Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Friday, June 28, 2002

Boat captain’s dolphin signal
gets to divers -- finally

Last week, I went scuba diving off the Kona Coast on a trip arranged by a dive shop there. The two dives I made that day were among my best ever, and not just because of the animals I saw. The dives were also memorable because of a boat captain named Mike.

In his 30s, Mike looked as if he'd spent all his life on the ocean. He had wild, sun-bleached hair, deeply tanned skin and handled a boat as if he'd been born on one.

We arrived at the first dive site, geared up and jumped in. With perfect visibility, we watched garden eels pop in and out of their holes. Later, a rare bicolor anthias appeared. This 4-inch fish, orange-yellow on its upper half and lavender below, is almost too beautiful to be real.

At the end of the dive, I was the first to return to the boat. "Weren't those dolphins something?" Mike said as I handed up my weight belt.

"What dolphins?"

"No! Don't tell me you didn't see them," he said. "They were right above you. For a long time."

"Well, we were playing with this little shrimp and ..."

"But they were RIGHT THERE," Mike said. "I drove the boat over you as a signal they were coming your way. Didn't you hear the boat?"

Another diver had surfaced. "I wondered what maniac was driving a boat right over a bunch of divers."

Now Mike was practically jumping up and down. "It was a signal. I can't believe you didn't see them There were about a hundred spinner dolphins cruising just feet from you."

"Sorry," I said.

Mike was truly disappointed. "Oh, they were beautiful," he said. "It was perfect. You didn't see even one?"

"Please, stop," said a diver from Norway. "You're making me feel sad."

Mike sighed and moved the boat several miles down the coast. We prepared for our next dive. "I love this dive," Mike said, perky once again. "This place is loaded with fish. Oh, I wish I could go in, too. Isn't this a great day?"

Mike was still talking as we jumped in. And he was right. The place was packed with fish. As we drifted slowly through schools of butterfly fish, sergeant majors and triggerfish, we heard a motor in the distance. The sound grew louder and louder, and when we looked up, we saw the white hull of our dive boat passing slowly overhead.

This time, we got the message. We twirled around, looked up, looked down. And a moment later, a pod of spinner dolphins appeared.

We hung motionless in the water, spellbound, as the pod passed silently by. Their ethereal beauty, plus my own weightlessness, made me feel like I was in a dream.

Later, when I surfaced, Mike leaned anxiously over the side. "We saw them, Mike. You did it."

"Yes!" he shouted, helping me aboard. Soon we were all on deck, laughing, hugging and chattering about our dolphin encounter. Mike was as excited as anyone. We were strangers to him, yet showing us those dolphins made his day.

To us Hawaii residents, the tourist industry sometimes seems like just a bunch of charts and numbers. But as Mike so pleasantly reminded me, tourism here is about much more than hotel beds and souvenirs. It's about sharing with others the wonders of our special world, including the best of them all: aloha.

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears weekly in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

E-mail to City Desk

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