I meet my new dolphin ‘pod’ adventurers at the charter airport: diverse, travel weary, filled with unknown anticipations. They don’t know it yet but they are about to enter a Divine Recipe of great equalizers: the sun, the sea, a custom built tri-maran and countless numbers of wild, free dolphins. I look around at the group smiling, soaking all their innocence in.
I’ve been making pilgrimages to swim with wild dolphins in the Bahamas for coming up on 10 years now. Despite untold numbers of encounters with dolphins and a stream of returning guests, no two trips have been nor ever will be the same. It is the epitome of the indigenous saying, “you cannot step in the same river twice.” Impossible because the water is constantly moving, shifting the sand beneath your feet, the wind and air are in permanent flux, and so too is everything that surrounds you…all along with the cells within your own bodily vessel perpetually turning and changing. So begins the first of a series of Dolphin Dancing Lessons that these guests and myself will receive: the surrendering of all expectations.
It is an adjustment to live aboard a boat at sea. It is also a great equalizer-not unlike camping. This is not a cruise ship filled with excess upon excess. There will be efficient spaces tucked inside efficient spaces tucked inside efficient spaces. Things we take for granted on land-like computerized self flushing toilets, hair dryers, unlimited amounts of ice, half hour showers, oodles and oodles of privacy-will temporarily become a distant memory. We settle in and begin to drink up the stunning views and warm Bahamian air like coal miners emerging from their missions beneath the surface. Dolphin Dancing Lesson two: we don’t need nearly as much ‘stuff’ as we think we do.
For some, the first night aboard is full of identifying sounds, acclimating to this foreign and unfamiliar environment, with added study of lessons one and two. For others, it is a concert of shooting stars under the Milky Way; the sounds of waves gently lapping the shore wafting over to our anchored haven. By the time familiar smells of breakfast begin day two, hearty appetites and an assortment of rested and sleepy faces emerge, ready for whatever the day brings.
Our first visit to the dolphin ‘grounds’ is met with flat calm seas and perfect weather. The captain and I exchange knowing glances that ‘all things are glorious.’ I explain to guests that at any point we can see dolphins and encourage folks to lift their gaze up beyond their sunscreen applications and books to keep a look out. I also begin my own lookout. It doesn’t take but a few minutes before the call comes, “Dolphins off the bow! 12 o’clock!” In a synchronized dance of captain, crew and facilitator, word quickly spreads to guests, “They are here! They are here!” It is a moment of release on several levels: joy, anticipation, appreciation, wonder, and delight. Dolphin Dancing Lesson three: gratitude.
The dolphins show up, first 4, then 8, then 15, then too many to keep counting. Spotted Atlantic dolphins in various sizes. They weave around the boat in seamless wonder and curiosity. The sea is a stunning turquoise with brilliant white sand below. Between the flat calm, the sun, the clarity of the sea, and the dolphins, it is frankly, ‘as good as it gets.’ Some of the dolphins are riding the boats’ bow waves, rolling partially on their sides so they can look up at us, just 2 and 3 feet above them, enjoying the pressure that comes off the bow wake. You can feel their exuberance, curiosity and more. They linger around us for a half hour or so, weaving in and out, playing in mesmerizing groups of 2’s, 3’s and we watch-moving from one side of the deck platform to another so as not to miss a delicious drop.
Based on the behavior and interest of the dolphins, the human tow lines are let out behind us and the call goes out to ‘don thy masks, fins and snorkels.’ We step off into the open sea, grab a place hold on one of the tow ropes and are already transformed. With our masks on, ‘the upper world’ (aka above the surface) quickly slips away as our gaze centers and focuses onto the ocean world beneath the sea: filled with sights, textures, and yes even sounds. Our proficient captain and crew work as a team to continue to spot, observe and respectfully keep us in flow with the dolphins.
I say respectfully because despite all intentions and human enthusiasm it is imperative to remain conscious of the fact that we are indeed interlopers in this magical world. Before any wild dolphin contact or swimming is undertaken there must first be this primary understanding. If dolphins are resting, feeding or such, their space must be respected and maintained. We never chase dolphins and do not initiate touch. The dolphins may and often do initiate touch with us, but this is completely on their terms, not ours. That is why it is such an honor to have a wild dolphin experience.
In a matter of seconds, out of the haze of the brilliant blue sea the dolphins begin to emerge. All we have to do is relax and hold on. They swim with us, sometimes 10 feet below us, casually rolling over to see us above them. Other times they crisscross under and around us coming within inches. A few times they rise up and are among us. The pitch of their clicks and whistles and sonar penetrates the water and leaves our human energy fields altered. Chakras open, the senses release, and in a blur of their bubble streams, head nods and whistles the dolphins stay with us this way for over an hour. Dolphin Dancing Lesson four: when life sends you streams of bubbles, let it tickle you as you swim through them.
Later that same day, we slip off the tow lines, bobbing in the flat calm, laughing in our wonder and delight at what has just happened when unexpectedly the dolphins return for more. As if following months of rehearsal preparation and orchestration the guests and I begin to free dive straight down-an invitation to the dolphins to play some more. With complete synchronicity and perfection we participate in a rare and perfect ballet: humans, dolphins, gently free diving, as if on some synchronized team-silently, rhythmically, hypnotically. The only sound is of our own clamor for air through our snorkels after several minutes and several dives. The dolphins don’t have to work so hard. They are much more efficient breathers and swimmers than us. They drift off quietly into the endless blue. But we are blissed out, too blissed out in fact to find the portion of our brains where language and those limited human vocabulary words are stored. Like ill fitting shoes after a day of barefootin’, nobody wants to put them back on. Dolphin Dancing Lesson five: sometimes there are no words.
The next few days continue in magical succession. Each day our diligent captain warns us that it was a perfect day yesterday, and in the scheme of ‘fairness’ we may not see another dolphin all week. Each day we giggle in wonderment as we climb back aboard after yet another stream of miracles.
One afternoon was spent playing with 20-30 bottlenose dolphins-a rare occurrence since they are notoriously more shy and elusive than their smaller spotted counterparts. They greeted us underwater in a row of spectacular tail stands, like sentries. That same day we are abruptly yanked out of our now familiar dolphin energy stupor while on the tow lines to have the honor to witness and vicariously experience a dolphin healing: One dolphin went completely lifeless on it’s side near the surface and suddenly, the volume of underwater communication rose up sharply and dolphins began to swarm the lifeless dolphin and push at it with their noses. The sea became fraught with the sounds of loud clicks, whistles and more as this lifeless dolphin was swarmed and pushed, (still lifeless on it’s side) all the way down to the sea floor, 12-15 feet below us. It laid there, moving only when jostled from the now 20 plus dolphins all pushing at it and well, shouting. The healing went on for a few minutes against the white sandy bottom until just as suddenly as it all began, it was over and the ‘lifeless’ dolphin opened it’s eyes, rolled over and with one tail wave darted off into the blue leaving us human travelers agape in what we had just witnessed. Dolphin Dancing Lesson six: When your friends come to help you, lie still and let them. Quit fussing.
The week continued with event after event, and concluded with a day of swimming with some baby spotteds. The babies were smooth and grey without any ‘spots.’ They were young, some just 1-2 months old, and played with us for over 2 hours while their ol’ spotted auntie babysat and stayed just close enough in the background. The babies joined us on the tow lines-jostling us, laughing, and mimicking our formations. One of the babies had no right fin. Just a 2 inch knot of joint which the rest of his flipper should have been attached to. It was startling at first, yet he was the most gregarious and delightful of the group. Undaunted by his ‘handicap’ he actually used it to remain more eye to eye with us and go whizzing from side to side or our group. He was quite powerful in the water and pure fun to watch. More than adjusting to his differences, he was celebrating them. Dolphin Dancing Lesson Seven: Life is what you make it.
I emerge from my most recent wild dolphin adventures having witnessed things I’ve never seen before. Water is a great equalizer, magnifier, healer and illuminator. Wild dolphins adventures touch the body, the mind and the spirit. They attract folks from all walks of life. The trips leave us forever changed and connected on a stream of bubbles and ancient stardust.