Saturday, May 8, 2010

Swimming with Dolphins

I’ve seen dolphins in water shows, but after swimming with these amazing animals and actually riding on a dolphin, I gained a greater appreciation for their ability to perform such tricks.

Bottlenose dolphins like the ones we cavorted with at Vallarta Dolphin Adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, are the second largest dolphins (there are more than 60 species) in the world. Their sleek, streamlined bodies can weigh more than 1,000 pounds and grow in excess of 12 feet long—very imposing when you’re nose to nose with them. At this facility dolphins are researched and studied as well as trained to perform, something they actually enjoy, according to our guide.

After donning life jackets, Larry and I slid into the 80 degree salt water pool for our first encounter with a pair of gray female dolphins, each about two years old. We stroked their soft, silky skin, obliging each as they rolled over on their backs and “asked” for belly rubs. Our trainer, Chuy, cautioned us not to touch the dolphin’s eyes (located on sides of the head near the corners of the mouth), blowhole (the means by which a dolphin breathes), or put our fingers in the mouth (88 sharp teeth might hurt!).

After this get-acquainted period, Chuy instructed me to spread my arms out on the water’s surface. As the dolphins swam up from behind, one on each side, I should grab onto their rigid dorsal (back) fins and hang on for a spin around the pool. The dolphins are amazingly strong and quick, and I missed the first attempt prompting them to circle around me a second time so I could latch on for a thrilling ride.

Dolphin kisses are, predictably, wet and sloppy—but still delightful to experience. After high-fiving the cuddly (?) dolphins for their hugs, I rewarded each a slimy fish. When we counted uno, dos, tres the dolphins jumped out of the water and danced on their tails—individually and in tandem-- across the pool, splashing us as they swam within a few feet. Amazingly agile for such large animals, dolphins respond to whistles and hand motions. Wiggling our fingers above the water’s surface was the sign for twirling on their tails.
Finally, it was time for the highlight of our adventure—riding on the dolphin’s belly. Getting on was tricky: As the dolphin swims by—fast—it rolls over, and you grab the strong pectoral (bottom) fins. Then hold on tight as you go zooming around the pool perched on the dolphin’s exposed underside.

As we recovered from the adrenaline rush of the Dolphin Signature Swim experience, we watched the dolphins perform more tricks—tail-walking, leaping vertically out of the water, balancing a ball on the nose, diving and springing in graceful curves above the surface then crashing back for an underwater swim.

A variety of dolphin encounters are available, some geared to young children or people with disabilities. You’ll learn about these lovable mammals in a fun, interactive program as well as have an unforgettable experience.


Unknown said...

Your post reminded me of a visit to Sea World, where one of my favorite photos was taken. Two of our grandchildren were looking at dolphins through the sides of a clear tank, and one stopped and just stayed there looking at the two of them. Oh, to wonder what the three were all thinking of as they looked at each other so close!

Alexandra Grabbe said...

I have never wanted to swim with dolphins. Did you see the documentary The Cove? You never look at dolphins the same way after that movie.

I love the photo at the top. Assuming that's you? It really expresses the joy of travel and adventure travel in particular.

Beverly Burmeier said...

Yes, Alexandra, that's me. That was an especially joyful moment--what travel and a willingness to try new adventures is all about.

Debra Hill said...

OMG yes! I went to theme park in Orlando and I did swim with the oldest dolphin in captivity. He was amazing! What an awesome experience. I live near the beach in FL and I've watched the dolphins playing in the ocean. When I see them I know it's safe to go in the water as they will keep the sharks away.

ann cabezas creed said...

Amazing, seeing the dolphins kissing you! Off Cano Island Costa Rica, while snorkeling we can get very close to the dolphins-but they are not quite as tame.