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More than Dolphin Geographies

4 December 2019
Lets go to the beach? yeah cool, meet you in the middle. Photo: Drew Stoodley

At Mission Beach last week I watched a pod of around 10 dolphins play in the surf. They read the waves better than any human surfer in the lineup, taking the best set waves and riding them towards the shore. Their fins would be visible again soon after the wave had broken, seamlessly reappearing back out beyond the whitewater, and almost still as they seemingly waited for the next decent wave. This went on for about 15 minutes and as they caught more waves it became clear that they were very deliberate in their actions.

At the same beach, a few weeks earlier, I had watched a sea lion do a similar thing. The sea lion didn’t seem as picky with its wave selection, but still very deliberately zigzagged its way down the beach, riding waves with a grace that is not evident in its land-based form.

It struck me, that these wonderful surfers had come to the beach for recreation. They weren’t there for food or shelter. They were there to surf.  The dolphins and the sea lion were immersed in the movement and energy of the littoral zone to have fun.

This littoral zone, where the land meets the sea and the sea meets the land, is a merging of the two realms.  An inbetween, hybrid world where surf inclined marine and land mammals converge to ride the same fleeting pulses of energy towards land.

 The littoral zone is a space of liminality for far more than us humans.    

When I had thought about more than human aspects of surfing prior to these events, I had considered the waves, the water, the salt, the weather, my surfboard, my wetsuit, the slimy seaweed, the jellyfish that pose a small threat to me, and the sharks that pose very little threat physically, though have a disproportionate impact on one’s psychology (duhhhh duh, duhhhh duh)…. 

The weaver fish I stepped on when I was 16 has made me cautious of low tides, regardless of whether they inhabit the sand on which I carefully tread. I kicked a big jellyfish once, by accident of course; it gave me a fright and I apologised out loud to the creature as it bobbed on its way. I had paddled near dolphins and had a curious seal swim near to me.  I knew that I shared the space. Its part of the privilege of being in the water, and something that the ever ‘improving’ wave pools will never be able to compete with.

It seems obvious now; naïve and anthropocentric, that I hadn’t thought that other species engage in this space in such a similar way to me. That dolphins go to the beach too, albeit from a different direction.  So how will this flippin marvellous realisation impact how I think about the interactions of the surf zone?

I’m not sure, but it was really cool to see.

Oh, and the birds were air surfing too but we’ll save that for another day….


  1. Gaynor

    A very enjoyable read, the way that its written is beautiful, I was in the surf with the dolphins, lovely xxx well done xxx

  2. John Stoodley

    What a refreshing humbling insight.Had to look up “anthropocentric” but glad I did.Trillions of stars in billions of galaxies and all created for certain humans? Believe that if you will or just enjoy and marvel in awe at nature’s bounty before it’s inevitable demise.If dolphins had opposable fins they would bring a bucket and spade.

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