You’ll see it best on the darkest nights. When the moon is empty and clouds cover the stars – that’s when the ocean and algae collude. Like the Arctic’s Northern Lights, this is one of those natural phenomena that leave you giddy, wide-eyed in wonder: Psychedelic dolphins.
I’ve seen it just once, on the deck of the Rainbow Warrior, leaning over the side, late at night. As tiny specks of algae were excited by each wave, they’d light up for a second, a spray of sparks shooting off the bow of the ship. Sometimes the glow was actually bright enough to light up the whole bow, other times just a speck or two would ignite, rolling off the back of a wave. And then they came.
Dolphins streaming through the water, a trail of bright yellow glitter sparkling in their wake. Single spots of algae became shooting stars as dolphins torpedoed through the sea and launched through the air. One, two, three – five in the water, submarine fireworks lighting up the ocean. And then, gone.
Working on an oceans campaign, it’s easy to get caught in all the negatives: the overfishing, the by-catch, the shark finning, the greed, the poorly paid crew desperate to get home, stuck at sea for eighteen months. Faced with all this, the ocean can slip away and we lose sight of what we’re fighting for.
I’m here because the ocean is one of the last places on earth that can truly be called a wilderness. So much of our planet has been touched by human hands; the ocean's ecosystem is one of the few remaining that still has pieces we haven’t touched. I’m talking about schools of dolphin flying through glowing algae, the manta ray whose gentle flap of wings propels her through the deep blue. It’s the great white, the blue shark, cascades of jellyfish, the spray as a whale breathes out. It’s that sense of wonder that only nature can inspire – and we still find some of that here in the Indian Ocean.
The other day our helicopter was out scouting for fishing boats, and we came across about a dozen humpback whales, all breaching, diving, waving their fins, and flashing tails. Dolphins and minky whales were there too, and it was like we’d come across some ancient ritual, a commune of ocean mammals playing together in the middle of the sea. (See Slideshow below)
Life loves living.
There are many rational reasons why we should protect our oceans –jobs, development, fisheries, food– but there’s also the wonderful, and for me those reasons are equally important. They’re what keeps the fight in me alive, the cues from nature that seem to shout, ‘hey, we’re still here’. The Indian Ocean is still very much alive, and we can’t just let it go. We can’t allow the greed of a few to rob the ocean of its wonder, and plunder the bellies of future generations.