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The Battle of the Mullets and the Dolphins,

edited by Andrew Lang

Many singular stories may be found in Pliny, but the most interesting is how men and dolphins combine together on the coast of France, near Narbonne, to catch the swarms of mullet that come into those waters at certain seasons of the year.

The dolphins drive the fish into the nets


‘In Languedoc, within the province of Narbonne, there is a standing pool or dead water called Laterra, wherein men and dolphins together used to fish; for at one certain time of the year an infinite number of fishes called mullets, taking the vantage of the tide when the water doth ebb, at certain narrow weirs and passages with great force break forth of the said pool into the sea; and by reason of that violence no nets can be set and pitched against them strong enough to abide and bear their huge weight and the stream of the water together, if so be men were not cunning and crafty to wait and espie their time and lay for them and to entrap them. In like manner the mullets for their part immediately make speed to recover the deep, which they do very soon by reason that the Channel is near at hand; and their only haste is for this, to escape and pass that narrow place which affordeth opportunities to the fishers to stretch out and spread their nets. The fishermen being ware thereof and all the people besides (for the multitude knowing when fishing time is come, run thither, and the rather for to see the pleasant sport), cry as loud as ever they can to the dolphins for aid, and call “Simo, Simo,” to help to make an end of this  their game and pastime of fishing. The dolphins soon get the ear of their cry and know what they would have, and the better if the north winds blow and carry the sound unto them; for if it be a southern wind it is later  ere the voice be heard, because it is against them. Howbeit, be the wind in what quarter soever, the dolphins resort thither flock-meal, sooner than a man would think, for to assist them in their fishing. And a wondrous pleasant sight it is to behold the squadrons as it were of those dolphins, how quickly they take their places and be arranged in battle array, even against the very mouth of the said pool, where the mullets are to shoot into the sea, to see (I say) how from the sea they oppose themselves and fight against them and drive the mullets (once affrighted and scared) from the deep on the shelves. Then come the fishers and beset them with net and toile, which they bear up and fortify with strong forks; howbeit, for all that, the mullets are so quick and nimble that a number of them whip over, get away, and escape the nets. But the dolphins are ready to receive them; who, contenting themselves for the present to kill only, make foul work and havoc among them, and put off the time of preying and feeding upon, until they have ended the battle and achieved the victory. And now the skirmish is hot, for the dolphins, perceiving also the men at work, are the more eager and courageous in fight, taking pleasure to be enclosed within the nets, and so most valiantly charging upon the mullets; but for fear lest the same should give an occasion unto the enemies and provoke them to retire and fly back between the boats, the nets, and the men there swimming, they glide by so gently and easily that it cannot be seen where they get out. And albeit they take great delight in leaping, and have the cast of it, yet none essayeth to get forth but where the nets lie under them, but no sooner are they out, but presently a man shall see brave pastime between them as they scuffle and skirmish as it were under the ramparts. And so the conflict being ended and all the fishing sport done, the dolphins fall to spoil and eat those which they killed in the first shock and encounter. But after this service performed, the dolphins retire not presently into the deep  again, from whence they were called, but stay until to-morrow, as if they knew very well they had so carried themselves as that they deserved a better reward than one day’s refection and victuals; and therefore contented they are not and satisfied unless to their fish they have some sops and crumbs of bread given them soaked in wine, and had their bellies full.’