leave saying they want to return some day, even if they came from a very far distance. Part of the Tybee magic has to do with the dolphins, I think. Everyone loves them.
        I live right by the water where the river flows into the sea. In the river live several pods of dolphins that I have gotten to know. These dolphins have lived here for many generations. They have a good life with plenty of fish to eat and safety from predators so that their young may grow up to be healthy and have a full and interesting dolphin life.
       There are many shrimp boats here . The shrimp fishermen support themselves and their families by going out in the Spring, Summer and Fall to net shrimp. The shrimp fishermen and the dolphins have become friends over the years. When the shrimp fishermen empty their nets on the boats, they not only have shrimp in the nets but many fish as well. The fish that are too small to eat get swept over the side of the boat when the fishermen clean the deck. The dolphins have learned that this happens so at cleaning time, the dolphins will swim in from far away, even from out at sea, to come to the side of the boat to enjoy the feast. They get so excited and jump high out of the water by the side of the boat. The fishermen have come to know the dolphins as individuals because they each have their own personality and they see them year after year. The dolphins have plenty of fish they catch on their own, but they can't seem to resist the treat of all the fish being swept over the side of the boat. And it makes the shrimp fishermen happy too. They like to be around dolphin energy.
       I have loved dolphins ever since I saw the first one when I was a child. I moved here so I could be close to them and get to know them and study them. I want to understand them better because I know they are much smarter than we know. They know things I would like to know.
       So I bought a kayak, a small yellow boat that I named Buttercup so I could spend a lot of time with the dolphins. I have spent many hours, days, weeks, months, and now years with them thanks to Buttercup. My kayak helps me be close to the dolphins and keep up with them. I think the dolphins have probably named my kayak "tame yellow shark" because they have discovered the kayak is not aggressive, and a kayak moves much like a shark moves because you paddle first on one side, then on the other, which makes it move a little side to side instead of in a straight line. Sharks swim like that, a little side to side.
       The dolphins have been my teachers. I thought I was studying them. They are studying me as well. Slowly, over several years, I have formed a relationship with four dolphins in particular. I call them "the friendlies." These are older male dolphins that have become very bonded as friends and who like to stay together. Female dolphins stay with the other females and so you usually see them in groups with much younger dolphins and babies.
       Through relating more and more with these four dolphins, I have been learning many things. All the dolphins allow certain kinds of interaction, once they get used to your presence, but these four dolphins seem to be the ambassadors to help teach me, a human being, things I need to know to understand them better.
       I get to be with the dolphins from May until November every year. Then, in November, they leave to follow the fish into warmer waters (in the tributaries) or out to sea, but come May, they return to the river, which is right next to where I live. I am always so happy to see them again as I miss them when they are gone. They are like family to me, and they are my friends.

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