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Vacations With A Porpoise: Swimming With Dolphins

(August 2000)

Okay Iíll admit it; I was hooked on Flipper re-runs as a kid. I have always wanted to be able to dive in with these magnificent creatures just like they did on TV. Dolphins have always captivated me as they have millions of people. It's no surprise that with their endearing smiles and friendly nature, dolphins are often the star attraction at many aquariums and marine parks. Seeing these animals in captivity can inspire an appreciation for them, but nothing can compare to the magic of swimming with them, and today it is a real life adventure you can now experience.

There are many reputable dolphin adventure companies around the globe; the majority of them are located in Florida, Mexico, and the Bahamas. Most dolphin encounters range between $40-$180. My dolphin adventure was in the Bahamas with a company called Dolphin Encounters. Located on Blue Lagoon Island near Nassau, the company offers several different dolphin experience packages. One package is a dolphin encounter where you can wade in the water with dolphins, another involves actually swimming with them. My swim with the dolphins lasted approximately 45 minutes and cost $145. Although it isn't an inexpensive adventure, it is one experience you will treasure. There are also companies in the U.S., Bahamas, and Mexico that offer programs to swim with wild dolphins. This is very controversial since swimming with and feeding wild dolphins is illegal in the U.S. However, this has not stopped many companies based in the U.S. from offering wild dolphin swims in the Bahamas.

Dolphins are the most gentle and intelligent mammals after humans, and this becomes particularly evident when you meet them. They are as curious about us as we are about them. After all, we are not inhabitants of their oceanic home. We must seem strange, even awkward, to them as we float and swim around them watching their graceful movements. Many stories are told regarding the legendary nature of dolphins, one being that they have long brought luck to sailors. It has been said that they lead ships through dangerous waters to safety and that they save drowning seafarers. One recent example of dolphins helping humans is the Elian Gonzalez drama. While escaping Cuba, Elian clung to an inner tube for about 50 hours, and during that time, he says, dolphins kept him afloat by pushing him up whenever he tried to let go.

Many of the dolphins that I personally interacted with were veterans of the television and movie industry. The trainers were kind and caring towards these great mammals; in addition, they were eager to tell us all about the wonderful world of dolphins. Before you are allowed in the water, you must sit through an educational session with trainers, "Dolphin 101," if you will. We learned how dolphins display many human-like qualities, for example, how mothers educate their young, how a dolphin pod establishes a hierarchy based on age and size, and how disputes are settled, which is usually with a swipe of the tail. Dolphins are naturally gregarious and acrobatic animals, and when you get right down to it, dolphins are the ultimate party animals.

Once in the water, we were allowed to stroke, pet, and feed the dolphins. Dolphins can ham it up with the best of them, and just witnessing their various behaviors is enough to bring out the kid in you. I found feeding to be a bonding experience with one dolphin in particular whose name was FatMan. FatMan can sure down a bunch of fish, hence the name. He's also the star of the show, and he personally gave me a high-speed "foot-push" through the water -- a thrill I will not forget.

Whether or not it is ethical to keep dolphins in captivity and train them to perform and interact with humans is a source of many debates. Some believe that forcing dolphins to perform is degrading and humiliating, while others argue that many of the behaviors that dolphins demonstrate when performing are simply natural. After my dolphin swim, I found myself more inspired. I believe that the more informed the public is about these fascinating creatures, the more we will be able to protect them and safeguard the oceans. Legendary marine biologist Jacques Cousteau summed it up best when he said, "The happiness of the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it."

The following is a list of interesting sites dealing with dolphin excursions.

Supervised Dolphin Swims

  • Dolphin Encounters Blue Lagoon, Bahamas

  • Discovery Cove Orlando, Florida

  • Dolphins Plus Key Largo, Florida

  • Dolphin Research Center Grassy Key, Florida

  • Dolphin World Florida Keys

  • Dolphin Connection Florida Keys

  • Mandurah Dolphin Encounters Mandurah, Australia

  • Dolphin Quest Oahu, Hawaii, Bermuda and French Polynesia

  • Dolphin Reef Eilat Red Sea, Israel

  • Dolphin Discovery Cancun/ Isla Mujeres, Chankanaab National Marine Park, Cozumel, Puerto Aventuras, Mayan Riviera

  • Xel-Ha Mayan Riviera, Mexico

  • Xcaret Mayan Riviera, Mexico

    Wild Dolphin Adventures

  • Dolphin Expeditions The Bahamas

  • Dream Team Wild Dolphin Adventures The Bahamas

  • WildQuest Key West and the Bahamas

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