Study Guide Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

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One day when Karana was asleep near the sand spit she woke up to what sounded like thunder. Immediately she noticed that the tide was lower than she had ever seen it. She saw a giant wave moving toward her. She ran and ran. She knew that she did not have time to climb up via a trail. She climbed directly up the cliff as best she could. The crest of a wave moved below her. But, another wave was approaching and she could not climb higher. Then she saw that the second wave was slowed by the first wave, which by then was moving back out to sea. But, the second wave did eventually wash over her as she clung to the face of the cliff. Afterward, she climbed down and slept that night at the base of the cliff.

The next morning, as she climbed up to her home, she found items that belonged in the sea, but that had been lifted by the wave. Rontu-Ari, who luckily had not been with her when the waves struck, did not want to leave her side. Karana slept most of that day.

The ocean was quiet. The gulls were quiet. But, then the earth itself started to move in waves. Karana and Rontu-Aru both fell to the ground. Finally, they did make it to their home. The earth shook throughout the night.


The waves were a tsunami (also known as a tidal wave). The waves in the earth were an earthquake. Tsunamis are normally caused by earthquakes.



Karana felt that only a little damage was done by the earthquake. A less positive person might have thought differently. The food and weapons that had been ready for a quick escape were gone, as were the canoes in which to make an escape. But, there were some pieces of the canoes left. Karana decided to try to build a canoe out of the remaining pieces of the canoes. Before she finished building a canoe, a ship arrived at the island. When she saw that it was not an Aleut ship, she was eager to contact the people on it. When she went to Coral Cove to meet it, the seas were rough. One of the passengers came ashore and seemed to call to her, but, did not see her. Neither did he see her when she went into the ocean after him. The ship left and she remained on the island.


Karana's attitude about the damage caused by the earthquake is a good example of the attitude that made her life alone bearable.



Two years later the ship returned. This time it did not immediately leave. Those on board made camp.

Karana took time to get ready to meet those on the ship and to leave with them. When the three men on the ship came to Karana's house, guided by the smoke from her fire, she could not understand their words. They seemed to be trying to indicate that they had a ship. Karana pointed to the baskets that she had filled and indicated that she wanted to take the baskets with her.

The men seemed to like Karana's outfit, but once they reached their camp, they indicated that they wanted to make her a dress to wear instead. She did not like the dress, but she wore it nonetheless. It was made out of what the men had available, which was trouser legs, cut apart and sewn back together.

The men wanted to hunt otter while they were there, but Karana would not tell them where to find them. They must have wondered why she did not know where they were, because they saw that she had an otter cape.

Ten days after they arrived, the ship, with Karana and Rontu-Aru and Karana's cage of birds on it, left the island. Dolphins swam with the ship as they had swum with Karana's canoe on her return many years earlier.


To Karana, dolphins were a good omen. Even without the good omen, she was looking forward to the future.



The island that the author called Island of the Blue Dolphins was first settled back in 2000 B.C. It was discovered by Sebastián Vizcaíno, a Spanish explorer, in 1602.

The story takes place in the time period from 1835 to 1853. In real life, the girl in the story is referred to as The Lost Woman of San Nicholas.

The captain of the schooner who took the tribe to the mainland was Captain Hubbard. The girl was rescued by Captain Nidever.

Father Gonzales of Santa Barbara Mission could not understand her language. Neither could anyone else. They spoke in signs to each other. Her tribe disappeared before she was rescued.

The Lost Woman is buried near the Santa Barbara Mission.

San Nicolas is approximately 75 miles southwest of Los Angeles.

Indians from the north settled on the island more than two thousand years ago. Their art can be viewed at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles.

San Nicolas is now a secret naval base.

Scientists believe that the island will eventually disappear due to erosion.


The author tells us that San Nicolas is approximately 75 miles southwest of Los Angeles. Other sources say that it is 61 miles from the coast. Both numbers appear to be accurate, depending on exactly what point on the coast one is using.

One thing that the author did not mention is that the Lost Woman only lived seven weeks after arriving at the mission. Her death is presumed to have been due to her radical change in diet once she left the island.


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