I finished my 30 day Instagram photo project on Monday, but it had an unexpected ending.

I woke up at 6AM, made a flask of coffee and dragged my bleary eyed ass down the road to get some shots of the early morning hustle-bustle of Jukdo Market. I got some nice shots of the vegetable shops before I headed to the fish market- standard stuff, pleasant enough. I originally thought it would be nice to get a photo of the sun rising over the market. When I got to the fish market there was an octopus auction in motion so I couldn’t see much other than lots of octopuses crawling over the wet cement, and people. Then the auction finished. People bagged up their octo-purchases and moved away. And then I saw it.

A dead dolphin. Someone was trying to sell a dead dolphin. A female dolphin just over 1.20 meter long with a slit throat lying in a puddle of blood.

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I couldn’t believe my eyes. I kept calm and took photos. Touched it. Dead. Hard. The merchant didn’t seem to mind me. I was in a sleepy , incredulous state, taking in the scene before me. I left, checked my photos and wanted to go back to get a better shot, but I didn’t want people to think I was being a pest so I used my best wide angle shot for my instagram photo. I went to the river, drank some coffee and a few tears rolled across my cheek. I didn’t want to cry in public so I went home, tried to put the image out of my head and got ready for school.

It was only when I came back from school that I could really release the emotion that I’d been holding like a breath all day. It’s 4 days later now and I’m still crying every time I think about the dolphin. I wish I’d never seen it.

I’ve always had a thing for dolphins. Before I learnt to scuba dive I was afraid of going beyond the breakers but on my 21st birthday there were dolphins passing by Jeffrey’s Bay’s main beach (South Africa). They were following their daily route- I’d seen them do it many times from the safety of the shore. That day, I decided to swim out to them, just past the breakers. My decision was bolstered by the fact that there were lifesavers lying on their surfboards in the area should I need them 😉   I could only see half their bodies because the visibility was low but I could hear their clicks. It was bliss. I fell in love. Shortly afterwards I went to  Port Elizabeth’s oceanarium  to see a dolphin show. I was early and the stadium was empty- I was one of 3 people there. One of the dolphins jumped out onto the shallow pool ledge to say hello. It would have been rude of me not to return the greeting so I touched it and only saw the “don’t touch” sign after the fact. It’s skin felt different than I always thought it would. It was smooth and rubbery, but with more give that I’d expected.

After I became a scuba diving instructor I saw dolphins very often, especially along the Sodwana Bay coast.  Once, I had to stop my student’s navigation exercise because a dolphin swam right in front of us. I’ve always considered seeing dolphins on scuba a great privilege- it gives you such a high to see these mammals in the wild. Gosh, I’ve even seen dolphins mating. They have such a way with humans, the way they play in the wake of boats, how they jump! When people snorkel with dolphins they emit the greatest sounds-  coos and shrieks of pure delight. It’s pleasure in it’s purest form.

The Cove opened my eyes to the enormous suffering that these cetaceans have to endure at the hand of human beings. Last year I taught my high school students about the human pressures on our marine environment, educating them on the issue of dolphins in captivity and the impending extinction of New Zealand’s Maui and Hector’s dolphin populations.  I stopped short of showing them the film but told them to watch it.

In Korea, the law states that it’s illegal to kill whales and dolphins on purpose, BUT if they’re killed by accident, it’s OK to sell their meat. There’s a lot of whale meat in Korea. If I went to Jukdo Market early every morning, how many dead dolphins would I see? I didn’t see ANY boat damage to this cetacean, only the gash across its throat. Who polices this law? Who enforces the  law that’s supposed to protect these animals?

This is how I’d prefer to see dolphins: free and wild.



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