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The Dolphin Witch

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Once upon a time in Chile

Here's a Halloween story, one I did not put in my upcoming new book, about my personal experience with witchcraft.

witch hat and broom

My second husband, Jon Lindbergh, was an aquaculture expert with many clients in South America. I often traveled with Jon when he visited these clients (in the book you will meet some amazing Brazilian dolphins I ran into on one of those trips). Anyway, on this trip we were in Chile, visiting a salmon farm in a remote part of the southern archipelago. The area is where the Andes dip down into the sea, leaving a scattering of little islands that are actually flooded mountaintops.

Jon and I and several fish-farm workers were crossing a small bay in a workboat, heading for the salmon pens, when I spotted a few little dolphins in the distance. I knew what they were: Cephalorhyncus eutropia, a shy and little-known animal that lives in small groups along these sheltered shores.

I had been bickering with Ken Norris (marine scientist and my scientific mentor) about the color of this species. He had seen them from shipboard and dubbed them (in print!) the Black Chilean Dolphin, but I've seen them around the fish farms and they're definitely not black.

I wanted a closer look, but the guys said the animals would leave if we went toward them. I suggested calling them over instead. Dubious smiles all around, but they stopped the boat. I noticed some short lengths of aluminum pipe lying on the floorboards. I asked one of the guys to hold one end of a piece of pipe in the water and bang on the other end with another piece; that would make a very distinct sound underwater. I could have done the pipe work, but I needed my hands free for the camera.

The fish farmer started tapping out a nice little samba rhythm. Immediately, the little dolphins stirred, turned, and came over to us. They were much smaller than good old Flipper, the Atlantic bottlenose—think cocker spaniel compared to golden retriever. They swirled around and under the boat, inspecting and almost touching the pipe.

These dolphins don't have beaks or snouts; their faces just come to a point like a toy animal. Cute! They proved to be light beige on top, with a cream-colored hourglass pattern on the belly (they obligingly swam upside down quite a lot). Most of them were also decorated with, of all things, a little white ring around the neck like a collar. I got some clear pictures.

Before the little dolphins lost interest, I sat down and told the guys that was enough. The samba rhythm stopped, and the dolphins left immediately.

There's considerable benefit in being able to bewitch your research subjects.

I noticed the guys were looking at me sideways. These dolphins never come around boats, they told me. (For good reason—I bet local people have tried hunting them in the past.) So, obviously, I have arcane powers. I'm probably a witch! At the salmon pens they handed me out of the boat onto the floating walkway very respectfully, but they whispered to the guys working at the pens as I passed.

Well, maybe they're right. This witch can read the future. I bet they tried the pipe business again after I left, and I bet it didn't work. Having satisfied their curiosity, the cute little dolphins wouldn't respond the second time around. That, too, would have been easily explained by the crew—when I left the fish farm I took my magic powers with me.

There's considerable benefit in being able to bewitch your research subjects. When I got home I contributed the photos to another scientist's monograph on the genus Cephalorhynchus. I also sent a full set of color prints to Ken Norris. End of discussion.

Happy Halloween!

Karen Pryor

About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

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