The Return of Waddy, the Giant Dolphin

(outreach photos here)

I stared at him, dismayed and suprised and unsure of what to say or do next.  He stared back, unsympathetic, with a vacant smile and beady little eyes set on a gargantuan head.

Waddy are you going to get me all the way to Malampaya Sound?

“He…um, he…he looks a little more…difficult to carry than I thought he’d be,” I said, mainly just voicing my thoughts, but also hoping that my statement would elicit some helpful suggestions from the other people in the room.

I was in the WWF-Philippines office in Puerto Princesa, to pick up Waddy – their Irrawaddy dolphin costume. My research last year showed that many fishers in the more remote barangays (villages) didn’t realize that the ‘waddies were mammals or that they were endangered.  WWF-Philippines has done some excellent outreach in the past, but funding for that program ran out some years ago, and the high in-migration rate to Malampaya Sound means that many fishers live there now who never learned anything about the conservation of these dolphins.  So, I definitely want to do some outreach with them.  But why not throw in some outreach for the future fishers – for the kids?  Our first such outreach event was the coming week, at the fiesta of the barangay of Old Guinlo.  Mavic, the “Irrawaddy Queen”, had granted us permission to borrow Waddy for educational outreach in Malampaya Sound.

I’d envisioned that I’d just breeze into the office, grab the dolphin costume and have a whimsical bus ride back to Taytay sitting next to a human-sized dolphin costume.  Ah, the classic photos that I’d take!

But I’d forgotten how unwieldy Waddy was. And now, exhausted from a busy week of meetings and errands in Puerto, I didn’t even want to start thinking about how I’d get him out of the office, back to my pension, onto a bus to Taytay, and from Taytay to Old Guinlo.

Fortunately, the WWF Philippines staff are always helpful and obliging, and someone suggested I find boxes, tape, and a lot of plastic bags. So, I wandered around town, and returned an hour later with some boxes that a hardware store owner nicely gave to me, 3 x 2 meters of tarp, 20 meters of rope, and a big roll of tape.

Joshua in the office was fantastic.  He pretty much did all of the Waddy packing without me asking – I tried to jump in and help, but he did it so efficiently that Waddy was all wrapped up and ready to go in no time.  Then he carried Waddy down the narrow stairs and helped flag down a trike and load the precious cargo on top.

Waddy all wrapped up and ready to go

Waddy all wrapped up and ready to go.

Waddy on a trike

Banwa Pension (or the “Banwa Art House“), my chosen home in Puerto (the dorm rooms are just ok, but the patio is a fantastic retreat from busy Taytay and the staff are wonderful) was kind enough to let me keep Waddy tucked under the roof for the night.

The next morning, one of the staff at Banwa helped me flag down a trike (we kept the cargo, which also included a hydrophone and sundry equipment items in a large pelican case that had been shipped to me, and my pack, discreetly hidden at first), telling the driver, “ummm, she has some cargo. It’s…a little big. Just a little.”

Once ready to go, we drove off to the bus terminal, the trike driver looking up (and accidentally hitting his head) several times to make sure Waddy was staying put on the roof.

At the bus station, the guy loading up cargo asked me in Tagalog, “What is this?” “Dolphin costume…you know, dolphin mascot.”  He looked puzzled and asked the security guard to ask me. More broken Tagalog from me: “Dolphin costume. Of WWF.  For Old Guinlo fiesta.” “Ah…ok…”

Alright, Waddy. Let's go to Taytay.

And so we were off on a 6-hour, rainy bus ride to Taytay.  Took another trike back to Casa Rosa (and was overcharged, but too tired to care about it…just said “a little expensive!” and gave the trike driver a look that I hope evoked some gleaming of guilt).

The next morning, we were off at 5:30 for yet another trike ride, along bumpy dirt road to Agpay, where the Protected Area Office boat met us.  Waddy, the big blue mystery package, joined us for a day of line transect surveys before we deposited him at Ricky’s house in Old Guinlo.

As Ricky said while loading Waddy onto the boat that morning: “Waddy has returned to Malampaya Sound!”

(more photos of Waddy and our outreach)