Monday, 15 August 2011

Dolphins And Endorphins

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed is going to grow up to be a marine biologist. I’m sure of it. I know she’s only two but the signs are already there.

She loved her visit a few months back to the Macduff Marine Aquarium, loved her ferry ride out of Mallaig and across the sea that’s apparently full of whales and crabs and sharks and more whales, she’s seen Finding Nemo a billion times and on Sunday morning at dawn had her first close encounter with a bottlenose dolphin.
We’d checked the tide times and the weather was good so headed out early to reach Chanonry Point just in time for a superb display by the Moray Firth’s most famous residents. At the Point they leap about literally in front of your face. (Wife-features made an excellent observation. The shore was crowded with guys clutching very expensive camera equipment but all taking shots at head height rather than crouching down to get a shot showing the dolphin completely out of the water. Such insight. One of the many reasons I hitched my wagon to her horse. One of the others being her ability to stomach my love of Test Match Special as background noise on days off.)

TWMBO suggested the dolphins had come to say hello to us, which I like the idea of. There is something about their playfulness which suggests they like to have a bit of fun after snaffling fish caught in the twisting currents. Maybe that’s why humans feel good when they’re full of endolphins. I’m sure that’s what they’re called.

And maybe their playfulness is why we don’t eat them. (I’ve no idea if they taste awful. In fact they probably taste like chicken. Doesn’t everything?) Everything else in the sea simply looks glum and we scoop them up and stick them under the grill. Same goes for on the farm. Would you want a burger quite so much if Ermintrude came barrelling across the field to see you, performing a couple of somersaults and doing some synchronised mooing with a couple of bovine pals?

On our ferry trip to Rum I pointed out some fishing boats to TWMBO and explained they catch fish so we can eat them. The penny has yet to drop but it’ll be interesting to see what her reaction is when she realises those animals in the sea she regards as friends are the same as those who make up the fish fingers she eats.

Our Rum buddy Ikki is a notoriously veggie and ethical eater (I still have a bruise from the time last summer I suggested we get coffee in Starbucks) and secretly I’d hoped to dine during our recent visit on my own stack of venison every night (they have a lot of deer on the island - an awful lot) but instead we had risotto made using mushrooms picked in the woods near her house and elderflower fizz made using bits of the bushes in her garden. It was super tasty but a real let down to discover I couldn’t relieve myself afterwards in a composting toilet. I had to use one of those newfangled flushing contraptions.

Anyway, TWMBO wolfed down some Ikki burgers made from veggie mix with gusto. We have searched in vain for the same mix since.

But back to the dolphins. The best thing about Chanonry Point is how little it has been developed. There’s now a smooth path and picnic benches just beyond the lighthouse which has made the point more accessible for buggies and wheelchairs. But there’s no massive visitor centre and no man with a cart inviting you to part with cash for a bucket of chum to feed to dolphins. Nor is there a tacky gift shop. All these things seem so inevitable with tourism but often the best way to sustain an asset is to leave it uncluttered.

We’ve become so used to interpretation showing dramatic images and nature trails promising all sorts of wildlife and gift shops that stock cuddly animals that seem so familiar yet are very hard to see for real. Maybe TWMBO will realise this - all those whales and crabs and so on are under the water and require a lot of effort and time to encounter. Answer? Become a marine biologist!

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