By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Video of the rescue of a distressed dolphin that appeared to seek out the help of humans in waters off Kona has taken the world by storm.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the YouTube video had been viewed about 1.2 million times, and its popularity showed no signs of letting up.
“I haven’t slept in three days,” said Martina Wing, the photographer who videotaped the encounter between dive instructor Keller Laros and a wild bottlenose dolphin that had become entangled in about 14 feet of narrow-gauge fishing line.
“The phone has been ringing constantly. … I’m getting about 1,000 emails a day. Sometimes, it makes me cry just to think about how many people have been touched by this,” the native of Germany said.
Fox News, ABC, CBS, CNN, BBC — they all want to hear about the encounter, which Wing says serves as proof positive that mankind and other species on this planet share a powerful link.
“The whole experience was just really beautiful,” she said. “It just reaffirmed that we can all work out together here on this planet.”
It was Jan. 11, at 7 p.m., and she was doing the same thing she’s done for the last 15 years or so — videotaping customers of a nighttime manta ray dive in Garden Eel Cove at Keahole Point, near the Kona International Airport. It was a busy night, with plenty of the large, gliding rays showing up. But, she said, divers soon noticed a rare visitor — an 8-foot bottlenose dolphin.
“I have seen them out there before, but it’s rare. Out of the 3,000 or so times I’ve been diving out there, I’ve only seen dolphins six or seven times. We’ve had some really cool encounters with them. But this situation was totally different,” Wing said. “I heard some clicking, and one of the divers banged on their tank to catch my attention. … This dolphin was going very slow, back and forth. It was just acting different.”
Soon, it became clear that the dolphin was actively trying to catch the divers’ attention. It turned its body and held up its left pectoral fin, showing that it had become entangled by fishing line, and still had a small fish hook embedded in its fin.
Scuba instructor Keller Laros said he spoke to it and beckoned, and the large mammal came right up to him for help.
“As it came by me, I noticed it had the fishing line coming out of its mouth on the left side, and then wrapped around its pectoral fin down the side of its body,” he said. “As a dive instructor, you learn to assess a situation real quick, and I was trying to figure out how to solve the problem. … I gestured and talked to it, and it was like talking to your dog or something. You could see in its eyes. It wanted me to unwind the line and get the hook off.”
Laros pulled out a knife and went to work on cutting and loosening the fishing line from the dolphin’s fin.
“The line was really narrow and sharp. Fish lose fins and parts of their body all the time as the line tightens. This could have killed the dolphin,” he said.
Amazingly, the video shows the dolphin relaxed and calm as Laros removes the hook and completes the difficult task unwinding the line under the illumination of Wing’s camera lights. At one point, the dolphin surfaced for more air, but returned shortly thereafter to continue the process.
“Mostly, I’m a manta guy,” said Laros, who has his own website, www.mantaman.com. “But these big marine mammals, they’re really something! They’re smart. I’ve done this with manta rays many times, but they don’t seem to understand what I need. They’re not able to hold themselves in position. The dolphin was something. It could turn on a dime and hold still.”
Once the rescue work was complete, the dolphin swam away, slowly but serenely, he added.
“It was like, ‘Well, I had a problem that needed fixing, and now that I have a solution. I’ve got to go,’” Wing explained.
The pair said they’ve been bowled over by the response from viewers of the video the world over. They’ve been peppered with interview requests, and swamped with emails from fans.
Why such a visceral response?
“I think, because it’s really good news,” Wing said. “It’s visual. Powerful imagery. And it’s so powerful to see how our different species can help each other. Can get along. It’s a very clear message. People want that. That’s why the response has been so big.”
Both divers say that they love the ocean, dolphins and manta rays, and they relish the opportunity to educate the public about the world below the waves. But they were also careful to remind the public that these are wild animals, and every situation is different. This was a rare encounter, and others should not try to repeat it.
They both added that they will try to use their newfound fame to help protect marine creatures.
Laros said he’d especially like to call attention to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which will meet in March.
To watch the entire 8-minute encounter as filmed by Wing, visit YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCXx2bNk6UA.
To learn more about the manta ray night dives, visit http://www.mantarayshawaii.com/.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.