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We are one on this one planet.

 Couple jumping dolphins, beautiful sea sunset


            Takao felt old and bitter. His hair was thinning, his fingers refused to straighten, and cold sober he walked like a man in a storm. Worse, he couldn’t respond to the cherry blossom scented girl at the market who smiled at him despite his rheumy eyes and blood-stained clothes. He couldn’t respond because he had to go home to a wife who squandered all her affection on three lazy sons. They wanted nothing to do with the hunt. They had big dumb dreams. Such things might well embitter a man nearing forty. Takao put all the blame instead on the dolphins.

            He rose alone in the dark and chill, his family sleeping, snoring, twitching. His boatmates, whose names drifted away from him, shared no jokes or stories, just the shouted orders of the job. When Takao spoke, which was seldom, he was his own audience. As he walked down to the boats under a graying sky, he muttered a vow. “I loathe these fish. Despise them. They eat my catch and leave me nothing. I have waited through three long days of rain, but before this day ends, I will kill as many as I can.”

            Takao had his reasons. The dolphins had trapped him. Taiji’s cove was the last place in Japan where he could make a decent living at what he knew how to do: whaling. It was what his father had done, and his father before him. The money was good at this time of year, better than he made fishing the rest of the time, but it was never enough.   

            The meat was good. His wife cut it into sashimi or boiled it and served it with shoyu to the family. He used to sell the meat to government buyers, who distributed it to schools for the children. The damned Americans put a stop to that with their “make cry” movie and their lying newspapers. There were new limits everywhere. That meant even less money for his family.

            The man with the glasses was not at the docks. He was one of the few to come to the hunt this year, but he slept late like all the Europeans. He’d arrive later, after the crews returned from the day’s hunt, to see whether there were any of the valuable dolphins in the mix. The crews offered the man the best dolphin steaks, cut with the right portion of blubbery rind, but he smiled and politely refused.

            A boy ran up to the docks, where Takao and the rest of the crewmen were busy securing their harpoons and other gear in the aqua interiors of their white boats. He said they’d spotted a large pod, not too far out. The dolphins were not moving. It would be easy to get around them and begin a drive back toward the holding pens. The men began cheering their luck and hastily divided themselves among the white fleet.


            Aiko looked on but could do nothing to help the mother dolphin who was nearby, still holding her silent calf. Grandmother Shimizu conducted the pod as always, winding them in a great circle. Some of the mated groups protested, “We should go and eat fish. We’re hungry. It does no good for us to stay here for –”

            Grandmother silenced their chittering with a burst of clicks and shrill notes, saying, “Sink your fat bellies! This is your day. This is what you will do. Stay with Yubi. She grieves. We grieve with her.”

            The pod members forgot their protest and went back to the slow procession, moving around and around the mother and calf. All were intensely aware that Yubi might make the choice. It was not something anyone spoke of aloud. Ever. Every dolphin knew it was an option: to stop. Stop breathing. Stop moving. Stop life’s vital pulsations. To use their magnificent brains to end all suffering. To stop.  

            Grandmother had trained Aiko to be a healer. She concentrated for a moment then sent out high manipulator sounds to scan the baby and his mother. There was no doubt. The infant had died sometime during the night. The mother, unwilling to give her calf to the eaters who lived in the water – though that must happen eventually – stayed with the calf. She held the still form behind one pectoral fin, where the calf had suckled just hours before.

            From what Aiko could tell, this death tasted of mans. Mans had poisoned the water with  bits of plastic, chemicals, and awful metals. Fish swallowed everything and the dolphins gobbled the fish. The mans poison remained. In all likelihood, Yubi had delivered the mans evil with her own milk to her beloved Kentaro, dooming the calf with an act of motherly love.

            Aiko thought, as she did often, of the mans. They took fish by the millions. They killed the sharks, who were such fun for the dolphins to torment, also by the millions. Their boats and their nets and their blooding sticks were everywhere.

            Aiko wanted to love on the mans. After all, the pod raced out to meet the fishing boats. When they emptied their nets, they threw unwanted fish (imagine such a thing!) back into the water. Their language was a mystery, simplistic and blunt. The dolphins had taken to using the mans names that filtered into their world. They used them along with the intricate musical rhapsodies that were their natural monikers. It made them laugh. Dolphins liked to laugh. Mans were silly, but mans had the most interesting music. She liked it when the mans brought singing box machines on their machine boats. The melodies varied in form, swelling high and low. She especially loved the rare times when the boxes played orchestra or opera. Many sweet twisty sounds at once, more like a dolphin’s speech. Mans music found its true expression when sung by a dolphin. This, as she soon learned, became quite the habit.

            So, dolphins and mans should be playmates. They should share the fish. Instead, she felt something else for the mans because of the things they did.

            “And what do you feel, little one?” asked Grandmother, who always seemed to know Aiko’s mood, as she knew the mood of every member of the pod. Aiko tried to answer but could not find the right way to share her thoughts. Grandmother said, “You must ask yourself, ‘Would I do what they do to me?’”

            “Would I kill and eat them? I don’t know. I might. Everybody eats. What do mans taste like, anyway?”

            Grandmother sideswam the last part of her question, saying, “You would not do it the way they do, tearing pod mates one from another, taking dolphins into their boats, killing more than they need as I have seen them do.”

            “Do you hate them, Grandmother?”

            “Like you, I would like to reach into their hearts, squeeze out the part that makes them think only of themselves. Do not keep hatred in your deeps, little one. It poisons everything, and we carry enough mans poisons inside us as it is.”

            Grandmother swung wide and swept in, butting her rostrum rudely into Aiko’s side. “Find a better song, little one. Find a song of love no matter what. For now, feel what you can for poor Yubi and Kentaro, mostly for Yubi.

            The morning sun penetrated the dappled roof of the world, cleaving the waters with warming blades of white and gold. The light iridized the scales of red sea bream flitting in a vast school nearby. A squad of Japanese flying squid took notice, changing its course accordingly. “Yom!” sang Aiko. Both were tempting meals, but she and the other dolphins focused on their sister’s grief.

            Then they heard it, a rumbling that disrespected the ocean’s natural anthems. In contrast to the deep pitches larger whales crooned to one another, this was an ugly whine utterly lacking a cetacean’s musicality or joy. It took no more than a second for the dolphins to identify the sound as a harbinger of mans. These were the machine boats that swam on the surface, some of them almost as fast as a dolphin! Aiko sang a warning note to Grandmother, who called out to the entire pod, “Stay together! The pod is life!”

            Aiko wanted to dash off to the deep water, away from the cove. In that late summer and through the winter, the waters here tasted of dolphin blood. She did not like this place. The machine boats were getting closer… and there were many of them. She thought for just a second to abandon the pod, but that was madness. The pod was all. “Stay together,” she said, repeating Grandmother’s words.

            The machine boats were moving in several directions now, slapping their bellies on the watery peaks. Some had already swung wide, getting between the pod and the open sea.


            Takao cursed. He had to work twice as hard as the younger fisherman around him in order to look like he was working at all. He should be running the boat, but he was only a hooker. His hands hurt and trembled when he tried to grip anything. At least the weather was clear.

            The boat captains revved the engines, frothing the water while men beat on the gunwales, filling the undersea with noise to further confuse the dolphins. Streamlined bodies stitched the waves, anxiously darting in one direction and then another. The animals were fast, but the captains knew their weakness: they tried to stay together at all times. Their group bond slowed down the entire pod, allowing the boats to drive them into the cove, where the crews could go to work.

            Already the dolphins were squealing like frightened babies. They knew what was coming.


            Dolphins don’t need anyone to tell them which direction to follow. Their movements come freely; the only paradigm is to keep the clan together. Now, the screaming of the machine boats was scrambling their ability to think, to plan the graceful arcs and playful corkscrews that made up their usual movements.     

            The ancient strategy was sound: stay together while facing danger. It would work against any predator. Almost any predator. “The pod is life!” Grandmother sang out. Dozens of her mates and cousins took up the refrain. Their singing was off, terribly off as fear fractured the tocs and clicks, and muddied the carefully constructed chords.    

            Aiko looked around. The mans were dropping nets into the water between their machine boats. Her senses detected lines pulling more netting below them, drawn by other machine boats. The nets were surrounding them and coming up from underneath, like the maw of a blue whale. Her family members were no better than hapless krill feeding this hunter’s insatiable appetite. 

            One of her mates, a burly male named Raiden, raced toward the shallows then abruptly reversed himself, at once using his mighty peduncle to whip his flukes up and down. By the time he passed Aiko, he was moving at full speed and headed directly at the raised perimeter. He meant to break the nets, frustrating the mans trap. If anyone could, it was Raiden! Closer and closer he got until his melon struck the mesh barrier. The nets gave slightly. Aiko could see the two nearest machine boats jerk sharply.  Raiden issued a rude burst of whistles and clacks and drifted back into the main pod.

            The netting remained intact… and it was creeping like a predator, driving them ever closer to shore.

             More than ever, Aiko wanted to make her own run at the net, not to try to snap its nasty web but to jump over it. She could. Most of them had that kind of speed. Maybe not Grandmother, who had seen over eight hundred lunas. That was the problem. To jump the net meant leaving behind the pod, certainly leaving Grandmother and many of the younger dolphins caught in the trap. No, Aiko could not do that. “The pod is life!” she called, adding to the frantic voices around her.  

            Aiko looked around again. The pod was bunching in close together. Now, the machine boats had driven a second pod of moon-faced Risso’s Dolphins into the trap. The two clans were not friendly and this only made things more confusing. They were moving. The mans were forcing them through a small opening in a new net wall that surrounded a secluded cove.

            It was hard for Aiko to see anyone. She tried to find Yubi and Kentaro, but they were nowhere to be seen. Without warning, a group of dolphins found themselves surrounded by yet another of the mans nets. It rose from below, rolling her among four other dolphins, including Raiden. He contorted himself wildly, crushing them in even tighter. Aiko felt her slick body pressed between Raiden and another dolphin, forcing her backwards like when she bit into an urchin and wound up squeezing the tasty guts out of her mouth. She was free of the net! Before she could sing for joy, however, she saw the others pulled upward and through the rippling surface. Their screams never stopped as they transitioned from sea to air.

            Not far away, Grandmother was trying to calm her relations. She had gotten close to the white hull of one of the machine boats. Above the surface, Aiko could see the mans bodies moving menacingly against the blue vault of the Great heavens. There was a sharp motion and a missile pierced the water, creating a line of bubbles. It had a fierce looking metal tip. It was a bloodstick, and before Aiko knew what was happening, the bloodstick was buried deep in Grandmother’s side. Crimson mist formed around the wound. Even as she cried out in anguish, one pale hand dipped down from above holding a shorter blooding stick with a wicked hook at the end. Aiko tried to sing out to Grandmother. The hook found the older dolphin’s side, plunging into her, releasing a second cloud of red.


            Takao felt the blubber hook slice deeply into the big female and lodge firmly in place. He wanted this one. She’d be good eating. It looked like a Pantropical Spotted. The man in the dark glasses usually liked to keep these alive. Too bad. There were plenty more dolphins in these waters: Risso’s, Striped, even False Killer Whales. They would capture many today to add to those in the pens. This one – this one would feed the working men and their families.

            One of the captains called out, “Spread the tarps!”

            Damn them! Takao thought. He looked up to see if a drone camera was overhead. He couldn’t see one, but they were close to shore. A group of outsiders up in the hills had cameras pointed at them. They were trying to shame honest fishermen with videos on their computers and phones, the kind his idiot sons stared at all day. His boat mate got a line around the dolphin’s tail. Together, they hauled the animal close to the boat and secured it there. Then they wasted a quarter- hour rigging a tarp over the work areas to block the onlookers’ view. It was awkward, working in a wetsuit, plus the extra exertion hurt his back and legs. When he thought no one was looking, Takao pulled a flask from his back pocket and took a long sip of liquor.   

            Never having worked a single day on the water, these outsiders demanded the hunt be “humane.” So be it. Takao grabbed a T-handled metal rod with a sharp blade on the tip. He carefully positioned himself over the wounded dolphin’s front end. Pressing the tip just behind the blowhole, Takao thrust downward into the spinal cord. “Humane!” he yelled through the tarp to the hills above the cove. Men then hammered a cork into each of the dolphin’s wounds. This was supposed to reduce the bleeding and keep the cove’s water from churning into a bright red. This was another pointless chore the owners had added on to placate fools. Stupid! They would spend the next several days driving, netting, and gaffing the dolphins. Just wait till they began flensing off the blubber and meat. The cove would sparkle under the sun like cherry wine.  


            Grandmother’s body, leaking ruddy life, was pinned against the machine boat. Her tail lolled and bobbed with the motion of the surrounding water, and it was plain Grandmother no longer controlled it. She whimpered. Wanting desperately to free her, Aiko thought to chew the bonds, but they were made of the same mans rope as the nets and would not break. 

            “Grandmother!” she cried.

            “Poison, little one. I am full of poison.” Aiko was confused. The mans had not used poison, had they? Surely, their blooding sticks were enough.

            Aiko was terrified. She flipped and swam, bumping against strange dolphins to keep out of reach of the blooding sticks but she kept coming back to Grandmother’s side. The old dolphin’s eyes would not focus, and the only sound she produced was a song of misery. After a long time, she died.


            The man in the dark glasses checked the list on his fancy phone. His fine clothes were not stained like the other men’s. “It’s been a good haul,” he said with a smile. “My clients will be pleased with these specimens.” The man’s trucks had come and gone, taking more than two dozen of the chosen survivors off to dolphinariums around the world.

            Takao stood behind his boat captain, who said, “Our numbers could be higher, if we didn’t have this fucking quota limits. We had to release a lot of good animals.” It was the same excuse his captain gave Takao when he explained why his share was smaller than last year. Takao blamed the dolphins.

            “In time, when the world is distracted, things may go back to the way they were. For now, play the game,” the man in the dark glasses said, drawing good-natured laughter all around. The boat captains reported the annual take. Sometimes someone checked, mostly not. Police kept the activists back, so the men usually got an extra dolphin or two. Indeed, the butcher had not sent back his usual two pallet loads, but rather three heaping pallets. The boat crews eagerly divided the bundles of meat among themselves. It made Takao’s back hurt to think about hauling the heavy load home. Stepping in close so no cameras could see, the man carefully slipped each boat captain a thick envelope and drove off in his big dark car.


            Aiko poked her head above the crimson swells and she watched the mans on the shore. Sadness and the taste of the cove water filled her senses. Her mind was sharp. It knew these tastes. If she concentrated, she might be able to identify which blood came from which dolphin. The thought made her heart race. She was angry.

            She looked on until all the mans but one had left. He stood, taking up his bundles of dolphin meat. She tried not to allow the word to form in her mind. Tried. It burst through her barriers unbidden, complex, lovely, unbearably sad: Grandmother.

            The old dolphin’s words came back to Aiko. “Do not keep hatred in your deeps… It poisons everything.”

            Fine, let him eat her poisoned meat! she thought. It felt good to think of the mans feeling pain. Mans had poisoned the water. Mans had murdered her grandmother. Aiko cherished the thought that mans own mistakes would…      

            Aiko’s insides went cold. This was the old dolphin’s warning. This was what Grandmother was saying.

            At once, Aiko swam closer to where the lone mans was standing and called out. “Poison! Danger! Warn others! Not yom! Bad!” He heard her. Their eyes made contact, mans to dolphin and back. In that moment, she could almost sense his thoughts.

            Yubi’s head popped up a short distance away. Her calf was nowhere to be seen. Yubi heard Aiko’s warning cries, but did not join in.

            At last, the mans reacted. He dropped his wet bundles and scraped up a fist full of jagged stones, white but stained pink. These, he threw viciously towards Aiko. Most plunked harmlessly into the water, though one bounced painfully off the young dolphin’s melon.

            Aiko and Yubi ducked under the surface and swam out of the cove.


            “Hit you! Ha! Next fall, I will put my hook in you and eat you up!” Takao laughed loudly. With a grubby hand, he pulled the flask from his back pocket and swallowed the final drops inside. It dulled the pain in his hands and back. He picked up his heavy bundles again, feeling unsteady on his feet.

            As walked toward home, he looked out at the sun settling into the red waters. The color would fade to blue as it did every spring after the hunt. He’d be back next time. For now, he had a little money. Maybe he could save up and buy his own boat one day. Then he could smile back at the cherry blossom scented girl at the market. At least he had good dolphin meat to feed his wife and sons. They wasted their time playing computer games and dreaming of expensive schools. Something was wrong with those boys. They were dumb. No matter. Let them smell the cherry blossoms of their free spring. When winter came, he would bring them here to the shore. They would work the cove, just as Takao and his father had done, and his father before him.     


If you found this story moving, please check out Come the Eventide by Chris Riker -