Dolphin escorts clubbed to death

THE savage clubbing to death of dozens of dolphins was the sorry finale of Frenchman Guy Delage's trans-Atlantic swim which ended last week in Barbados. The most compelling aspect to Mr Delage's adventure - plagued by media accusations that he was merely rafting and drifting across the ocean - were the hundreds of dolphins which befriended the 42-year-old swimmer and escorted him to the end.

For mile upon mile, the dolphins' company broke the monotony of the marathon swim. Depression, fatigue, loneliness and fear, he said, had been relieved by these creatures - for centuries regarded by seafarers as a propitious presence on a voyage.

When Delage triumphantly dragged himself from the water in wet-suit and flippers, a crowd of reporters and photographers was on hand to witness his arrival. But, before the Frenchman could dry off, Barbadian fishermen rushed into the bay and began clubbing the dolphins to death. In vain, Delage screamed his protests and waved his shark gun. The clubs continued to fall as the nets closed in. Within minutes, many of the trusting mammals were dead and the turquoise of Miami Bay was incarnadined.

"I felt sorry for the creatures I had led to their deaths," Delage said. "They were more than friends to me. When I saw them being massacred, that really made me mad."

The fishermen were mystified by the Frenchman's anguish. Dolphin steaks are a popular dish in Barbados and elsewhere in the Caribbean, and Delage's former companions were soon cut up and eaten by the islanders.

That was not the only disappointment that landfall held for Delage, who set off on his adventure from the Cape Verde Islands on 16 December. A large wave smashed his raft into a reef, causing him to break a toe. His sponsors, who have an exclusive deal with the swimmer, then refused to allow a mob of French press to interview him, sparking angry scuffles on the beach.

And some observers continued to downplay his achievement, claiming he had been helped by trade winds and ocean currents. Delage, from Nantes in western France, estimates that he swam about a third of the distance, spending the rest of the time drifting on the13-ft raft - a fairly sophisticated craft equipped with a satellite dish and a fax.

The French press remains sharply divided over his voyage. France- Soir headlined him "Super-Delage", but the rival Liberation declared: "The only real exploit has been the way in which the commercial sponsors and their press teams have managed to get this whipped cream of an event to rise at all."