Mississippi Sound Miracle: Eight Dolphins of Katrina: A True Tale of Survival by Janet Wyman Coleman
It was before dawn on August 28, 2005. The windows at the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi, should have been black. Instead the windows glowed. The people on the gulf Coast were wide awake.
"We don't have much time," Dr. Solangi told his trainers. "Two motels will let us put some of our dolphins in their swimming pools four miles inland."
"What about the rest of the dolphins?"
That thought was in the minds of all of the trainers. Eight dolphins would have to be left in the Oceanarium's dolphin pool, built on the shore of Mississippi Sound, right in the path of the approaching Hurricane Katrina. Trainer Tim Hoffland was worried about his favorite, an old female leader named Jackie. Other trainers had to leave dolphins they loved as they left to find their own shelter from Katrina.
Katrina had her way with the Gulf Coast, and when the dolphin caretakers emerged from their shelter, they found total devastation, especially at the Oceanarium--the building collapsed by a forty-foot surge that brought down the roof over the dolphin tank:
Please be okay, Jackie, Tim thought.
The pool was empty except for mangled rafters and chunks of roof. Tim and Dr. Solangi stared at the small puddles at the bottom. They gazed at the now peaceful waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
"Maybe the dolphins survived," Dr. Solangi said. "They could be out there," he continued, "waiting for us."
The dolphin team knew that the eight tame dolphins could not survive for long at sea. And Hurricane Rita was only a couple of days away from landfall. Despite the destruction all around them, the dolphin trainers hurriedly rounded up a helicopter and one seaworthy boat and set out to search the ocean along the coast for their missing dolphin friends. Desperately they called the dolphins, banged feeding buckets, and sounded the whistles used to call the dolphins for their feedings.
A dolphin swam under the boat. "Tamra!" Shannon yelled.
A dolphin head popped out of the water... covered with scratches.
"Elijah!" Tim gasped as a second head appeared.
One by one seven dolphins swam up and circled the boat, whistling joyfully.
Someone asked, "Where's Jackie?"
Poor Jackie, Tim thought. She was just too old. His eyes filled with tears.
An eighth dolphin surfaced. "Jackie," Tim whispered.
Miraculously the eight Oceanarium dolphins had remained together and waited in the waters near the marine center for their human friends to find them. The team quickly taught them to swim up on a floating pad so that they could be transported to a training tank at the nearby Navy base. Still concerned for the well-being of their charges in a strange place, the trainers brought in cots and slept beside their dolphins every night until their charges were comfortable in their temporary home.
Author Janet Coleman's Eight Dolphins of Katrina: A True Tale of Survival (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) tells the dramatic story of a dolphin rescue that points up the long and close relationship of man and dolphin, writing "They say that a dog is man's best friend, but that's on land. In the water, it will always be the dolphin."
More exciting than fiction, Coleman's narrative of the rescue is up close and personal as it describes the varied personalities of the dolphins and the affection of the dolphin team for the animals who so clearly returned their loyalty. A picture gallery, "An Eight Dolphins Scrapbook" shows the dolphins and their home before and after Katrina and actual photos of the dolphins' appearance, leaping in joy beside the small rescue boat and greeting the Marines at their new home at the Navy tank. Coleman also appends accounts of human-dolphin interaction through history, even pointing out their land-going ancestors who took to the water to find food but retained many of their canine mammalian social order and intelligence. Eight Dolphins of Katrina: A True Tale of Survival, illustrated in beautiful soft watercolors by the noted artist, Yan Nascimbene, is a perfectly executed nonfiction book for middle readers who dote on dolphins and for all who are share our human fascination with our relationship with nature and nature's fascinating creatures.
Publishers Weekly has high praise for this book, saying, "Laced with dialogue that accentuates the trainers' affection for the dolphins and sense of urgency, Coleman's clipped narrative recounts the rescue of all eight. . . the late Nascimbene's dappled watercolors have a lovely silk-screened quality, contrasting the destructive force of the hurricane and the tranquility that arrives in its wake."