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Blacktip Islanders Face Off For Boobies-Vs-Frigate Melee

boobies and frigates

Frigates and red-footed boobies share a stand of mangroves on Blacktip Island Thursday afternoon. This weekend’s Boobies Vs. Frigates competition will feature island residents recreating the two species’ aerial battles for food. (photo courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr)

Blacktip Island residents will draw straws today to determine their roles in Saturday’s annual Boobies Vs. Frigates competition celebrating the height of hurricane season.

“It was a storm-relief debacle that morphed into a community-wide event several years back,” organizer Wendy Beaufort said. “The contest mimics the in-air fights between the booby birds and the frigate birds. The Booby team has to get supplies from Diddley’s Landing to the air strip. The Frigates try to stop them any way they can and steal their goods.

“It teaches teamwork and working together during the hard times post-hurricane,” Beaufort said. “After a storm, you’re never sure who’ll be on your side or who you’ll need help from. The teams are totally random each year, so you see friend against friend, family against family. It’s like a full-contact holiday dinner.”

Residents say the competition eases the tensions of hurricane season.

“Watching the satellite weather, prepping the house, dreading that next big storm, it takes its toll on your nerves,” Jerrod Ephesians said. “Whacking a Booby trying to get past you and stealing his back pack, it’s a great stress reliever.

“Everyone joins in, unless they’re totally physically unable,” Ephesians said. “You should’ve seen Helen Maples last year, smacking Frigates with her cane and kicking them with that ankle boot, broken foot be damned.”

The event has few, but strict, rules to ensure contestants accurately mimic the battling seabirds they represent.

“Boobies have one arm tied behind them so they’re at a disadvantage, like in real life,” event co-chair Christina Mojarra said. “Frigates, they can do anything they want, and it’s usually mean and nasty.

“There’s all sorts of strategies,” Mojarra said. “Usually, the Boobies cluster up in one big wedge and try to bull their way through. Others’ll try an end-run, solo, while that’s happening. It’s a free for all, really. The nurse gets paid double-time for the next few days.”

The contest ends when all the supplies have been either transported to the airfield or seized by the Frigates.

“As soon as that last bag’s secured, the party starts,” Beaufort said. “As ever, Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resorts hosts, what with it being right there, but the party always spills over all up and down the coast.

“A lot of people stay in character all night,” Beaufort said. “You’ll see Frigates at the bar trying to steal money from Boobies, and Boobies squawking about spilled beer and running down the road trying to get a moment to take a drink.

“Sure, some Boobies overindulge and end up barfing in the bushes, but that just adds to the realism,” Beaufort said.

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Boobiers Return The Sport Of Kings To Blacktip Island

booby-hunting

A red-footed booby waits for the command to hunt from a Blacktip Island Boobying Society boobier at Eagle Ray Cove resort Thursday. (photo courtesy of Charles J. Sharp)

A group of boobiers – Blacktip Island history buffs who have revived the traditional art of hunting with booby birds – will demonstrate their skills Saturday afternoon at Eagle Ray Cove resort to celebrate the nearly 400 years since the Caribbean Island’s discovery.

“Its our cultural heritage, Blacktip’s sport of kings” said Sula Beakins, president of the Blacktip Island Boobying Society. “It started as a lark by a member of the island’s Society for Creative Anachronism, and took off from there.

“The boobies can be tough to train,” Beakins said. “But they already go after fish, so it’s really just a matter of tweaking their instincts.”

Expert opinion on the sport’s historical accuracy is mixed.

“Our records indicate the first governors of Blacktip Island trained the native boobies to chase down fish, much like falcons were trained to hunt in the Old World,” island historian Smithson Altschul said.

“Of course, those records are in Middle English, so the translation may be a bit off,” Altschul added. “But, oh, the sight of a booby taking a blackfin mid-flight, it sends chills down your spine!”

Boobiers emphasize the sport’s ties to falconry.

“As with falcons, we start training our boobies when they’re young,” Beakins said. “As soon as they lose their baby down, really, and can fly reasonably well.

“It takes about a year to fully train them,” Beakins said. “We get them going after snapper at first, then work up to grouper and small mahi.”

Standard booby gear consists of bark-covered gauntlets for the boobies to perch on, as well as GPS trackers so hunters can find them.

“We all wear raincoats and goggles, too,” Beakins added. “Those birds poop up a storm, usually when you least expect it.”

The highlight of Saturday’s demonstration will be the competition between the island’s red-footed boobies and brown boobies from nearby Tiperon Island.

“It’s the great argument in the boobying community – which booby is the best hunter,” boobying aficionado Gage Hoase said. “Most serious boobiers see that as a false dichotomy, though.

“It’s a speed vs. agility thing,” Hoase said. “Like a pitting a peregrine versus a gyrfalcon. The brown boobies are better at mackerelly fish, the red-footed are best with tuna family.”

The boobying is not without critics.

“It’s inhumane, capturing wild birds, torturing them until they chase down fish, then taking the fish from them,” said Blacktip’s People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Harry Pickett. “And then there’s all the safety mishaps boobiers cover up. It’s a dirty, dirty sport.”

Booby enthusiasts insist they’re sensitive to those concerns.

“We’re not running around grabbing wild boobies willy-nilly,” Beakins said. “The first boobies we trained were injured chicks that wouldn’t have survived in the wild. And from that pair, we’ve started a captive breeding program. No wild boobies have ever been harmed or molested.

“Safety-wise, sure, there was an incident where a booby stooped on a small child with fish-shaped barrettes in her hair,” Beakins said. “That was unfortunate, but the booby was only following its instincts. And it let her go, eventually, which speaks to the excellence of our training. It’s a blood sport. You have to expect the occasional bloody nose.”

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