Review: Swimming with Dolphins at Dolphin Discovery, CozumelCritters & Wildlife, ISLANDS, Reviews, STAFF — By Milli Thornton on June 22, 2011 at 14:06
Story by Milli Thornton. Photos Copyright © Brian Williams.
THE FIRST THING I want you to know is that, with some caveats I’ll touch on in this story, I usually don’t agree with keeping dolphins penned up in captivity. But when I had a chance to swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery on Cozumel in the Caribbean, I did not stand on principle. I wanted to do it so badly, I signed on without hesitation—even though I knew there would be a commercial element to the experience.
Now, for the simple secret to life—the one we could learn from dolphins if only we weren’t so wrapped up in our gotta-dos and putting off living our dreams until we have more “time”:
Dolphins know how to have fun. And fun is part of joy. And joy is what feeds our souls.
I saw Sam Brown on TV going on a cruise through the Caribbean, just like I did, and she stopped at Dolphin Discovery Cozumel to swim with the dolphins, just like I did. It brought back wonderful memories to watch her being pushed and dragged by the dolphins in the well-paced games that each guest gets to experience.
It did not surprise me one iota when Sam announced to the camera: “That’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my LIFE!” At that moment, she was not a TV personality doing a glossy travel show. She was a girl having herself some insane fun. I can vouch for that!
Now, I’m sure that swimming with wild dolphins would have more spontaneity to it than the well-orchestrated session I had with my fellow tourists. But, still, even in the wild there are some rules you need to know if you’re going to swim with either dolphins or whales.
These happy, gentle creatures have their boundaries and hard luck to the dumb human who violates them. (See Related Topics at the end for a good way to find out more.) Dolphin Discovery does provide a structured way to learn how to interact with dolphins, which is a good thing.
See the way my hands are positioned in the photo of me kissing the dolphin? That’s not some weird penchant I have for unnatural poses when being photographed. That was how I was taught to hold the dolphin’s chin to stay within the training protocol. You know, if I was a dolphin who had to interact with hundreds of humans every day and exhibit patience while being photographed dozens of times, I would want some boundaries, too.
At Dolphin Discovery everything is well-organized and well-timed. Here we are on the dock, being educated by the trainer on everything from how to get into the water safely—there was an underwater ledge that we stood on whenever we weren’t out in the ocean pool interacting with the dolphins—to what would happen after the dolphins showed up. Despite my eagerness to get in the water, I definitely appreciated the time-out for cautions and what to expect.
Here we are in the water during the early stages of the experience. Before graduating to the more daring adventures, we got to meet the dolphins, pet them and do other safe and easy games with them. Our trainer stood nearby, rewarding the dolphins frequently and using a special whistle to signal their next task.
Any qualms I had about poor, imprisoned dolphins being forced to do tricks for greedy humans disappeared in the joy of the experience. If these dolphins are suffering you could fool me. They clearly enjoy their performances and they have endless patience when they’re in bodily contact with the human participants.
In one book I read, a writer who’s had frequent contact with dolphins says that some of them “volunteer” to be caught because they want to have relationships with humans . . . and performing in marine animal shows is one good way to act as ambassadors for their species. While we have no way of proving that, being in the presence of these dolphins in captivity made it much easier to believe.
These were two of my favorite games. In the first shot you can’t see the dolphin, but he’s behind me pushing me by the feet as I ride the boogie board. (And, yes, that’s me screaming with wild abandon! I dare you not to act like a total kid if you ever get to do this!)
In the scene below, I’m holding the fins of my dolphin as he swims upside down. They are so utterly smart and agile they make this tricky maneuver (it especially sounded tricky for a complete newbie) just so smooth and easy and fun. It was over way too soon! And so was the part where I got lifted on the dolphin’s nose and sped through the water standing up. (Sadly, I don’t have a photo of that.)
Brian took lots of photos from his position as spectator on the shoreline (I still can’t believe he didn’t want to join me for this activity), but even with his zoom lens it didn’t quite capture the experience the way these close-ups do. Although extremely commercial and a little pricey, I did not regret paying for a package of professional photos and video. And if it helps provide better care for the dolphins, I’m all for it.
After the session was over, I was so sad to be leaving the pool and I could have done that all day. And then again the next day! But at least we got to relive it by watching the videos that were shot while we were in the pool. That part dragged a bit—waiting around in wet gear to go into the tiny theater—but then everything seemed slower and dopier back in the human world after being with the dolphins.
If I ever get to go back to one of the Dolphin Discovery parks, the one thing I’d do differently would be to ask for my ID tags to be put on the other wrist. All the kissing photos were shot from the right, so two of my best images from that day have those stupid tags looking like I just got out of the hospital.
And, in a way, I did. The dolphin medicine was like being healed of my cares and worries.
At least, temporarily. I need to go back for another fix. ;~)
And – a wonderful book by writer Bobbie Sandoz-Merrill, who writes about important messages from the dolphins (such as putting fun first) and also about how to swim with dolphins in the wild. Lots more too. Highly recommended:
Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.
FTC Compliance: This is an independent review that I wrote because I enjoyed my visit to Dolphin Discovery during a 2007 cruise in the Caribbean—a trip that was 100% paid for by myself and my husband. If you make a purchase using the link above for the Bobbie Sandoz-Merrill book, I will receive a percentage of your purchase from the Amazon Associates program. See our Site Policies for more detail.