On the second weekend, the onshore crowd had seriously diminished. “I don’t want to watch them die,” Maisie remarked when I asked her if she wanted to come along with me on Saturday. On Sunday morning, two more lifeless bodies were recovered from the creek and the rescue operation was officially terminated. Over the course of the next few weeks, Di Giovanni and his colleagues will be conducting blood tests and autopsies, looking for answers.
One of the earliest recorded dolphin strandings, recounted by Aelian in the second century A.D., involved a love story between a young man from the town of Iassos and an amorous dolphin. They became inseparable until one day the boy fell while riding the dolphin and fatally impaled himself on the spike of the animal’s dorsal fin. Out of grief, the dolphin beached himself and expired. To date, Aelian’s story is as plausible as any narrative that science has come up with about dolphin strandings.
If the Northwest Creek incident proved anything, it’s that, like the ancient Greeks, we’re drawn to dolphins because we think we know them—as if they were aquatic, communal, pacific versions of ourselves. But most of this, as Gardner made clear to me, is completely in our heads. Our close encounter with the dolphins started as something wildly exhilarating, and then it turned sad and frustrating, and eventually we just wanted to avert our eyes from the tragic finale. Whether the event can be linked to global climate change—to which the president daintily alluded last week—or to pollution or sonar experiments, we hated being helpless spectators, and like my friend who went on the midnight salmon run, many of us desperately wanted to do something about it other than just wring our hands and wonder if, in their strange behavior and all those clicks and beeps, the dolphins may have been trying to tell us something. And we couldn’t help worrying about our kids, who will be inheriting the question.