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Field Notes
Jennifer Holland
Photograph by Rebecca Hale
Jennifer S. Holland

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

One misty day, a lovely group of Irish gentlemen from Galway—who soon became my good friends—took me out on their boat off the southwest coast near Fanore. They knew of a female dolphin living in those waters that was rather fond of people. The sound of the boat brought her to the surface, but two of us quickly donned dry suits and dropped to the seafloor (about 30 feet [nine meters] down) to meet her in her element. Sure enough, within minutes she was there, clearly wanting to play with us. She'd zoom up from behind and graze us, hold steady while we rubbed her skin or gazed into her eyes, or mimic our movements if we turned upside down or dug in the sand. She even showed up with a piece of kelp balanced across her beak like a dog wanting to play fetch. The encounter lasted nearly an hour, and when we finally left the area, she rocketed along in the boat's wake for a mile or so, then leaped into the air one last time before veering off and heading out to sea.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

Rough waters do not a good dive make. Ireland is not known for its smooth, kind sea, and there were days when diving in that swirling soup was inadvisable. On one of those days, we tried it anyway.

Getting into the water from the boat was difficult enough; with the boat rising up and down, it was hard to time your leap into the waves. But when we ascended a short time later—realizing the weather was getting worse—we were met with even rougher conditions. Now, how to get back on the boat when the boat won't sit still? It was a bit harrowing—and terribly exhausting—to try to get to the ladder, get a grip, and climb up without getting slammed both by waves and the boat. At one point the boat was being pushed toward the rocks so quickly that our pilot had to drive away and circle back around for us. It took close to an hour to get three people (and all our heavy equipment) up that ladder, and we were battered and bruised for our efforts. (Oh, and it rained all the way back to shore.)

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

One of those Irish days when rain drove us to abandon diving plans and seek shelter, we nestled down in the local pub at our favorite table. A TV was on over the bar, and it happened that President George W. Bush was the entertainment. I'm not sure to whom he was speaking or what the subject was, but witnessing the reaction of the Irish patrons was a new experience. A small group of young men got a big kick out of Dubya's comments and were laughing at him through much of the speech, clearly unimpressed with anything he said. It was an odd feeling to be an American in that pub, to see for myself how badly the President—and by extension Americans in general—can be perceived overseas.