‘The lady over there has 2,000,000 followers on Instagram,’ I’m told as I prepare to make my introduction to everybody on board the ship. ‘You’ll be live streamed across the world so you better get your facts straight.’
I look down at my notebook and consider the facts I’ve written down. I have faith in my sources. I just hope that faith is not misplaced as this Barefoot Bookseller has recently added ‘Dolphin Spotting Tour Guide’ to his list of other worldly job titles.
Here are some of the facts that I’ve prepared for my introduction. The dolphin’s evolutionary journey started on land when little cat-like creatures with hooves dared to venture back into the sea. Dolphins can recognise their own reflections. Dolphins are actually classified as ‘toothed whales.’ Yes, these are conservative facts that many probably know, but I’m new to the job and would rather play it safe.
Soon after I’ve made my introduction, the boat ventures outside of the atoll into deeper waters. Spinner dolphins and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are abundant in the Indian Ocean and those are the ones we are looking for. They live in pods of up to several hundred (though usually their numbers are between ten and fifteen) and travel outside of their home atolls each night to find deeper water for hunting.
The setting sun casts an apricot light over the water and the reflections glint in the sunglasses of the expectant crowd. It’s balmy, tranquil, and a perfect evening to catch sight of these lovely creatures. The boat crew look out with binoculars from all sides as the captain channels Arion and sings a dolphin song.
Fervently gripping my sarong in one hand and brandishing a hardback in the other, I stand on the top deck of the ship swaying like a sheet in the wind. For emergency reference (and to placate my ever-present bookselling urges) I’ve brought a few copies of a couple of relevant books.
The first is Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins by Susan Casey. Inspired by an experience swimming with dolphins during an emotionally traumatic stage in her life following the passing of her father, Casey details her own emotional journey alongside diligent academic research and compassionate prose to give a wonderful account of these intelligent and emotionally complex creatures.
The second is Blowfish’s Oceanopedia: 291 Extraordinary Things You Didn’t Know About the Sea by Tom ‘The Blowfish’ Hird. Presented with unstoppable enthusiasm and humour, the constellation of facts that ‘The Blowfish’ presents are entertaining and enlightening in equal measures. Far from being the backyard wrestler or amateur pub darts player that you might expect, Tom ‘The Blowfish’ Hird is actually a heavy metal loving Marine Biologist, Ambassador for The Marine Conservation Society and has even made appearances on Blue Peter. The book is charmingly written and there is insight on every page. Did you know that cod are cannibals and that water snakes eat crabs?
As the boat bounces across the waves and the guests play at stabilising their drinks and keeping down the fish ceviche, I point out some of the uninhabited islands that we pass. The Maldives is comprised of 1,192 – 1,200 islands (depending on who you speak to as it’s constantly changing) and only 200 of them are inhabited. An elderly guest asks me if I know what type of tree is extending way above the forest canopy on the island that she’s gesturing towards. Unfortunately, it happens to be a large pylon.
“Ah,” she replies knowingly, “And pylon trees are native to the Maldives?”
As the last remaining glimpse of the sun disappears behind the horizon, we return to our island. Sadly, the dolphins evaded us today but nobody seems to mind. To cruise around the Maldives on the top deck of a beautiful yacht as the sun sets around you is special enough for even the most fanatic dolphin enthusiasts. And although we didn’t see dolphins, we did see some flying fish, I did sell some books and we did bear witness to the elusive Maldivian Pylon tree.