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Columns

High Tide

By Mitsuharu Kume

Small Things in Big Places

2010
ISSUE
37


Umi wa hiroi na, ookina, tsuki wa noboroshi, hi wa shizumu—“The ocean is wide and big; the moon rises, the sun falls.” Every Japanese knows these words to the children’s song “Umi” or “Sea.” It uses very short words but ones that really convey the image of the ocean.

On that great big ocean, there once was a sailboat (with me on board) searching for tiny turtle babies. A baby sea turtle is only about 10 centimeters long so, looking for one in the vastness of the ocean is not easy.

Loggerhead turtles hatch on sandy beaches in the middle of the night, head out to sea and swim off on a long journey to the seas off Mexico. I figured that, when they’re small, the turtles must hide among floating bits of seaweed or garbage and eat shellfish and other things attached to them.

So my strategy was, whenever I found bits of seaweed or garbage floating by, I would just jump into the ocean and start looking for them. But though I thought there would be a lot of seaweed and garbage floating in the ocean, I looked a lot and found very little.

Finding a single turtle turned out to be hard work. It did not matter how small the junk in the water was; as soon as I found it, I would jump in to take a look. Twenty, 30 times a day—but it did not matter how often I jumped in. I never found a baby turtle.

However, I did make a lot of new discoveries. Around that floating seaweed are schools of small fish which feed on it; around them are even larger fish and, circling below all of them, are fairly big fish.

If you go to catch or photograph the fish, they usually just swim away but, if I simply floated and acted like some new thing making a shadow, they would start to swim in. It was a pretty weird feeling, but it also opened a new world.

After a while, I found a long stretch where the sea currents come together. It was like a path paved by small, floating garbage. After about twenty minutes of swimming along in this area I saw, in front of me, something small and black, with great big feet, flapping in the water, not swimming very gracefully. I had found one—a baby loggerhead turtle. The shutter of my camera got a lot of work that day.

I went swimming in the vast ocean, and I found a little turtle. “If you don’t grow up fast,” I thought, “Some bird or fish is going to eat you. Gambare! gambare!” I was really excited; not something I feel often.

“A boat floating on the ocean; I want to sail off and see other countries,” Umi, continues. Age shio ja, ageshio ja—“it’s a rising tide,” the old saying goes, meaning things are going in the right direction.

Someday I will chase a little turtle all the way to Mexico.