A research paper by Marisa Spyker, “A New Study Suggests Dolphins Might Be Even Smarter Than We Thought” on the website https://www.coastalliving.com, says that “young dolphins hit an important developmental milestone before humans do.” The paper claims that on a test called mirror self-recognition, “human infants, when presented with a mirror, seem to begin recognizing themselves around 12 months, whereas chimpanzees lag behind at around 2 years”, but bottlenose dolphins show that they begin recognizing themselves at 7 months.

When I was a youth my dad told me I shouldn’t worry about hooking a pampas (dolphin) when I’m trolling because they don’t take fishing lines. I’ve heard of Belizeans eating malanti, but I’ve never heard of us eating pampas. You wouldn’t want to hook a pampas on an ordinary trolling line because they’re 200 or 300 pounds and powerful as a bull. You’d just lose your equipment.

I searched the net and found out that some fishermen had reported hooking pampas, but never on a lure (artificial bait). The fishermen said that they were attracted to certain kinds of live bait and they sneak up and try to steal the fish off the hook, and that’s how they sometimes get snagged.

That research paper convinces me about a belief I had about an experience with pampas one night on the reef near to Alligator Head (Caye). It is a fact that the behavior of pampas saved a boat I was on from what could have been a fatal grounding on the rocks, and now we have the verdict that their actions were deliberate.

I have mentioned this trip before, but only in passing. Some of the people on the trip have different recollections of the persons who were on that trip, and the events leading up to the meeting with the pampas, but all those on board that eventful night are clear about what happened, why we changed our plans about our voyage.

I know we made two trips that year to Emily, and that’s wherefrom comes the confusion about all the persons who were on board on the night of the pampas. My brother Charles (Charles X) was the captain on both trips. Our youngest brother, Ronald, was on vacation from Compre. He was on one of the trips. One of our cousins, Landy or Lewis Belisle, was on one of our trips. Our brother, Stephen, called the Bumble Bee, was also on one of those trips. A colorful family friend, a septuagenarian, Fred Gill, whom we affectionately called “Pirate Gill,” was on our first trip.

Our trips to Emily, also called Caye Glory, were about catching grouper. Before we go on I must explain that my brother Charles, the captain of the trips, is a far better fisherman than I am. I am good in a boat and fairly good at diving, but I’m not special as a fisherman. Pirate Gill was the leader on the first trip because he was the only one onboard our sailboat, an unnamed vessel we called H-Bomb, who had experience fishing for grouper.

Groupers, like clockwork, bite on the 13th moon beginning from the first full moon in January. Some years have 13 full moons, but most years have 12. That year the 13th moon was in January, not December, and Pirate Gill, a little up in years, didn’t think it through. On our first trip, we were at Emily a moon before the groupers started spawning.

This trip, when we met the pampas, we left Emily late in the evening, with the intention of keeping inside the reef until we hit Bluefield Range, from which point we had an open lay to Belize City. Full night caught us a little after we passed Colson Caye, and since we could not see the sea anymore, we were all ears, listening for the reef. We were in unfamiliar territory, heading on to Alligator Head, but we felt safe because we heard the sea washing on the reef to our starboard. Sometime in the night the pampas came.

Pampas are playful; they like to swim beside you for a while, and then they go about their business. This night they were different. There was a kind of urgency in them as they dove on our port side and our starboard side, and cut across our bow. It was their repeated cutting across our bow that made us change our plans. They wouldn’t quit, and after a time we gave in, decided to throw anchor and continue our 30-mile journey to Belize City the next morning.

In the morning when we woke up we found that we were too close to the reef and that we were in a kind of cul-de-sac. There were huge rocks to windward of us, to leeward of us, and in front of us. If we had continued sailing one minute more that night, we could have wrecked.

by Colin Hyde for Amandala