The first word of The Treasure at Dolphin Bay is, indeed, “Cowabunga.” Joe says it, not as he catches a wave or even imitates a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. He shouts it as he jumps into a jeep. Does leaping into a jeep require that level of excitement? Or is it sarcasm from Joe? It has to be the former, as sarcasm is a foreign concept to Joe. In any event, “cowabunga” is a prelude to the book’s use of other surfing / Hawaiian words, like “brah,” so readers have that to look forward to. Readers will also have to get accustomed to flip-flop sandals being referred to exclusively as “thongs”; it’s a bit jarring when the local head of police is described as wearing thongs, but if Frank and Joe can handle it, so can I.
In Dolphin Bay, Frank, Joe, and their parents are in Hawaii for a Christmas holiday. This is the boys’ second trip to Hawaii; the previous one was a stopover in The Firebird Rocket (#57), although they learn to surf in that brief time. This time, Frank and Joe are even luckier: Unlike every other teenager who has ever been on vacation to a distant location with his or her parents, Frank and Joe see their parents only at breakfast, and then they have the rest of the day to themselves. Oh, they might meet for supper, but if the boys’ investigation runs too long, well, that’s fine. It’s not like Fenton and Laura want the boys around most of the time anyway; the first two days of the book, they’re busy “playing golf.” I can only assume that’s a euphemism for something you don’t speak of in front of your children, or perhaps they picked something boring to say they were doing so Frank and Joe would just leave them alone.
They needn’t have bothered. Frank and Joe find a mystery immediately; there’s always a mystery, and Laura and Fenton, of all people, should realize that. After two days of rain, Frank and Joe head to the Institute of Cetacean Studies at Nai’a Bay, where Joe is hoping to swim with the dolphins. (Both the ICS and Nai’a Bay on Maui are fictional; “nai’a” means “dolphin” in Hawaiian.) After the dolphins perform for the crowd, one person per day gets to swim with the dolphins; I’m not sure how the ICS reconciles this with their emphasis on “humane research” (4).
Joe is the one chosen to swim with the dolphins; Joe can’t believe his luck, but I’m sure the readers can. Choosing him is a bit of a waste, though. Technically, Joe’s never swam with dolphins before, but he (and Frank and Fenton) have ridden porpoises, in Sky Sabotage (#79). Even though it’s not mentioned here, perhaps Joe remembers the experience — he’s quite eager for the dolphin to swim between his legs, if you know what I mean. (I think you do.) Unfortunately, Mr. Joe’s wild ride is interrupted when his dolphin finds another of ICS’s dolphins, who has been shot by a speargun. They soon discover the researcher who worked with that dolphin is missing.
Frank, Joe, and an intern, Stan, head out on a boat to look for the researcher, Jack Lord — sorry, I mean, “Jack Storm.” Stan mentions there’s a lost treasure reputed to be near Devil’s Hat, the island Storm was working around, and locals frequently search for it. A pair of brothers, the MacAllisters, lurks around the island, but they’re there to protect their fishing rights … and in this case, they also kick Joe in the stomach while attempting to bully Joe, Frank, and Stan. For some reason, despite being fearsome bullies, they “scrambled” away after landing the kick (23). That’s not something people who have the advantage do.
The kids don’t find Storm, but another ICS researcher, Jerry Finski, has collected Storm’s “mangled dinghy” (25). The effects of a mangled dinghy can be severe for a man, so it’s obvious Storm is in trouble. Strangely, though, the Maui police won’t look for Storm until he’s been missing for 48 hours, despite the boat’s condition and the dolphin’s injury suggesting foul play is involved.
The next day, Joe is saved from a random shark attack by an ICS dolphin. It’s not the boys’ first run-in with the soulless predators of the deep; they ran into sharks in The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37), Sky Sabotage (#79), and the revised Twisted Claw (#18), and they specifically encountered a great white in The Vanishing Thieves (#66). While Fenton and Laura are busy with “golf,” Frank and Joe talk to Uncle Billy, who runs a scuba shop while not looking for the treasure; he points a speargun at them, which he thinks is a funny joke. Would he think it funny, were the positions switched? Spearguns ain’t toys, man. The boys do learn the treasure is a strongbox full of stolen jewels, which were lost after the thief’s plane went down.
After the Hardys stop by Storm’s home, the MacAllisters try to run them off a mountain road. Frank and Joe rent a speedboat to follow them onto the water, with Joe nearly renting a speargun for protection. He should have stuck with his instincts, though, because the MacAllisters shoot at the Hardys’ speedboat with spearguns. The spears come close enough to hit the boat, but Frank and Joe aren’t hurt. Still, this is a serious matter. Frank and Joe report the incidents to the cops, trying to get the McAllisters arrested for Storm’s disappearance, and the cops do nothing.
Wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait. Wait. WAIT. What the McAllisters did — what Frank and Joe know they did, what they saw and reported to the police — is reckless discharge of a weapon, at the very least. I would argue to the police that it was two separate attempts at murder, but I’m not a lawyer; still, I think if the police wanted to squeeze the MacAllisters for information, they could arrest them for the most severe plausible charges and then demand their cooperation on the Storm case. But the police do nothing when it comes to the MacAllisters, and the fishing brothers pass from the story without answering for their crimes.
I’m beginning to think these cops aren’t very good, and it may have nothing to do with the thongs.
The incompetence of local police isn’t the only consistency with other books in the series; just like in Mystery on Makatunk Island, Joe doesn’t like fish. It’s a small consistency, but it’s something. Another consistency: like Chet in The Phantom Freighter (#26), Joe calls soda “pop.” (If you want to know what that means about the location of Bayport, see this map.)
After Frank and Joe break into Storm’s home again, learning he was looking for the treasure and taking his fingerprints, Frank nearly gets his “once in a lifetime” chance to swim with the cetaceans. As it turns out, the dolphins don’t want to play with him — ha ha, Frank. (If you’re reading this and you’re not into dolphins, too bad. Dolphins, according to Frank and Joe, are amazing. Smart, too: with a little training, the dolphins could probably solve mysteries.) While searching for Storm, Frank, Joe, and Stan are shot at by a real gun from an unidentified trawler; after eluding it, they run out of gas because of a faulty gas gauge. The next day, the Hardys’ regulators malfunction during a dive, and Frank has to give Joe mouth-to-mouth to revive him. The boys blame Uncle Billy, who supplied the faulty motorboat and scuba equipment, but he convinces them he’s innocent.
Fingerprints identify Storm as an alias for Jack Mobley, the son of the man who stole the lost treasure. When Storm’s ICS co-worker and covert girlfriend steals a dolphin to search for either the treasure or Storm (or both), Frank, Joe, and Stan head out to Devil’s Hat to look for them. Instead, they find Storm diving beneath Finsky’s trawler. By the time Frank and Joe reach Storm, he has found the treasure. Through sign language and something between telepathy and plot convenience, Storm accuses Finsky. Frank realizes Finsky had the opportunity to sabotage their fuel supply and rebreathers; his trawler could have been the one that shot at them. Now Finsky’s possession of Storm’s boat seems more sinister.
Finsky swims after Storm, but Storm escapes with the treasure via dolphin. In the struggle with Finsky, Frank is shot with a speargun in the arm and loses consciousness; Joe puts Frank on the back of a dolphin, which takes Frank to safety. Sure, why not? Dolphins are amazing, I tell you. The Hardy Boys of the sea, really. Anyway, Joe follows Finsky and defeats him in an aquatic battle. How, you might ask? I would have jerked Finsky’s respirator from his mouth because air is a person’s weak point underwater. No, Joe uses a “move involving pressure points” from “one of his karate magazines” (142).
I swear to Dixon, I am not making that up. It’s not exactly Thunderball, but it is better than we should have expected from a book that starts with “Cowabunga.”
Anyway, Finsky confesses to kidnapping Storm and making him look for the treasure, saying, “What do you think it’s like for a scientist, living from grant to grant, job to job?” (144-5). After ICS boss Helen Cho cut his research, he reached for the brass ring. Too bad! At least you shot a Hardy Boy, though. That’s something you’ll be able to brag about while you’re doing hard time for kidnapping and attempted murder.
I know I haven’t talked about Cho much — at all — but she comes across as the most incompetent administrator ever, and given how bad the police are, that’s saying something. Cho doesn’t realize that two of her researchers are using company time to hunt for treasure, and a third, Storm’s girlfriend, is aiding one of those two and carrying on a secret affair with him. And Cho’s smartest move? Letting a couple of teenagers help search for Storm, a move she herself calls “crazy” (18). Yet Cho’s the one who’s probably going to escape with her reputation intact, despite authorizing tourists to play with the dolphins she’s supposed to be taking care of. Cowabunga, brah!