What the dolphins of Chennai taught me about human – wildlife coexistence

My first sighting of dolphins along the Chennai beach was quite memorable. A Pod of nearly 20 to 30 Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins totally enthralled us for an hour (Date: 12th Sep 2014: See video below to enjoy what we saw). Our crew saw them again last week as we finished filming and were about to leave. This time fewer animals, but exciting nevertheless. Besides the joy of watching dolphins, what caught my attention was the events that happened around us.

 

During our first sighting, moments after we spotted the dolphins I noticed franctic activity in the two fishing hamlets on either side of the broken bridge in Besant Nagar. On seeing the dolphins, The fishermen were hurriedly loading their nets into the boats and scampering out into the sea. At that moment I couldn’t comprehend what was going on. Were they trying to hunt the dolphins? Couldn’t be! I watched, feeling a bit anxious. Within minutes a few boats reached to where the dolphins were. Now I was panicking. The dolphins moved off a bit and continued surfacing and occasionally spinning out of the water.  More boats came in and all the fishermen energetically started casting their nets. I noticed that fish were jumping out of the water around boats and realized that this was a completely different game.

 

The fishermen knew that the dolphins were hunting and they just saw an opportunity to be a part of the hunt. Dolphins sometimes hunt by driving fish close to the shore. It is probably easier to pick-off fast moving fish in the shallow waters.  When a large school of fish gets driven close to the shore it means happy hunting for the fishermen as well.  Its like their catch for the day is being home delivered.

 

We observed the same behavior last week (4th Dec 2014). When we arrived in the morning , there were at least two dozen boats fishing close to the shore,  which  I thought was quite unusual. We completed our shoot and just when we were leaving, the boys spotted the dolphins. There weren’t many, but they were pretty close to the boats.  Since the boats were already around when we came, I am not sure if the fishermen saw the dolphins and rushed to the sea, or was it the case of the dolphins noticing the fishermen and joining the hunt.

 

Whichever way it was, the two encounters got me curious. I was firstly impressed by how tuned the fishermen were to their environment. Taking cues from nature and making an opportunity out of it. The question was , if by joining the dolphins in the hunt, were they denying the animals of their hard earned food?  As I scoured the web for information I came upon this amazing video!

 

 

It is a remarkable behavior that’s happening in Laguna, Brazil. I am not sure yet if the same thing is happening in the beaches of Chennai. Are the dolphins deliberately chasing the fish close to the shore so that the fishermen of Chennai can become a part of their hunting team, or is it just a coincidence. It is difficult to say. But the fact that something like this is happening so close to home is fascinating.

 

I will definitely keep an eye on this and see if there is a story to be told. But for now I am super excited to have seen this.

 

 

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