After 21 years, Ex-soldier returns favor to a dolphin

(Manila Bulletin first published this article March 24, 2004, a year after the writer left BFAR for a media consultancy job in Manila. This is a humble contribution of the writer to this year’s  Fish Conservation Month celebration in the Philippines)

GONZAGA, Cagayan – He waited so long and the waiting took more than two decades.  Last Sunday, a former Army corporal finally got the opportunity to return a favor to the most intelligent mammal in the world, next to man.

The opportunity presented itself at 2 in the afternoon to former soldier Isagani Soliven. In 1983, the corporal was assigned at the lighthouse of Babuyan Claro in the Calayan group of islands in Cagayan. It was accidental that he came last Sunday to Batangan Beach, some two kilometers away from here, and saw people gathering around a 1.7 meter long pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuate) stranded on the beach.

Ordinarily, fishermen would immediately butcher the animal right there and then- be it alive or near death. In fact, accounts by those who were present said three men were about to bring it home on a three-wheeled vehicle when Soliven intervened.

“Please, let’s bring it back to the sea and let it live. It was the same specie which saved my life in 1983. I owe my life to them,” he told the men.

The dolphin was recuperating from a wound on its dorsal believed by World Wildlife Fund to have been caused by a bite of a shark when Soliven saw it.

When the men insisted, Soliven stood in the way and warned the men he can fight for his life if only to shoo them away and for the dolphin to live.  In 1983, Soliven recalled that his friends decided to fight the cold and chilly night on the islands through drinking. When he was already drunk, he decided to take a dip in the sea, alone, after all his friends were gone.

But big waves came and swept him into the open sea. Too weak to swim, he was carried by the waves as he struggled to keep himself afloat. In his murky mind, he knew he was about to go. But something came, swooped him up and carried fast his wearied body to the shore and before he could passed out, he was able to identify his savior because of its size and sound. It was a dolphin.

Because of the experience, Soliven promised to himself that henceforth, he would launch a personal campaign to provide protection to all sea animals, regardless of species, as his way of thanking the dolphin which saved his life.

Earlier in the afternoon, Fishery Director Jovita Ayson mobilized law enforcers to investigate an incident about at least three dolphins that were stranded in this town. Residents who were at the beach that day claimed the wounded dolphin was accompanied by two other dolphins which were circling it as if ‘telling people to save it.’

‘The two other dolphins were virtually pushing the wounded one to the shore and when it finally did, the two dolphins returned to the sea,’ a witness said.

Soliven said that through a mobile phone, the WWF office in Manila provided instructions to the fishery personnel until finally, the dolphin slowly swam its way back into the sea.

Gonzaga town is one of the areas frequented by dolphins, whales and giant turtles in the last 10 years due to its rich feeding grounds. WWF has established a satellite station in Calayan islands to monitor humpback whales and 14 other species of dolphins in the area.

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