Feature: A Day to Remember.5th Dec 2002 Thirty years of diving has provided me with many encounters with dolphins but nothing to compare with what I witnessed while walking the beach at White Strand, just north of Killary harbour, last September.
Weather-wise, it was one of those days! The sea was like a mill pond and crystal clear. A few miles out stood Inishturk while up ahead Clare Island beckoned, all in blistering sunshine with just a few cotton balls of cloud.... miles of deserted golden beach stretched out in front of me. The kind of day when you are just glad to be alive.
The scenery alone would have made it a day to remember but better was to follow!
As I walked along at the waters edge I heard the unmistakable sound of dolphins blowing and there not more than 20 yards out from the shore was a pod of about 15 to 20 adult bottlenose dolphins swimming parallel to the beach. They were so close that I could hear them breathe, even see the scars on their backs, and still see them clearly when they dipped underneath.
But what really what caught my attention was the shape of the pod, together with the speed at which they were travelling.
The group was strung out in a straight line at right angles to the shore line with the nearest dolphin not more than 20 yards from the waters edge and the outer one about 60 yards further out. They swam in this shape so slowly that I was able to keep pace with them as I walked along. Even to my eye the combination of shape and pace suggested there was more to this than a leisurely stroll along the beach .. but were they searching for something? Were they herding fish before them?
When they were about 100 yards from a fairly large line of rocks which were showing out from the shore, the shape of the pod changed with the inner and outer dolphins moving slightly ahead of the rest of the line, so that now the format was like 3 sides of a box. . . . the pace had picked up also! Then as they closed in the box was closed by the line of rocks. . . . . and suddenly all hell broke loose; the sea erupted in a maelstrom of white water and flying dolphins as they hit a shoal of mackerel trapped between them and the rock face. At times there were 5 or 6 dolphin in the air and ten times that many mackerel flying in all directions. This went on for about 15 minutes or so.
Then it was all over and the sea turned calm once more.
But to my surprise the pod gradually but clearly reformed into their original box-like shape and resumed their leisurely passage along the beach, again not more than 20 yards from the shore. There was no mistaking their intent this time.
As they approached a second line of rocks, about 800 yards further along, the performance was repeated. ... . more mackerel and another feeding frenzy of flying dolphin as they hit more mackerel pinned against the rocks.
Another 15 minutes or so and once more it was all over. . . . . or so I thought!
For a third time they took up formation and continued their passage, this time heading for the headland at the end of the beach.
On this occasion the shape of the pod changed once more. No longer a 3 sided box shape; this time as they closed on the headland they formed a distinct circle , about 100 yards across, which steadily got tighter and tighter until I guess it was closer to 30 yards in diameter. And then. . . . while some maintained the circle others threw themselves up through the middle of the ring. Once more it was white water, flying dolphins, together with mackerel, all in the air together. Yet again the feeding continued for about 15 minutes until gradually the activity lessened and finally it was no more.
At that point the pod came together again, this time in no discernible shape, and they began to slowly retrace their path. I watched their glistening backs and the spray from their blowholes silhouetted against the sun, as they headed back towards