Monday, May 30, 2016

SEA LIFE: 25-foot peeled banana

      There wasn't as much sea life out in mid-ocean as you might expect. There were flying fish, which skim the surface with membranous wings and sometimes land on deck. (The Japanese men loved to eat them). The only whales I remember were relatively small ones called blackfish. There were the occasional sharks and sometimes marvelous porpoise pods which would accompany us for awhile or quick silver pilot fish darting along in the boat's shadow but they were few and far between.
     Most visible sea life--both fish and birds--seemed to be closer to shore.
     I remember we were anchored offshore in some harbor and Ted went for a swim off the side of the Phoenix--which I never had the courage to do. Having once been stung by a jellyfish in Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, I only like to swim where I can see to the bottom. So he was in the water not far from a buoy and I was on deck talking to him when I saw a fin rise and fall, cleanly slicing the surface between us.
     I screamed "Shark!" and pointed. Ted, glancing up at me, not at the spot where my eyes and finger were pointing, calmly swam the yard or two to the buoy, which offered no protection at all.
     At that moment the fin appeared again a little beyond him and with it enough of the animal so I recognized it as a dolphin--and now there were two of them. Sharks don't swim in twos.
     I shouted "It's okay, it's a dolphin!" in shaky relief and Ted swam leisurely back around to the ladder and climbed back aboard. I was impressed with his aplomb because I had to sit down; my legs wouldn't hold me up.
     As I mentioned, we saw sea lions at times. Once there was even a small island of seals near where we were anchored, and several of us got in our rowboat, Phlatty (short for Phlattipus), to investigate at closer range. We were about one hundred yards off when a massive bull seal we hadn't noticed reared up and bellowed at us, following his warning by casting himself heavily into the sea and aiming at us like a torpedo. We hastily back-paddled and high-tailed it out of there, becoming as non-threatening as we could, and he left off the chase.
    What we did see a lot of at sea, when we were becalmed or barely moving, were jellyfish. Mostly the ghostly translucent ones with four "eyes" and long flowing tentacles, the kind I think once stung me. We scooped one up in our canvas bucket to get a closer look, which was as close as I wanted to get. Now and then we saw the frilled body--like a pot-sticker (gyoza, we called them in Japan) and wavy tentacles of a man o' war.
     But the most unusual sea creature any of us ever heard of was the one only Ted saw. It was during the day and he was on watch. He immediately summoned us all up on deck with great excitement which was out of character for him as you can tell from his reaction to the possibility that he was swimming a couple of feet from a shark.*
     By the time we all hit the deck there was no trace of the animal. Ted, usually quite articulate, was having trouble finding words to describe what he'd seen.
     "It was--well, it was just like a--well, all I can say is, it looked just like a giant, 25-foot long peeled banana!" he exclaimed. "It leaped right out of the water, like a HUGE flying fish."
     "A peeled banana," we repeated. "Sure." Ted had a great imagination and he often made up stories for me about things as strange as that. He was the one who later wrote science fiction, you recall.
     But this time he was earnest. He insisted this wasn't a joke.
     "A 25-foot peeled banana." We tried to suppress smiles. "With ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry?" This incident was going to be good fodder for teasing Ted for the rest of his life.
     As months went by, I stuck the creature into my mental box of anomalies. When Ted isn't joking, he's straight-arrow honest and we knew he had seen something unique. We had no idea what any more than he did and we didn't have an internet then to find out what it could have been. So we pretty much forgot about it.
     But not Ted. Just recently, 50 years after his sighting, he emailed me to say he'd found, online, a picture of what he must have seen leap out of the ocean that day.
     It was a giant squid. You've seen them in pictures. They are found dead on isolated beaches: bulbous heads and long streamers of tentacles. There's no other record I'm aware of that indicates they sail across the water as Ted saw his do but as he pointed out, "if it did, with its tentacles lying along its side, it could have been what I saw."
     He didn't have to convince me. If Ted says he watched a 25-foot peeled banana skim leap out of the ocean and skim the waves in a flat trajectory like a HUGE flying fish, I believe him!

* Ted's response to this post:

      "Calm?  
      "Twice in my life.  Once I backed into an electric horse fence, the wire across the back of my neck, and without any time gap I was five feet from the fence, shaking.  No memory of moving between.
      "The other time I heard you and I did see the fin.  Without any time gap I was twenty feet away, straddling the buoy (which was SOME protection).  No memory of moving between."

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

Oh, Jes, this is funny, especially Ted's response that what you thought was calmness, he actually disassociated & wasn't even aware of it.

So often we see things in others that is not at all what we think it is.