Flipping with Flipper
November 17, 2008 5:57 PM   Subscribe

NaNoWriMo Novel filter: What's it actually like to swim with dolphins in the wild in non-contrived encounters. Not interested in pros or cons of swimming with these mammals, just in what the experience is like. (previously)
posted by Xurando to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Dolphins would occasionally surface and kind of hang out when I used to surf in LA. On occasions they'd frolic around you as you tried to paddle. They're really curious and friendly, or at least, they have been in my experiences. Most of the other surfers would regard them as welcome, normal visitors.
posted by Damn That Television at 6:18 PM on November 17, 2008

When you've taken your bottle of vodka mixer into the water with you and you're just messing about in the ocean a few metres away from where your friend's boat is anchored and you see a grey shape darting just below your feet, it's absolutely terrifying. Even once you realise that what the people on deck are saying is "It's a dolphin! Relax!", you're still frightened because it moves so fast and it's so much bigger than you thought dolphins could possibly be and it changes direction so unpredictably and it's showing a genuine interest - and possibly displeasure, how would you know? - in your being there - IN ITS HOME WHICH YOU HAVE ENTERED, UNINVITED.
Once you get back on board, though, you see that it's a quite beautiful creature that actually does frolic with your less-easily-spooked friends, but you still don't get back into the water until you're sure it's gone.
posted by bunglin jones at 7:07 PM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

A few years ago, I woke up on a deserted white sand beach with one friend after camping in Hawai'i. (Imagine the most picturesque place possible.) I was lying listening to headphones (Doves: "The Man Who Sold Everything," in case anyone is counting. All of a sudden, I sat bolt upright and looked at the ocean. There were MANY dolphins jumping just offshore. I roused my friend and we started swimming.

After a long swim (with me in mask, fins and snorkel) and periodically looking up to check direction, I thought we had lost them or they had taken off. All of a sudden, two dolphins swam straight toward me. They began to circle me; they were clearly old, and clearly sizing me up. Not sure where my friend was at this point. I sat still under water and watched them. They swam off, and I was devastated.

Very shortly, a river of bottlenose dolphins came rushing by me and began circling with their smiles on at full blast. I counted 36. One of the babies played with me; we did tricks for each other.

I have never experienced that bliss again, and likely never will. It was like a thousand perfect Sunday mornings in bed with the person you love. After about 10 minutes, they swam off like a flock of birds. I peeked my head up and saw my friend 30 yards away, laughing. She had a group visit her too.

We swam back to shore; it took about 10 minutes. When we were about halfway there, we saw the tourist boats coming into the bay to drop off massive loads of tourists who were all looking to swim with dolphins. They were not lucky that day.

I'm often asked if I touched the dolphins. Having had the experience, I can honestly say that the thought never even crossed my mind when I was with them. If a bevy of Tibetan monks came to visit you, would you try to touch them?
posted by nosila at 7:20 PM on November 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

What is "non-contrived"? I've been diving several times but the only time I got close to dolphins was in Rangiroa. You knew the dolphins were close because between inhales and exhales you could hear them from very far away, much sooner than you could see them (this was at about 100 ft with at least 200 ft visibility).

The dive masters had little toys, like rattles, that they used to attract the animals once they could hear them. The dolphins would come up, swim around — usually withing 20-30 feet — but they would never get close enough or stay long enough to satisfy my curiosity. It was nothing like what you see on TV or what you see in contained diving situations where the animals are used to humans. These dolphins were truly wild and kept their distance.

During one dive a mother swam by with a brand-new baby. Literally, maybe a few days old — it was only about 2 feet long. It was awesome, but again, the encounter was much to quick for me to feel like I'd really "swam with dolphins."
posted by Brittanie at 7:20 PM on November 17, 2008

I swam with dolphins occasionally as a kid in the Gulf of Mexico. They tended to interact with us more as a group than as individuals, sort of swooping under and around us more than hanging out and checking us out. It was always exhilarating.
posted by judith at 7:39 PM on November 17, 2008

Dolphins commonly swim up near the shore near Charleston to eat shrimp. Big, dumb me thought it'd be a great idea to go "play with the dolphins", so I waded in close to one. I got within five feet of one, and it pretty much ignored me, being too busy rooting around for shrimp to notice me. That's probably a good thing.

It wasn't a big one -- maybe 200 lbs -- but it was made of solid, grey muscle. The power in its tail alone was incredible. I was suddenly struck by the fact that a.) I was up to my shoulders in sea water, and b.) I was in its world. I'm a good swimmer, having lifeguarded for 5 years in college, but if that dolphin became frightened or angry or, well, just a little too interested in me, I was toast. No contest. I backed away slowly and made my way to shore, feeling like I'd just escaped from one of the stupider things I've ever done.

So while I'd love to say Flipper and I had a grand ole time chasing bubble rings together, he mostly just ignored me. Then I got scared and ran away.

on preview: SUPER jealous of nosila!!
posted by LordSludge at 7:48 PM on November 17, 2008

Lots of dolphin encounters in SoCal on my surfboard, but they seem to be more interested in what they are doing (feeding in the surf?) than in my efforts to attract their attention. Sometimes doing a drumroll or squeaking the surfboard glass seems to garner a brief notice but they don't come very close (perhaps 15-20 ft). The most vivid encounter I've had was on a big day, with a large fellow actually surfing a set wave. For a moment I entertained the possibility of a collision, then it did a neat u-turn through the back of the crashing wave which proceeded to pummel my bemused self.
posted by Manjusri at 8:33 PM on November 17, 2008

Have you seen the Robin Williams swimming with dolphins episode of the "In The Wild" series?
posted by Restless Day at 1:20 AM on November 18, 2008

I went swimming in a river in Bolivia, in an Amazon tributary, and about ten pink freshwater dolphins came to join us. They made the water look so very liquid, fluid, flexible to their whims; whereas we just pushed water about, and swam or paddled while awkwardly trying to keep our heads above water, they just glided. The water was quite murky and muddy from the floods. But they were a very pale pink, and rather playful. Backlit against a lavender sunset sky, they skimmed through the river, making beautiful folds in the inky water. It's a memory I recall often, just so I can experience that beauty again. After the dolphins left, we got out of the river and fished for piranhas. We grilled them up and Javier showed me how to avoid their bony little skeletons, and go straight to their meaty cheeks. It was quite a day.
posted by barnone at 1:51 AM on November 18, 2008

I haven't done the swimming-with part, but a couple of them did a drive-by of a canoe my girlfriend and I were paddling perhaps half a mile off shore in St. Petersburg. We were gliding along on quiet water with nobody else in sight, and suddenly heard something big take a breath very close by, in an area where I didn't expect to hear anything breathing but myself. I remember it as sounding very much like the sound you make when snorkeling, when you surface from a dive and have to blow the water out of your snorkel. Anyhow, it took a few seconds for me to realize we were hearing dolphins, during which time I was mildly panicked. It wasn't clear exactly which direction I should look, so I starting scanning a large area. They surfaced again quite close to the canoe, and my girlfriend, a marine bio major, reacted as if she'd just seen a unicorn. She jumped in the water, but the dolphins didn't hang around to play. They surfaced once or twice more, each time further away, and then we lost track of them. My heart was beating fast, and I felt simultaneously lucky and wistful, as if I'd narrowly missed out on something really special.
posted by jon1270 at 3:53 AM on November 18, 2008

A few years ago we were sailing in Greece when we came across a pod of dolphins. Several of us got into the water (snorkel gear at hand) to get a closer look at the creatures when we noticed that we were, in fact, sitting in the middle of a school of fish the dolphins were rounding up. They paid no attention to us whatsoever, and eventually we drifted out of the school and continued on our way.

What really struck me in that encounter was the way the fish reacted to the dolphin sounds. Every time the dolphins were about to swoop by, the sounds turned static-y and the fish all started convulsing in place making easy targets for the dolphins.

Since then my mental image of dolphins has been of slightly alien, massive, muscular predators.
posted by HFSH at 4:27 AM on November 18, 2008

I was swimming in about shoulder deep water off Sullivan's Island (outside Charleston) years ago just at sunset when I suddenly realized there was something - big - in the water with me. I couldn't see it or hear it; I just felt it with a kind of weird, prehistoric body knowledge. So I started walking slowly towards the beach, which in retrospect is fairly dumb: a shark is not a bear and I don't think is more likely to attack if you're moving fast and smell of fear. But I couldn't think of what else to do. I got about halfway in without being eaten and finally summoned up the nerve to turn around and see that instead of a shark, there was a pod of about 10 dolphins right where I'd just been. So I went back out. There were a few other people also out, also standing still in surprise.

The dolphins played around us for about 15 minutes. They just played - leaping up and swimming around, almost like they were playing tag with each other. They didn't touch me but sort of used me as a base, if that makes sense, coming within about five feet of me on all sides, like I was sort of part of the game in the sense that a goal post is part of the game. It was completely amazing and I just stood there and was amazed. They were so happy and so beautiful and at the same time I was totally aware that these were really wild animals and really big wild animals at that. It was simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating and fantastic. And then they just swam away.

I've been swimming around Charleston almost all my life and it's the only time this ever happened. The other people there and I stood on the beach for about an hour afterwards, talking about it, still delighted and shocked. I'll never forget it.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:16 AM on November 18, 2008

I have done this only once, in Ireland, and actually did find it a bit intimidating. The dolphin was swimming around underneath me, and looking down at it and seeing how big it was made me realize that this wasn't Flipper; it was a wild creature and it was WAY BIGGER than I expected. He just swam around a bit and then left; not much interaction. I wanted to touch it but he was too deep and didn't wind up coming that close to me.

This particular dolphin is known for liking to interact with people in kayaks, etc... he goes up and spins the boats around with his nose.
posted by OolooKitty at 11:30 AM on November 18, 2008

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