Join me as I share space with wild bottle-nose dolphins
off the coast of Western Australia.
It was an exhilarating experience that left me breathless.
We were up at the crack of dawn to catch a boat at Rockingham. The sky was clear, the sun bright, the sand golden and the passengers excited.
We didn’t know exactly what to expect and there were quite a few people who were nervous about being exposed in deep water. (I think most of us can sympathise with galeophobia — the extreme fear of sharks, but there was no need to worry, because our guides wore shark deterrents on their suits.)
As the boat cut across the sparkling ocean in search of slippery friends, we breathed in the salty air, waved at passing fishermen, and even spotted a few penguins floating by.
It was all very relaxing… until they brought out the wet suits.
I’m no small-fry and the idea of cramming my ample flesh into a tube of rubber did not appeal. But cram I did (I’ll spare you the details). Being fitted with masks and snorkels was far less challenging.
After a safety and environmental presentation, we were raring to go, and scanned the waves for dolphins. It didn’t take long before we spotted a pod the boat slowed and we spotted grey dorsal fins breaking the surface only metres away. Eyes widened.
The first group of floaters (no swimming and splashing allowed, so this is the most apt description - keep your minds out of the sewer) sat on the swim deck at the back of the boat. We were to be towed along by our guide and a hand-held underwater propulsion device. With hearts thumping, we grabbed the arm of the next person and… SPLASH.
I was right there, swimming with dolphins!
Sleek bodies torpedoed through the water, twisting and looping, audible whistles and clicks drifting by. We had to be quick to keep up with them, which meant hopping on and off the boat, but the dolphins seemed happy to interact, showing off their playful nature. No-one was nervous anymore, because all eyes were following the movement of these beautiful mammals.
I had an instant feeling of joy and peace.
I’ve never experienced anything like it before. These dolphins didn’t do tricks, they weren’t being lured with food, and we couldn’t force them to stay. They were wild animals who allowed us to enjoy their company for a while. I felt so privileged!
There was a 12-month old calf, called Kelly, among the pod, and her mother was trusting enough to let her show-off for the visitors. She whizzed around, thrashed her fluke and waved her flippers.
Where did I swim with dolphins? Check out Rockingham Wild Encounters.
* Dolphins can reach speeds of up to 35 km/hr (22 mp/hr).
* They are warm-blooded mammals, and have a thick layer of blubber to help maintain their body temperatures.
* Their eyes can move independently and have a huge field of visions. Their eye muscles are so strong that they can change the shape of the lens, making it possible for them to focus both above and under the water.
* Their swallow their food whole, and eat up to 15 kilograms (30 pounds) of fish each day. Often they will work together to herd schools of fish to be eaten.
* They can dive as deep as 915 metres (3,000 feet), but they breathe air, so have to surface approximately every 7 minutes.
* They don’t breathe involuntarily, like humans, so they can’t ever fully sleep. One side of their brain has to stay active so they remember to surface and breathe. Honest!
* They communicate by making high-frequency clicking sounds with their nasal sacs. (Humans can’t hear many of these sounds.) These sounds are also deciphered when they bounce back from objects, so the dolphins can determine the size, shape, distance and speed of an object.
Although the scientific community is divided on the medical benefits of dolphin therapy, for handicapped children, there’s no denying it is a spiritual experience. There are claims that it assists the immune system, awareness, attention, and self-control.
Have you had an amazing wild life encounter? I'd love to hear about it.
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