Yeah, but do the dolphins want to swim with us?
July 26, 2007 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Do my son (5) and I want to "Swim with the Dolphins" in Nassau during a stop-off on our Disney Cruise?

I am taking part in a family reunion Disney Cruise in November. There is an outfit in Nassau that offers this dolphin experience at $165/ person- one hour with the dolphins.

Has anyone done this? Is this a humane/ healthy experience for the dolphins? Has anyone done this in Nassau during a Disney Cruise? I would love to do this with my little boy if it's truly not to be missed...
posted by ohdeanna to Travel & Transportation around Nassau, The Bahamas (23 answers total)
Are you sure your son isn't going to be freaked-the-fuck-out when he's in the water with a bunch of giant marine mammals cruising around? He may like dolphins on TV and in picture books, but the reality of being in the water with a bunch of dark creatures 5 times his size can be quite different.

I worked as a beach lifeguard for nearly a decade, and saw countless children your son's age change from delighted to terrified the moment a pod of dolphins got too close, and no amount of consolation and gentle prodding from parents was able to cure it, ever. Don't want to rain on your parade or anything, but it's something you need to consider.
posted by saladin at 11:36 AM on July 26, 2007

Good point- I actually have given that some thought- my son is very comfortable in the water and at ease around large animals thus far- he rides horses w/ his grandmother and we have 3 large dogs...

I feel fairly confident that being near/ in contact with the dolphins won't scare him (as long as they are not aggressive or rough).
posted by ohdeanna at 11:43 AM on July 26, 2007

I would be sure to check around for more competitive pricing, I'm not sure if the company you've looked up has connections with/is promoted by the cruiseline, but if it is, try to contact other companies directly for a less expensive experience. Anything tour or outing affiliated with a cruise is grossly overpriced, in my experience.
posted by Asherah at 11:52 AM on July 26, 2007

Hope this isn't a derail, but I've been curious for a long time about how Swimming with Dolphans works, from a safety point-of-view.

I once went to an aquarium where they let people interact with dolphins. But you had to stand at the edge of the pool, and you could only touch the animals by leaning over and petting them. And even then, you were highly supervised by the trainers.

It seemed pretty clear to me that these huge creatures could kill you in two seconds -- without even meaning to -- with an accidental tail swish too close to your skull. I've also heard that dolphin-dolphin play gets pretty rough. So what protects us puny humans when we're surrounded by a school of playful dolphins?
posted by grumblebee at 11:57 AM on July 26, 2007

The Humane Society has a strong opinion on this issue.

Travel & Leisure summarizes both sides.

Dolphins have also been known to be sexually aggressive towards humans, which may be more nature than you want to expose to the wee one.
posted by lemuria at 12:07 PM on July 26, 2007

lemuria: v. helpful links, thanks.
posted by ohdeanna at 12:15 PM on July 26, 2007

I've been swimming with the dolphins twice in my life, the last time was on our honeymoon in tahiti, and the first was on the west coast of Australia at a place called Monkey Mia. Tahiti was captive dolphins, and really interesting, fun and safe - it's amazing how warm they are. I know on an intellectual level they're warm blooded, but actually stroking their skin is amazing. As far as safety, the trainers were right beside us at all times, there was only 2 guests (a single couple) at a time actually touching the dolphin, and they only let the oldest gentlest dolphins interact. It was really just 'swim up, roll over and touch the belly' kind of play, not being dragged around by a fin or anything like that you may have seen in the dolphin shows at sea world or whatever.

The first time was with wild dolphins, I was right about 5 years old, and it's one of the clearest most incredible memories I have as a child. I'm not sure they let you swim there anymore, but back then we swam in the shallows and they would swim right up to you and chirp. I was handing them bits of seaweed that was growing in the sand, they took it from my hand, swam a little way out, dropped it and came right back.

If you get a chance and the money isn't too much of an issue, go for it.
posted by mikw at 12:16 PM on July 26, 2007

Interesting humane society link lemuria, I wasn't aware of this...

As an aside, we were told the dolphins in Tahiti were actually retired US Navy, rather than captured wild dolphins.
posted by mikw at 12:19 PM on July 26, 2007

Some more info on the program I'm looking at

The dolphins are captive, but seem to have a large habitat devoted to them.... (according to the ad)
posted by ohdeanna at 12:27 PM on July 26, 2007

posted by ohdeanna at 12:27 PM on July 26, 2007

I did this in Nassau. Probably at the same one you found. Here's how it works. They take a big group of people out to the Dolphin Encounters place by boat from Nassau. Everyone watches a film about dolphin safety when you get there. Then there are three options you can choose:
1. You just watch. No getting in the water.
2. Close Encounter. You're with 20-30 other people in waist deep water and get to pet the dolphin as the trainers have it swim in front of you, come up for kisses, whatever. This didn't look too fun to me, because the actual amount of time you get to touch the dolphin is minimal when you divide the half hour session by 30 people. It might be good for a small kid, though.
3. Swim with the dolphin. This one you're in a group of six, I think, and it's the one my friends and I did. You put life jackets on and get in the water. There is one trainer and one dolphin. The trainer has the dolphin do various things like swim past you so you can touch it, "kiss" you on the cheek, splash you with its fin. They take lots of pictures that they try to sell to you as you leave. Also video. Then one by one you get to hold onto the dolphin's fin and let it tow you out to the middle of the pond. The dolphin then swims up behind you and puts its nose on the bottom of your feet and pushes you really fast. If you (and the dolphin) have done it right you'll be in sort of a "flying" position and the dolphin will push you along. Don't wear bikini bottoms for this, or you may be flashing the crowd.

We had fun, and if I had been 12 and at the height of my dolphin obession I would have probably been over the moon, but as it was it was an interesting experience that I wouldn't bother with again. Dolphins are big and their body is pretty much just one big muscle, so it was a little weird being in the water with one, but then again, the trainers put them through their paces every day, so you're basically just the dumbell that they use in their workout.

That said, from looking at the site, if your kid is 5 you won't be able to do the swim anyway, but you could do the encounter.
posted by MsMolly at 12:27 PM on July 26, 2007

I don't know why the link isn't linking...

Blue Lagoon is the outfit...
posted by ohdeanna at 12:29 PM on July 26, 2007

This is the link ohdeanna tried to post above.
Type the text you want to link, highlight it, then click the link button.
posted by Partial Law at 12:33 PM on July 26, 2007

Not to derail, ohdeanna, but what are the other excursions available to you and your family that day? Is there another way to interact with more mellow sea life (like, say, some starfish or anemones in a touch pool) should you decide against the dolphin thing? And are you landlocked most of the time, or is the sea accessible?
posted by mdonley at 12:40 PM on July 26, 2007

Ms. Molly nails it. I did this in Mexico with my parents. It was fun, even while being sort of cheesy. Really, how often do you get to touch and swim next to a dolphin? They are impressive creatures.
posted by gnutron at 12:50 PM on July 26, 2007

I forgot I was going to say: the dolphin swim experience is highly scripted and commercial. If your kid is old enough to realize that when the dolphin comes in for a "kiss" or "hug" it's just doing whatever motion the trainer taught it would get it a treat, then they (and you) might be pretty disappointed. That was what kind of spoiled it for me, I think. It definitely wasn't swimming with free dolphins in the wild. It was like getting to spend 30 minutes as a trainer at Sea World. Not so magical, although still slightly cool in its own way.
posted by MsMolly at 12:55 PM on July 26, 2007

It seemed pretty clear to me that these huge creatures could kill you in two seconds -- without even meaning to -- with an accidental tail swish too close to your skull. I've also heard that dolphin-dolphin play gets pretty rough. So what protects us puny humans when we're surrounded by a school of playful dolphins?
posted by grumblebee at 11:57 AM

The fact that, as MsMolly says above, these are highly trained dolphins performing a scripted show under the supervision of trainers. Its definitely not "Here's a pool with wild dolphins! Go in and have fun!" Too much risk for the people and the dolphins.

I've played with dolphins in the ocean. Its not uncommon if you have surfed in Southern California. Packs of them are swimming along the coast. And much surfing time actually involves sitting out there on your board waiting for a wave.

Dolphins are huge and a bit frightening. I've been in the middle of a pack of them going by, looking down and seeing these enormous beasts swimming right under you then surfacing a few feet away. They are extremely agile though - a few times I thought I was about to crash right into one, they always moved out of the way. I have a lot of surfer friends and friends-of-friends. I haven't heard one story of anyone having an accident with a dolphin.

I did hear stories of them poking boards and flipping people over but in that case I think they were playing practical jokes.
posted by vacapinta at 1:13 PM on July 26, 2007

I, too, have had encounters in the Atlantic when I've kayaked off the coast. I've been surrounded by pods swimming under my boat and playing in my wake- never anything that appeared threatening. They've hung around for hours- great fun....
posted by ohdeanna at 1:35 PM on July 26, 2007

I was in Egypt about a year ago, and had the chance to swim with dolphins in the wild (some distance into the Red Sea). The experience lasted about 5 minutes but it was very exciting and impressive. The dolphins were playful and swam around me. You could clearly see what powerful animals they are but they never seemed dangerous.

From what MsMolly describes, I think I would have been too cynical to enjoy the experience at my age – it might be great for your son though. Just consider that swimming with wild dolphins might be a far more memorable experience for both of you, if you can find a way to arrange it (which doesn't seem excessively difficult).
posted by kepano at 1:40 PM on July 26, 2007

I'm not a rabid animal rights activist by any means, but I wouldn't want to do anything to increase the demand for captive dolphins.
posted by Good Brain at 1:45 PM on July 26, 2007

To add one more comment:

I, too, get a bit of a cheesy sense from these contrived encounters... I was more interested in it for my son, who, at 5, has no concept of cheesy. This is also why I am tolerating the Disney Cruise plan.

So, my main question was really directed towards whether or not these programs are: 1) bad for the dolphins- in which case I would not want to give them my business
2) Worth it in terms of what they hype in their ads vs. what you actually get...
posted by ohdeanna at 1:49 PM on July 26, 2007

I'm with Good Brain - the fact that these programs do keep dolphins in captivity is enough for me not to want to give them my money. Something you might also want to consider (as someone who is strikes me as being concerned about these things) is the example you'd be setting for your son: the experience of seeing an animal in its natural habitat, while harder to orchestrate, tends to engender awe and respect; these canned "encounters" tend to give the impression that animals are mere forms of amusement. I guess you can probably tell which I think is preferable - but still, it's something to think about.
posted by AV at 2:35 PM on July 26, 2007

A couple years ago, I came across this quote from a Florida fisherman. I thought it was pretty clever:

"Dolphins are all smiley and frolicky and shit on TV, where they solve problems, rescue kittens and do flips. In the wild, they're as big as Volkswagens and twice as fast. Not to mention totally evil and smart enough to really fuck with you."

Dolphins aren't domesticated. I would not participate in a walk with wolves program. Not sure how people rationalize that the dolphin programs are much different.
posted by squink at 7:04 AM on July 27, 2007

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