Porpoise Driven Dive

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Today, news from Koen Lauwereyns of the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad: there are dolphins in the North Sea! His lede: “Sunken treasure-hunters get a free performance off the coast from Nieuwpoort.”

Nieuwpoort is a seaside-resort town in Belgium, maybe ten miles away from the French border, across which lies also on the coast the slightly-more-famous Dunkerque (Dunkirk). We just enjoyed an unseasonably-warm Easter weekend in this corner of Europe, and on Sunday Gert Vanluchene, Didier Balencourt, and Pieter Jonckers (all out of Brussels) were taking advantage of the weather to grab their scuba-gear, head for the seaside, and indulge in their hobby of going diving in search of interesting sea-wrecks off of this very historical coastline. As things turned out, they didn’t have much luck when it came to finding something interesting underwater. It was only afterwards, as they were all relaxing under the springtime sun in their rubber-boat “drinking a pint,” that they hit a sort of jackpot. As Vanluchene recounts for the article:

Suddenly there appeared above our heads swarms of sea-gulls and we saw to the left and right of our boat silver flashes. Immediately afterwards two porpoises shot out of the water. That was the beginning of a spectacular exhibition. Evidently we had arrived right in the middle of lunch for some tens of dolphins. There were two-meter-long specimens, but also little ones. For definitely an hour they showed us their stuff all around our boat.

That passage is very heartening to read, but ultimately is of course but an anecdote. For the bigger picture about dolphins in such cold waters we could use some sort of scientific authority, and Lauwereyns duly segues to Wim Wauters of the Sea Life Center in Blankenberge, BE (for what it’s worth, a for-profit aquarium), who lets him know that dolphins are hardly unknown in the North Sea, it’s just that pollution over the last decades had tended to drive them away. That they are now back in greater numbers – along with seals too, by the way – is a hopeful endorsement of state efforts to clean up the North Sea, as well as adjustments fishing-boats have been required by law to make to avoid getting them caught up in their nets.

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