The next adventure took place in Florida in 1995, although the memory has lingered very vividly in my mind and heart.
It was a dark and stormy night. No, it really was! It was also a night filled with apprehension, doubt, joy, excitement, fear, and a good healthy dose of pride.
It was also my 52nd birthday, and one that I will never forget. No gift, no matter how expensive or unique, could compare to the gift I received on this birthday: being a participant on the team that helped bring Bogie and Bacall, two bottlenose dolphins, back home to their original pod. at Indian River Lagoon in Palm Bay, Florida.
Bogie and Bacall had been captured many years before and, as is often the case with our unsuspecting animals, they were sent to one of those roadside aquariums that seem to dot the Florida landscape, and where they would spend the rest of their lives. lives acting for people, instead of frolicking and reveling in their freedom.
After many years of trying to free them, the Dolphin Alliance finally managed to get permission to return them home.
My husband and I were unaware of the plight of dolphins until we read that the alliance needed volunteers to bring these adorable creatures back to their natural environment. We didn’t know what we could do to help. We just knew that we wanted to do our best.
Luckily, we had exactly what the alliance needed: a 24-foot pontoon boat that was needed to transport Bogie and Bacall to a large containment pen in the Indian River lagoon, where Bogie and Bacall would be kept until they could return. to train them to fish for their own food. They would then be released to join their original group. This was the plan.
Many, many people participated in this humanitarian endeavor and it was exciting to be a part of it, no matter how peripherally it was. The volunteers did all the hard work, building the corral, organizing the dolphin release and transporting them from South Florida to Palm Bay, Florida.
On the day appointed for his release, the people of the Dolphin Alliance were on the phone with us throughout the day.
The call for us to leave in our boat came at 9:30 pm, just as my head had hit the pillow. Well, now I couldn’t sleep. Bogie, the first dolphin, wouldn’t arrive until 3am, but the alliance people wanted our boat to be there by 2am in case they were early.
The emotion that ran through my body was almost more than I could bear. Here we had the opportunity to do something worthwhile, to make a difference, to help Bogie and Bacall experience freedom once again.
Before I had been trying to read, to relax, while waiting for the phone call, but every word on the page seemed to say Bogie and Bacall. I tried to watch TV, but realized that I was looking at the screen and not seeing anything. My head was full of two frolicking dolphins!
But wait, what was that thud that was slowly permeating my conscious thought? Well of course I suddenly recognize that sound … it’s thunder! That light I thought I saw flicker? Yes, lightning. We were to be in our boat at 1 am in the middle of a thunderstorm in Florida.
We arrived at the marina, launched our boat and got ready to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime thrill. We walked slowly through the Turkey Creek Sanctuary, squinting, making sure there were no manatees outside the house. We finally made it to the Indian River Lagoon breakwaters and realized we had to be crazy to go out on a boat in the wee hours of the morning in stormy weather with crashing waves, knowing we would be shaken.
And we were thrown! I am not particularly known for my bravery, but my enthusiasm and strong desire to be a part of this team effort overshadowed my fear.
As the ship moved, rolling from side to side and then crashing from bow to stern, the lightning bolts allowed me to see the magnitude of the waves. I swear they were 50 feet tall. At least in my scared mind, they were. All I know is they were BIG!
Suddenly the headlight went out. I would run to the front of the boat, turn on the light, the waves crashed at the bow, spilled salt water on my face, and then ran back to the shelter of our rigid roof. Then it would happen again.
Then the unthinkable happened. The engine stopped. Here we were, in the middle of the river, in the middle of the night, not to mention in the middle of a nightmare, with people eagerly awaiting our arrival with two large dolphins in their charge.
Once again, my husband’s determination and skill got us going. Found the problem; some water in the motor. Wow, what a surprise.
Then, as suddenly as the storm came over us, it was gone, the waters calmed down, and we were on our way. Now I can hear the title track of “2001 A Space Odyssey” playing in my head. We are almost there. We are going to do it. We did it!
Bogie arrived first between 3 and 4 in the morning. The decision was made to wait until dawn to release her. Bacall followed him.
My husband and son, along with many wonderful volunteers, gently placed Bogie on the stretcher and then onto our boat for the short trip to the containment pen. The process was then repeated with Bacall joining Bogie on the pen.
Bogie and Bacall spent weeks, if not months, receiving training in fishing techniques and being visited by members of their pack who swam to the containment pen as if to welcome their old friends.
I wish the story ended here, with the long-awaited release of these two special dolphins, but it doesn’t. Probably some wrong person or people, thinking they were doing the right thing, at least I hope their intentions were honorable and not malicious, got into the corral at night and cut it up so that Bogie and Bacall could escape.
They did and we can only hope they were fully trained and ready to be alone again. No dolphin carcasses were seen in the waters and some of the volunteers even saw Bogie and Bacall swimming in the lagoon, identifying them by their distinctive markings on the fins.
So we can hope that this story really had the fairy tale ending that we all expected and worked so hard for. I remember a line from a Jimmy Buffet song … “Come on, let’s have fun, the hard work is done.” In fact, it was hard work and perseverance that made this rescue possible and we are sure that Bogie and Bacall had many years of fun and most important of all, freedom!