Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dolphin Extremes

I wasn't sure how I felt about a trip to swim with wild Atlantic spotted dolphins. Here in the Puget Sound, we must stay 200 yards from orcas and with the number of boats following them every day even that seems too close to me. But after my time in Taiji, I thought getting close to dolphins might be an antidote to the horror that I saw there. Lisa and I booked as soon as Samantha Whitcraft posted information about her Dolphin Defense Workshop & Eco-Cruise on Facebook.

Half of us arrived at the boat in Bimini four hours later than scheduled due to a paperwork mix up with the airline. This meant we missed the tide and were unable to leave that day. A potential dolphin day was lost. The next days were spent wandering around Bahamian waters looking for dolphins and running from the remnants of Tropical Storm Emily. I was surprised how few boats we saw on the water. Maybe they were smarter than we were.

On the last day of the trip, we finally found dolphins. We followed a mother and calf for hours and they didn’t try to evade us but instead, played in our bow wake and rode waves near the boat. It was wonderful to see this pair after days of nothing. With all of the close interaction, spyhops and breaching, I was satisfied when they swam away. I’d hoped for five solid days of swimming with them but this was fabulous. The boat continued in their direction in hopes that we’d find them again.

A short while later, we heard, DOLPHINS! Another pair appeared; mature dolphins this time. Soon, we saw six more. A little bit later, they were everywhere. Our dolphin spotter, Bradley, counted tirdee-tree (33). It was a wonderful sight. The original mother and calf were in this group. They had led us to their pod. I was asked if this was the antidote to Taiji I hoped for. I realized then, that there is no antidote for what I saw in Taiji. This experience was separate and special and would have been even better if our captain had stopped the boat and let us in the water.

The captain announced that the dolphins needed to “chill” and that we needed lunch. It wasn’t up to us but it appeared that the dolphins were completely chill and none of us would rather have mac and cheese than swim with dolphins. But that’s how it went down. We were like little kids trying to scarf down a meal while we watched our friends play outside. By the time we got in the water only a few from the pod were left so the captain put out the ropes to drag us through the water to catch back up to them. It worked and I had my first in water experience with dolphins. I don’t know the words to describe what it was like. But to have an animal swim inches from you and look you in the eye… it’s very special. There’s someone in there and I’m honored that they swam with me.

On a second drag through the water, the captain yelled to get off the ropes and swim forward to the front of the boat. My human pod got ahead of me as I watched two spotted dolphins swim toward me. One stopped and whistled something and then started clicking. I can only imagine what he was thinking, why doesn’t this watery eyed, meat puppet answer me? While I was enjoying this moment, my captain was screaming at me to stay with the group. I think Sam Kinison is alive and well and driving a dolphin watch boat off the coast of Bimini. When I caught up to my pod, they were watching bottlenose and Atlantic spotted dolphins share an intimate moment. It was pretty wild and I learned later that this type of inter-species interaction is considered rape by some. It looked consensual to me.

When I got out of the water, I scanned the horizon for other boats. There was one lone sport fishing boat off the bow and a tug off port that was on the horizon every day, like a catcher in the rye. It seems, in these waters, this kind of interaction is fine and is really on the dolphins’ terms. It wouldn’t work in the Puget Sound as every yahoo would be chasing orcas and trying to jump on their backs.

I wish the fisherman of Taiji would spend a week in the Bahamas, have close interactions with dolphins and learn how to run a trip like this. I think it could open their eyes to a new possible revenue stream that might be more lucrative than what they are currently doing. If the Taiji fishermen keep moving in the current direction, the dolphins will be gone and so will this alternative form of income. Don't the people of Japan deserve the an opportunity to enjoy a close connection with these glorious beings?

For the souls of the oceans


  1. I've been torturing myself with so much material online on Taiji that this was a welcome relief. If it was comforting to read, must have been extraordinarily so to experience. Thanks for this.

  2. Thanks for this great article! So many of us dream of positive interaction with dolphins. It can be tough as a blogger having to look at the horror of what is happening to the dolphins we love so much. You post gives us a window through which we can experience interacting with dolphins.