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I will try to do the impossible task of describing my first experience swimming with wild dolphins, but I’m afraid that there are just no words in the English language to describe the sensation and feeling. To begin, we boarded the Sea Crest Boat at 2:00 in the afternoon. As Patrick continued to teach me the ropes of my new position, we stumbled into a small thunderstorm which accompanied bucket loads of rain. Captain Al made sure everyone was safe and sound inside the cabin until the storm passed. The original plan had been to snorkel the “road to Atlantis”, but unfortunately due to the change in weather, we skipped the snorkel to instead set our eyes to the sea to look for dorsal fins.   

Within an hour of cursing along the water, we came across a group of eight spotted dolphins. Everyone rushed to grab their snorkel and fins and head to the stern of the boat to await first mate Julie’s, command to enter the water.

The first thing I realized when I entered the ocean, were the sounds. Squeaks, clicks, and whistles composed all the sounds in the water, which created a beautiful sense of a sort of underwater music. As my ears picked up the different sounds of their echolocation, my eyes spotted the first dolphin that swam into my view. Lil’ Jess (#35, pictured here)! Not only was I over the moon about seeing my first dolphin underwater, but I was also able to ID the dolphin based on the distinct under bite she possesses. Soon after spotting Lil’ Jess, her calf wasn’t too far behind. The calf came whizzing by and started to rub against its mother.

Not long after observing Lil’ Jess (#35) and her calf, the other dolphins came gliding into view. Among these dolphins were Romeo (#10) and Leslie (#80). We watched as they swam towards the bottom to rub their backs in the sand, and then they swam up to observe the snorkelers above. There was one moment in particular that I will never forget. At one point an adult dolphin and a younger dolphin (on land we ID’d Sulfur (#102) and un-named #117), came swimming along next to me. The most remarkable part was that they slowed down to my slow swimming pace. To compare how slow it must have felt to them, imagine trying to walk in slow motion for someone to keep up with you on foot, so for them to slow down to swim next to me was incredible. For a moment, I was not trying to catch up to the dolphins or swim after the dolphins, but I was swimming with the dolphins, and that is definitely a feeling that has no words to describe, but I will certainly try. It was almost as if you were being invited into a secret underwater world and for a split second you were not just an alien terrestrial animal, but a guest in their new, exciting, and foreign home. I could also see that the dolphins were looking right at me. Their eyes seemed not to just look at me but to look inside me, and I could feel their echolocation through my body. It was the most amazing experience and moment. Eventually, the dolphins parted ways with me and I was left to feel amazed as I watched the other dolphins play, and I was able to observe all the pectoral fin contacts that were happening in the water.

After 45 minutes of snorkeling and observing the dolphins, it was sadly time to depart and head back to shore. It was definitely a day for the books and everyone was wiped out from such an amazing boat day. It definitely made the cozy cabin confinement during the thunderstorm well worth the wait! Then it was supper and a quick, and much needed, lights out for the next day’s adventure to arrive.

Until then,

Nat

Kelly Melillo Sweeting

Kel is DCP's Bimini Research Manager, and all around awesome scientist.

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