San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tragic story of dolphin and village resurfaces

From the print edition

Long ago, on an island just off a rich coast, there was a little community of people. One day on the beach, a dog from the village began to play with a dolphin in the shallow water. The friendly sea mammal soon began showing up every day to swim with the villagers. He even trained them to call him by banging on the side of a wooden dugout when he was far away.

Shawn Larkin

Shawn Larkin

The kids in the community made fast friends with the dolphin, and he often swam with them. The dolphin also performed flying feats into the air that awed the villagers. Toddlers who could not yet swim would get into the small dugout canoe, and the dolphin would push them around until his beak was raw from the fun. The dolphin would even come out of the water onto boats, where children could pet and pose him. Sometimes the social mammal came out of the water onto the beach, and the villagers had to help him back to the sea. The identity of the community became entwined with the dolphin.

The dolphin took no fish from the people, but he did protect them. The people learned that they could swim in the sea without fear of sharks, as long as the dolphin was with them. The people trained the dolphin to call them when he wanted, with special sounds the dolphin made. They noted that the dolphin never resisted anything the children did. They rode him and even turned him upside down.

Then one day, a fisherman found the live dolphin in his net and hacked him to death with a machete. The village was horrified. The people were traumatized. And things would never be the same.

One week later, the fisherman was in his canoe during a storm, and he was struck dead by lightening. His name was Raphael Conteras. Today the island waters are polluted and the people are poor.

New Zealander Wade Doak documented this true story in his 1988 book “Encounters with Whales and Dolphins.” The story is based on accounts from Geraldo Huertas and John Walsh of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and it appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of the Weekly World News in 1983.

The name of the island was Chira.

The country was Costa Rica.

These days the nets of Costa Ricans kill far more dolphins than one.

What will be the lightening strike?

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