This adventure is based upon actual events. It will teach kids about the natural wonders they might find during a beach vacation. Read it to your kids and/or grandchildren or have them read to you. It’s the very best way to spend time with children.
Roy’s Turtle and Dolphin Adventure
The setting sun had already disappeared behind the dilapidated Paradise Beach Apartments sign along side of Highway A1A, in Florida, as Roy and Millie Dimwitty ran down the narrow trail through the dunes toward the thundering sound of breaking waves. Wind swept palmetto fronds and fluttering sea grapes leaves rustled on either side of the sandy trail before they gradually gave way to the deserted beach. The kids stood side by side, enraptured by the vast ocean at low tide and a darkening blue sky in process of unveiling its adornment of stars.
A steady offshore ocean breeze blew through the kid’s hair and refreshed them after the long car ride. The view before them took their breath away; home in the Bronx, New York was nothing like this. The scene was just as they left it last year on their vacation to Paradise Beach, Florida. They turned and looked back across the dunes toward the little beach apartments, where they would spend the next two weeks on vacation with Maggie and me.
On the other side of the dunes, Maggie and I unpacked the car and carried suitcases up to our second floor rental beach apartment. We had given the pleading kids permission for a quick visit to the beach before dinner.
Leaving their shoes and socks at the dunes, the kids ran across the warm sand down to the shore and into the breaking waves. A wave broke with a bubbling rush and swirled toward them and around their ankles. Maggie squealed and beat a hasty retreat back toward the dunes. Roy stood in the foaming water, shocked at what he felt.
The day had been hot, in the high nineties, and the ocean temperature should have been warm like it was last year in August. But, to Roy’s surprise he was ankle deep in frigid water. The wave bubbled over the sand and returned to the sparkling ocean as another wave broke and rushed toward him. Roy turned and dashed back to where Millie stood high on the beach, ankle deep in soft, warm, and dry sand. Roy dug his numbed feet into the comforting sand next to his little sister.
“Roy, the water is freezing! It wasn’t that way last year. What happened?” Roy usually was able answer most of his sister’s perpetual questions, but this time he could not.
“I don’t know Sis, I just don’t know.” Roy had no idea why the water was so cold when the sand was warm and the day had been unusually hot. Before returning to their beach apartment the kids tested the water once more but quickly retreated from its numbing cold. On the way back through the dunes Millie worried that they would not be able to play in the waves tomorrow unless the water warmed up. Roy agreed with her. They both were eager to use their inflatable rafts in the surf, but not in this frigid water.
The Dimwitty family had dinner out that evening at a little restaurant across the street from their beach apartment. During dinner the kids told Maggie and me about the cold water but even I didn’t have the faintest idea why it was so cold. While we waited for our meal I left the table for a few minutes to chat with our waiter. I returned to the table with a big grin on my face, as I always had when I had a good story to tell. I knew why the water was so cold and was anxious to explain it all to my family. In fact, I had a hunch that our vacation was going to be special in spite of the unusually cold water.
The waiter told me about an uncommon occurrence in the ocean. According to the local newspaper, unusually heavy offshore winds had blown the warm surface water southward along the shore and deep cold water swelled upward from the bottom to take its place on their beach. The water was not freezing as Millie claimed, but it was very cold, about fifty degrees. Two days ago, the ocean was twenty degrees warmer. Although the kids could still play along the shore, the water was too cold for swimming.
As it turned out, we were not the only ones to be affected by the frigid water. The local Sea Turtle Preservation Society had published an alert in the local paper asking beach walkers to be on the lookout for baby turtles in distress, numbed by the frigid water. As we ate dinner we talked about cold water and baby turtles; Roy and Millie had more questions than I could answer.
I had been a country kid who loved nature and animals. After immigrating from Western Canada to the Bronx, New York, I continued to learn about nature and pass that information on to my children. Like me, the kids loved animals, but my son seemed to have a special ability and relationship with animals. It was downright curious how animals reacted to him. Somehow, Roy seemed able to communicate with animals in some mysterious way that I could not understand. I kept a journal of his son’s mysterious adventures with animals. Perhaps the next two weeks would provide me with some new and exciting stories to write about.
Early the next morning, before sunrise, Roy and Millie awakened me to ask if we could go down to the beach. I agreed and ushered the kids out of the small bedroom and shut the door so as not to disturb Maggie. I made the kids a quick breakfast while they urged me to hurry. They were eager to be the first ones on the beach, no telling what they might find.
The eastern horizon far out to sea brightened quickly. As we slipped out of the apartment, down the stairs and into the darkness of the dunes the a few low hanging clouds began turning a faint pink. The moon still gave us ample light to find our way to the beach. I led the kids northward on the firm sand just beyond the reach of the breaking waves.
We tested the water temperature by walking through the spent waves. The water was still frigid. We had walked about fifty yards when we noticed a small dark object left by the wash of a retreating wave. We squatted down together around it, and I gently picked it up. To our surprise, it was a hatchling sea turtle, not more than two inches long with remains of its yolk sac still attached. I guessed it was a Loggerhead judging by the large size of its head and neck. It was a tiny version of its mother, who might have weighed in excess of two hundred pounds.
As we examined its cold still body with extended flippers, more lifeless turtles washed up nearby. Millie cried out “Daddy, what’s happening? Why did they die?”
Roy asked “Is the water too cold for the new hatchlings? Is that what killed them?”
I smiled down at his kids, slowly held my hand out before them, and opened it. The warmth of my hand had revitalized the cold hatchling and it began a feeble flipper flapping as if it were swimming.
Millie squealed in delight and carefully picked up another cold little turtle from the beach. It too responded to the warmth of her hands and came back to life. Roy and Millie collected more turtles as they walked along the beach. When their hands were full they carefully slipped the tiny creatures into their pockets. The kids took off their sneakers and filled them with more little hatchlings. Soon both kids and I resorted to stuffing our shirts with baby turtles. At first the turtles just felt cold against our warm skin, but when the turtles woke up and became active, their sharp little claws scratched so much it forced us to take off our shirts and make temporary baskets for the babies.
Finally, when I realized we could carry no more, we reluctantly turned around and started walking back along the beach. It was a strange sight; three turtle hunters from the Bronx, walking along a deserted beach with their hands, pockets, shoes, and shirts full with baby turtles. We paused for a while at the edge of the dunes while I decided what to do with the babies. I was afraid to release the babies back into the frigid ocean because they would most probably drown.
“Let’s take them home” suggested Roy. Millie squealed in delight. She was eager to show the cute baby reptiles to her mother. I agreed and led the kids back through the dunes with their catch. The sun was peeking over the ocean horizon and the sky was bright by the time they got back to the apartment. Roy and I found an old plastic tub into which we scoped some wet sand, and then they gently released the turtles into it. There must have been over fifty hatchlings in perpetual motion in the tub instinctively scrambling eastward toward the bright sky and ocean.
I told the kids later in the morning we would transport the turtles to the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, which had an old store front office not far down the road. My words were interrupted by Maggie’s scream from the bedroom. Millie had taken one of the little babies into the bedroom and laid it on the pillow of her sleeping mother. She had shaken her mother with ” Hey Mom, look what I found.” Maggie awoke with a baby turtle entangled in her hair. She was upset at first, but soon was laughing with the rest of us. Roy thought their vacation had started out pretty good, and so did we all!
After taking delivery of the baby turtles, the volunteers from the Sea Turtle Society thanked us and encouraged us to rescue more turtles that evening. The volunteers explained the laws about sea turtles to us. It was a federal offence to interfere with nesting female turtles, their nests, and hatchlings on their way to the ocean. However, under the emergency conditions, created by the frigid ocean, turtle rescuers would not be charged when they violated the law. The volunteers also explained that the best time to find newly hatched turtles was at might when they usually left their nests. They explained that the babies hatch out together at the bottom of their nest about two feet under the sand. They dig themselves upward near to the sand’s surface, and then lie in wait until dark. At some unknown signal, the hatchlings break out to the surface together and scramble down the sloping beach to the water as fast as their little flippers can take them.
That last scramble to the ocean is a hazardous one. Bright lights from hotels and houses along the shore often confuse the baby turtles. If they crawl in the wrong direction, they would find sure death on the busily traveled road. The ocean, of course, had its own perils. Even if they crawled in the right direction they had to negotiate over or around rocks and logs, avoid falling into ghost crab holes or getting waylaid by the voracious crabs out scavenging at night. Raccoons and possums patrolled the beach at night and loved the taste of baby turtles. Sea gulls would be on the hunt at first dawn. They would appear out of nowhere and gulp down all baby turtles still on the beach. Whole nests of daylight hatchlings might become breakfast for the gulls.
The ocean was not much safer for the babies because fish, including sharks, gobbled up any they find. The few surviving babies have to swim miles out to sea and find shelter in masses of floating seaweed called sargasum. Even if the babies did not encounter any deadly cold water, only one in a thousand usually survive and grow to adulthood. Those lucky few would return many years later to the very beach where they were hatched to mate. The males would never come ashore again but the females would, to dig their nests and lay their eggs.
Roy asked a volunteer, “What do the babies eat?” and was surprised by his answer.
“The first several days they do not eat! They get their energy from an internal a yolk sac! They are too busy finding safe places to hid in the ocean to stop and eat.” He replied.
I reminded Roy and Millie that baby chicks get their nourishment from a yolk sac before they hatch, although they start pecking for food morsels soon after.
Millie asked, “How do the adult turtles could find their way back from the ocean to the very beach where they were hatched.” The volunteer could not positively answer her question, but guessed that it might be similar to the way birds find their way during migrations. Perhaps they navigated by the stars, or by the smell of the water, or by a built in magnetic compass, but no one knew for sure.
In the car, on the way back to our beach apartment, Roy was deep in thought. There was still much that scientists did not know. Roy considered that, if he became a zoologist, he would be able to study turtles and help answer those difficult questions about nature that still remained beyond man’s knowledge. He thought that would be a neat and exciting job to have when he grew up!
Roy, Millie and Maggie and I rescued turtles for the next three days. Every evening, and every morning, no matter how sleepy we were, we got up, went down to the beach and filled plastic boxes with baby turtles. Each morning after breakfast, I drove the family to the Turtle Preservation Society and made a live deposit. The Sea Turtle Preservation Society periodically released the accumulated babies into warm water up the coast.
Roy was glad that there were so many dedicated volunteers who were willing to give their time to the welfare of turtles. Roy and Millie were made Honorary Sea Turtle Volunteers for saving hundreds of baby turtles. They wore their volunteer T-shirts everyday for the next two weeks with great pride.
The first week of vacation was pretty much taken up with turtle rescue and a little sightseeing. We visited Sea World in Orlando, several nature preserves and the nearby Brevard Zoo. It was truly a wonderful week, but we had no way of knowing that our second week of vacation would be even more exciting than the first.
The cold ocean water finally turned warm and the kids were able to play in the surf along the shore. No more baby turtles were found on the beach so we assumed that new hatchlings were finding their way to the ocean and swimming out to sea each night according to nature’s plan. I inflated the rubber rafts so the kids could play in the modest surf along the shore. Maggie and I kept close watch over the kids to ensure their safety. It was great fun for all until the next to last day of our vacation.
The waves were a little larger that morning and the wind was blowing briskly in from the ocean: the conditions were perfect for a riptide! I knew that a riptide is a strong narrow flow of seawater that rushes seaward after incoming waves pile up on the shore, but I did not know one was occurring that morning along our beach because everything looked normal.
Maggie and I sat on beach chairs chatting when Maggie looked up and called out to the kids. “Roy, Millie, you are out too far! Come back closer to the shore!” I stood up, walked down to the shore and waved for the kids to come back in. Just a moment ago they were close to shore. Roy and Millie already knew that they were out too far before their mom noticed. They were on their rubber rafts trying their best to paddle back toward the beach, but the more they paddled the further out the current swept them.
Millie was scared so Roy held onto her raft so they would not get separated. They heard their mother call and saw me wave them back in closer to shore but, try as they did, they continued to be swept further out. In a few minutes they were about a thirty yards away from the safety of the beach. I was worried and immediately sent Maggie back to the apartment to call for help while I stood helpless, watching my children being swept out to sea.
Roy had been in dangerous situations before with his sister, so he did not panic. He soon realized that they could not paddle back against the strong riptide. For now they could do nothing but paddle southward parallel to the shore and hope that they could escape the strong riptide current. Roy’s plan might have worked but it was interrupted by the appearance of a dark triangular fin that momentarily appeared about thirty feet away. Several other fins appeared and disappeared beneath the waves. Millie also saw them. She looked at Roy with a terrified expression on her face and screamed “Those are sharks Roy!”
Sharks always fascinated Roy. He knew that shark attacks on humans were extremely rare and that these ancient predators were being fished to extinction. They were caught by the thousands just for their dorsal fins, which were made into shark fin soup. The finless sharks were then thrown overboard to die. Roy shuddered whenever he thought about such cruelty. He also realized that sharks were important animals in the complicated web of marine life. If humans were to wipe out sharks, or any sea creature, it might upset the delicate balance of nature and effect many other species of animals and fish. He also knew that sharks attacks are extremely rare.
Roy’s knowledge of sharks was good enough for him to recognize that the dark fins they had seen were not those of sharks. They were obviously dorsal fins of dolphins. They appeared at regular intervals as the dolphins came to the surface to breathe. “Don’t worry Sis, they’re not sharks, they’re dolphins!” Millie loved dolphins but she was too worried now to care about them. The dolphins would have passed them by if Roy had not done an unusual thing that only he would have thought of.
Last week when we visited Sea World we watched the dolphin show. After the show we lingered by the thick glass walls of the tank. The kids tried to attract the dolphins over to them by making hand motions like the trainers did. Of course, that didn’t work, but Roy had a bright idea. On a TV documentary about dolphins he had heard a recording of the clicking sound that they used to communicate under water and to locate fish. He pressed his face up against the glass and clicked his tongue, without success. Finally he asked his mother if he could borrow a comb. Roy had a wild hunch. He held the comb against the glass and ran his finger across its teeth. To his surprise and to all who happened to see it, every dolphin in the tank made a beeline across the tank to the clicking sound and Roy. It was great fun for all! Other visitors were amazed because they had not noticed the comb in Roy’s hand. They did not know what to think about this young boy who attracted the dolphins. Roy thought it best not to share his little secret with anyone except his family.
That was last week in Orlando but now, unfortunately, he did not have a comb to call the dolphins. But, he did have another idea. Their inflatable rafts were made from a rough reinforced vinyl. Roy ran his fingernails across its edge. The resulting sound was similar to the clicking comb sound of the comb, and the water amplified it. Roy looked down into the water beside his raft and saw a dolphin, attracted by the sound, was not more a foot beneath him, watching curiously. Several surfaced around the kids to get a better look at the strange animal that made interesting dolphin like calls. Their sleek gray heads and smiling faces made Roy relax a little. Millie was still frightened and whimpering, which in it self may have interested the dolphins.
Roy didn’t know what else to do except to start talking to them in his special way, the same way he talked to other animals. “Hi, I’m Roy and this is my sister Millie. She’s crying because we can’t get back to shore. We were swept out this far by a riptide and can’t seem to paddle back. What do you think we should do?”
Roy talked softly but with a concerned and quavering voice. He used his hand as he talked, pointing to the shore and to me on the beach. He knew the dolphins did not understand his words but perhaps they could feel his emotion and understand his body language and Millie’s distress. He put his hand in the water and reached out slowly to the nearest dolphin. A small dolphin moved closer and finally nudged Roy’s outstretched hand. Soon the others did the same. Millie stopped whimpering and reached out to let the dolphins touch her hand as well.
Back on the beach, I was frantic but there was nothing I could do, except hope that Roy would use his good sense and wait for help to arrive. I saw the dolphin fins and wondered what was happening. Could it be that my son was communicating with them as he had done in the past with so many other animals? I could only wait and hope for the best.
Roy’s raft abruptly swung around. He continued to hold on to Millie’s hand while he turned to see what was happening. A dolphin behind them had surfaced and was giving Roy’s raft a push with its beak, (a dolphin’s nose is on top of its head.) Other dolphins joined in pushing the rafts and the kids. Roy and Millie could hardly believe their eyes. Millie, forgetting her fear, let go of Roy’s hand, reached out to stroke the head of the nearest dolphin. To Roy’s alarm the rafts separated. Helplessly he watched his little sister’s raft float away. She reached out and grabbed hold of a nearby dorsal fin. As soon as she did the dolphin took off toward the shore with her in tow. Roy was dumbfounded. “The dolphins were trying to help us!” he yelled to Millie. “Hang on!”
Several more dolphins surfaced next to Roy. He got the message, reached out and took firm hold of a dorsal fin with each hand while he lay flat on his raft. Sure enough, both dolphins started towing him to shore too. They caught up to Millie who was laughing and looking over at Roy. “We’re being rescued!” she screamed out, “We’re being rescued!” The riptide was no problem for the dolphins; they sliced through it as if it were not there. In no time the kids were towed into shallow water.
I was waiting for them waist deep in the rolling waves with a huge grin on my face. If I had not seen it I would not have believed it. On second thought, knowing my son’s past mysterious relationship with animals, I decided that this unusual event was really quite similar to other adventures.
Roy and Millie slid off their rafts and into my waiting arms. The dolphins lingered around us, nudging against our legs for a while and raising their heads so they could get a better look at the humans. At that very moment we heard shouts from the beach. Several Emergency Rescue Personnel carrying a rubber raft and paddles were running from the dunes to the shoreline. Maggie was right behind them.
At first, I was not sure how much they had seen. Perhaps they had arrived too late to see the dolphins pull the kids to shore. What they did see was a man and two children waist deep in the water with at least eight dolphins swimming around them. The kids were reaching out touching the dolphins as they surfaced. The danger of the riptide and the fear of drowning were totally forgotten. Roy and Millie were having the time of their lives interacting with the dolphins. I suspected, by look of it, the dolphins were enjoying the encounter with the kids just as much.
As the rescue personnel reached us, the dolphins disappeared. In a few seconds their dorsal fins appeared out beyond the breakers. They cruised around for a while and then continued southward along the shore hunting for fish. Roy and Millie waved good by for several minutes until the dolphins were out of sight.
The children spent the next hour telling their story and answering questions. I was not sure how much of the story the rescue squad believed. It turned out that they had not seen the actual rescue by the dolphins. Finally, we thanked the rescue personnel who left shaking their heads in disbelief to what the kids had told them. They were undecided if they should tell this story to the local newspaper. Who would believe them?
That evening back at the little beach apartment there was much excitement. Millie could not stop talking. Each time she told the story it got more and more unbelievable because of her exaggerations. Finally the family packed up the car and went to bed so they could get an early start in the morning for the drive back to New York City. I should have known better. No one could sleep so the family ended up sitting outside on the porch in the dark discussing the day’s adventure. Millie asked, “Did the dolphins really know that we were in danger and needed their help? How did the dolphins know what to do? Why did they do it? Was this the first time anything like this happened? Are dolphins as smart as humans?” I thought all Millie’s questions were good ones and tried to answer them as best as I could, but there was much I did not know. I promised Roy and Millie we would find out more about dolphins when we got home. On the way home, Roy and Millie decided they wanted to be marine biologists when they grew up.
When we got home to the Bronx, I wrote about the turtle and dolphin adventure in my journal. I knew most people would find the story difficult to believe, but I didn’t care because the important thing was, it showed how a little love and respect between animals and humans would make for a better planet.