Swimming with dolphins in Florida

Friday, 19 August 2011 12:15 PM

“Did you know that dolphins are the only animal, other than humans that actually name their children?” I was sitting in the sunny Florida Keys listening to the trainer tell us all about dolphins, and in a few minutes I would enter the lagoon and finally get to swim with them.

This had been a dream of mine for years, ever since I could remember first seeing a picture of these graceful creatures. And now for my 27th birthday I was actually here.

“When you get into the water, the dolphins will be very interested in you, through echo-location dolphins can actually see an x-ray of your body. They can see your heart pumping and your lungs moving. They are especially interested in people who have an illness or those that are pregnant, as they know something is different.”

Wow, I thought I knew a lot about dolphins, but these facts were staggering and it was making me all the more excited, yet nervous about swimming with them. They probably knew more our bodies than we did.

As if echoing my thoughts, Sophie, the trainer, blurted out that dolphins are actually more intelligent that 90 per cent of the people who swim with them.
“Remember,” she said. “You are here completely for the entertainment of the dolphins, this is not for you. Today you will become a dolphin windup toy.” At almost $200 for an hour and a half, I thought I was a pretty expensive toy.

“When we get into the water,” explained Sophie, “the dolphins will be in charge. Do not reach out and touch a dolphin, the dolphin will choose if he wants to touch you and if he doesn’t want to, he is completely at liberty to decide to do that”.

Dolphin Cove, in the Florida Keys, where I had come to swim, certainly had a unique approach to dolphin swimming, but it was one that I liked and respected.
As I slipped into the cold lagoon, I silently wished that the dolphins would choose to interact with me. I had wanted this for so long.

“This is 17 year old Alfonso,” said Sophie, as a long graceful dolphin swam over to her. “And this is the baby of the group – seven year old Leo,” she said as a small cheeky looking dolphin popped up beside her.

To my relief both Alfonso and Leo decided that they wanted to play with me. First they swam deep under the murky water, until I could no longer see them and suddenly popped up right below my hands. They arched their long elegant bodies through my hands so I could feel their skin, it felt smooth, like silk on top of rubber.

Next, Sophie told me to lie flat on my stomach and wait. After a few moments I felt something pushing the bottom of my feet. Alfonso had his bottle-nose on one foot, while Leo had the other, they began to push hard and swam fast, until I felt like I was flying though the water. Because Leo was not as strong as Alfonso though, he couldn’t push as hard and so I ended up going round and round in circles!

Sophie then told me to swim to the side where she was sitting with a bucket full of gleaming silver fish. Alfonso came up on one side of me while Leo tried to push in the middle and started swimming around awkwardly before he settled on a place on the other side.

“They’re not used to this”, explained Sophie. “They wouldn’t normally go each side of a human like this and be in such close proximity for this long. I think Leo thought you were going to steal his fish! They look quite content now though, let’s try something”.

Sophie waved her hands in a strange movement signing to Leo and Alfonso that she wanted them to do something. This is the way she communicates with them. Suddenly I felt two wet noses either side of my cheeks.

“Look they’re kissing you,” exclaimed Sophie. I wondered if Alfonso and Leo knew what they were doing, it felt strange, but nice to be kissed by two dolphins. After a few more activities that included me learning how to sign to make them sing and spin around, I could feel my hour and half coming to an end. However, I still had one final activity with the dolphins to come and this was the one I was looking forward to most.

“Hold out your hands with your thumbs pointing towards the bottom of the lagoon,” said Sophie. Suddenly Alfonso and Leo swam up from the depths and put their fins right in between my thumb and forefinger and began to swim with me attached to them.

Salty spray was slapping me in the face and I was careening through the water at high speeds. I had never moved this fast through the water before and for a brief moment I felt what it might be like to actually be a dolphin.

My swim with Alfonso and Leo was over now, and as I climbed out of the water Alfonso basked in the warm shallows of the lagoon, looking up at me with his bright inquisitive eyes. We looked at each other for a long time and it was only then that I felt I had time to actually connect with him. He stared deep into my eyes and I knew he had figured me out with one gaze, he was that intelligent.

I left, in total awe of these amazing creatures, just hoping that I had been a good toy for them.

How to experience it for yourself:

Our writer went swimming at Dolphin Cove on the island of Key Largo in the Florida Keys. A structured swim, like the one mentioned above costs $185 per swimmer.

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