The crew introduce themselves; Leo is the Captain and it is his boat. Bole is the spearman and finally there is Augustino whose job it is to direct Leo closer to the Dolphins so that Bole can take a shot. Augustino is elder statesman of the group and one suspects a few decades ago it would have been he who was the spearman.
We were warned of 2 things by Doug (the American journalist who arranged for us to join the hunt). First, it could be a long day, they generally don’t return until they catch something. Secondly, it would be brutal and graphic; there is no TV director to take off the savage edge of such an event.
As we headed out to sea we all thought the longest part would be locating the Dolphins and then these expert hunters would simply spear one and we would head back to the village. Although it did take a while to locate the Dolphins the longest part of the day was the chase. A pod of Dolphins would be spotted and we would speed after them with Augustino frantically waving directions at Leo. The closer we got the more animated he became. When we were within striking distance Bole would steady himself, readying himself for the moment of when he would launch himself and his spear at the Dolphin they had decided was their target. It was just at this moment that the Dolphin would disappear underwater and out of range. Almost simultaneously another Dolphin would appear and we would hare after it, when Bole was ready it would descend into the blue. It was as if the Dolphins were actively participating in this game of cat and mouse. Was it a thrill for them? Humans are constantly finding ways to amuse ourselves with past times that put our lives in danger – perhaps Dolphins are also adrenaline junkies?
As the spectators, we became engrossed in what was playing out in front of our eyes. Every time we got into a position for Bole to ready himself we would hold our breath in anticipation of what would happen next. Each aborted or failed attempt created a raft of mixed emotions. On one hand we wanted these sensational animals to continue to get one over on their hunters. Especially as they seemed to be openingly taunting their pursuers by performing an array of jumps and aerial acrobatics. It is exactly the kind of behaviour that endears Dolphins to Humans. And yet on the other hand there was a morbid intrigue with what would happen if the hunters did strike a mortal blow to one of their prey.
After almost 3 hours of chasing, the fisherman needed a break. They seemed exhausted and frustrated by their excursions. So for a little while we floated at sea trying to digest what we had witnessed so far. It was not only the fishermen who were drained. We had found ourselves emotionally drawn into the thrill of the chase which was an adrenaline rush. It was only when we stopped we realsed how draining it was. As we waited for the fisherman to recommence their hunt we were all in agreement – regardless of how this ended what we had witnessed so far was entirely unique. Not only had we seen a plethora of Dolphins (literally hundreds) but we had seen them up close and performing their tricks that delight us humans so much. It almost felt the perfect scenario: we witnessed a hunt but missed out on the death element. We had seen Bole twice attempt to hit his target, as well as a nearby spear boats three repeated attempts. So at this point the Dolphins were up by five points. As we rested the other boat sped of in pursuit of another pod it had spotted. Our boat took a little longer to recuperate before entering back into the ‘game’. It wasn’t long before we located a pod of Dolphins and once again engaged in a pursuit that end with the Dolphin’s disappearing from sight just at the critical moment. We couldn’t help but wonder why they just didn’t stay underwater until they were a safe distance from their hunters – they seemed perfectly aware that a) they were being hunted and b) they were only in danger when at the surface near one of boats.
The end of the spear that Bole had hit the Dolphin with was a hook that detached from the rest of the spear but remained connected to the boat via a rope. Augustino and Leo were now letting that rope out bit by bit. They were allowing the Dolphin to wear itself out but not allowing it enough rope to dive too deep. Gradually they maneuvered the boat closer to the tiring creature to enable Bole to strike again embedding a 2nd spear into the Dolphin. Even though it seemed a futile effort the Dolphins survival instinct still fought against it’s impending removal from the water. Leo delivered a 3rd and decisive blow. The Dolphin was then brought alongside the boat where a steel rod was pushed down its blowhole. It was this act that finally put the poor creature out of its misery.
The fisherman then enlisted Tue to help them haul the sizeable Dolphin from the water and onto the boat.
It may have taken a while but the hunters persistence paid off. They could return to the village having succeeded in achieving what they set out to do when they left.
We headed back in silence looking at the majestic creature laying prone and lifeless across the boat in front us.
We went off on several different tangents on the way back; whenever the fisherman saw another pod of Dolphins they would pursue them. On these occasions there was no doubting whom we wanted to ‘win’.
There was one stop we made en-route back. The fisherman stopped at a nearby village (a couple of buildings on the coast). Here they traded the fins of their capture for some Arak (local home brewed alcohol). This meant we were obliged to toast to the days success. Locals all over the world revel in watching foreigners drink their local brew but it must be said this Arak really wasn’t that bad.
As we drank Augustino suddenly got very animated and the whole boat sprang to life. Before we knew what was happening Bole was once again launching himself off the front of the boat. We were only metres of the coastline so surely it couldn’t have been a Dolphin. Whatever it was Augustino was furious that Bole hadn’t hit it (perhaps if he was 20 years younger…). We tentatively enquired what the intended target was. It was a Manta Ray. Whilst it wasn’t pleasant to see the demise of a Dolphin the one consoling fact is that they are not endangered. The same cannot be said of Manta Rays. Needlessly to say it was a blessed relief that Bole missed his target.
Upon our return to Lamalera the fisherman have one job. To carve up the Dolphin into pieces that can be used by the village. This in itself is quite a spectacle; every single part of the Dolphin is used including the head.
All that was left to do was thank our guests for their generous hospitality in allowing us to join them on the hunt before swimming back to Skimpy, navigating ourselves through the swarm of children that were hanging off her as Chris was giving an impromptu English lesson and promptly fall asleep in the trampolines under the shade cloth. We were all physically, mentally and emotionally shattered.
For more about our visit to to Lamalera please click here.