My adventure diving with dolphins by Laura Wiselka
“I was recently fortunate enough to fulfil my dream of swimming with dolphins when visiting New Zealand earlier this year. Dolphins have always fascinated humans for many reasons, mainly because of their intelligence, beauty and grace when swimming but also because of their long association with seafarers. If ever given the chance, everyone should experience the magic of their world and see just what the creatures are really like up close. Swimming with dolphins is a memorable experience which can be life changing; there are some who believe that contact with dolphins helps with healing.
There are several places in the world where you can swim with dolphins and organised trips have become very popular. Some dolphin experiences are to just touch the captivated dolphins. A much better way to experience this beautiful marine mammal is to swim alongside it in its natural environment. Swimming with wild dolphins prioritises the dolphins letting you become a part of their world for a short time so you can experience exactly what they are like without them being commercialised and put on show.
I took the opportunity to swim with wild dusky dolphins whilst visiting the small resort of Kaikoura, located on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The Kaikoura region is a wonderful habitat for many sea creatures; whales, seals and albatrosses can also be spotted. The dolphins are present there all year round and swim closer to the shore in summer months. They live together in groups called pods of between 100 and 800 dolphins. Dusky dolphins are smaller than most other species, being less than 2m long. They have a reputation of being amongst the most acrobatic dolphins in the world.
The dolphin encounter company took our party out in two small boats with about 15 people on each. After sailing through choppy seas for about half an hour we spotted the dolphins and went closer. There were hundreds of dolphins in one big group surrounding the boats. Positioned at the back of the boat with our wetsuits, snorkels and flippers on we awaited for the horn to be pressed. The signal that we could enter the ocean.
As we entered the water we were greeted by freezing cold sea water which momentarily took my breath away. My body soon got used to it and I was able to put my head under the water to see an amazing sight- dolphins were all around me swimming so quickly! Some with their calves, along-side them.
Before entering the water we were instructed to sing or make whistling noises and calls to attract the dolphins and make eye contact to play with them, but they were so fast it was hard to know whether they were playing or just swimming. Some dolphins swam in circles around me whilst I tried to dive down with others. Although they came very close to us we were not able to touch them. Eventually they moved away and we climbed back on board the boat.
The sun came out and we all stood at the front of the boat and watched as they put on a glorious display for us, showing off their spectacular leaps, jumps and flips. One started to do acrobatics and the others all followed. (Scientists don’t understand the real reason for dolphin's acrobatics), however these dolphins seemed to be leaping for fun and to show their personalities. It was a great experience completed by well-deserved hot chocolate in the cafe afterwards.
There are 41 different species of dolphin worldwide and each type has its own identity. Renowned for being sociable and playful creatures. The most common type of dolphin is the bottlenose dolphin which can grow to 4m long and can weigh over 600kg. They are hunters eating mainly fish and squid but can be prey for sharks. They can dive more than 300m and leap 6m out of the water. In Britain the types of dolphin which can be spotted includes bottlenose dolphins, the common dolphin, risso dolphin and striped dolphin.
In New Zealand, by law all marine mammals are protected, however this is not the case everywhere in the world. Many dolphins are killed as a result of indiscriminative fishing, when they are caught in tuna nets. Water pollution is also a major challenge to their health and the numbers of many species of dolphin have declined rapidly. Charities which help to protect dolphins include ‘Whale and Dolphin Conservation’, ‘Catacean Society International’ and ‘Oceanic Research Foundation’.
Dolphins are one of the most intriguing mammals for scientists to study. Many believe that dolphins are the second most intelligent creature only being less intelligent than humans. The more dolphins are studied, the brighter they are found to be. The U.S. Navy has trained dolphins to locate and retrieve objects underwater. Dolphins communicate by using a variety of clicks and whistles including unique ones to identify each other, similar to human names. They also communicate using touch and body position. Recent studies in Hawaii have shown that sign language can be used to communicate with dolphins and they are able to understand and follow a series of verbal instructions. Dolphins also learn behaviour from others and will copy acrobatic tricks.
There is so much yet to be discovered about dolphins and unless we help and protect them, numbers may grow so few that we will never discover it. This would be a great loss as dolphins are some of the most spectacular and appealing creatures that share our world.
I will never forget the day I was able to swim with wild dolphins”.