Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dolphin Encounter on the SUP

Unfortunately, I didn't bring a camera.  But trust me when I say it was very much like this. Image found here.
I love dolphins.  Then again, who doesn't?  If you don't get giddy at the sight of Flipper in the wild, then you have no soul as far as I'm concerned.  They are incredible creatures and it doesn't take much exposure to them to realize that they're not your average "eat, sleep, poop, procreate, and die" mammal.  They are truly magical.  There's really no other word to describe it. Yes, they are beautiful - and we all love pretty things - but they are so much more.  They have that je ne sais quoi...

Living on the water means we get to see these beauties with relative frequency, and every time - I mean every single time - I turn into a squealing, giddy five year old at the site of them.  It's like Christmas morning circa 1985 when I got that coveted Cabbage Patch doll I so desperately wanted each time I see them breach at our bow.  I want to do the happy-happy-joy-joy dance all over again.

So you can imagine my excitement when I went out for a paddle on our standup paddleboard and was visited by a momma and her baby for a whole fifteen minutes.  Fifteen minutes of dolphin play time is like an eternity in adult play time.  It was, for lack of a better word, incredible.

I had just put Isla down for her afternoon nap when I decided to jump in the water and get some exercise.  It was a gusty day, and each time the wind piped up in the bay I could see the puffs getting closer by the tell-tale ripples on the water.  When this would happen, I'd point the bow of the board into the wind and paddle with all my might to make forward momentum.  When it passed - I would relax a little and take in my surroundings.  It was during one of the lulls when I saw it - a fin slink down into the water.  I stood on my board completely frozen for a moment while the imaginary personal assistant in my head searched frantically for the "how to decipher dorsal fins" paperwork in her messy file cabinet.

Dorsal fins breaking the surface usually mean one of two things:  shark or dolphin.  Being that I now have seen both (remember my shark sighting?), I can distinguish between the two.  A shark surfacing is slightly menacing: gradually up and gradually down, purposefully slow like a retractable x-acto knife.  A dolphin fin is decidedly less menacing: it's a smooth pattern that follows a small arc, much quicker and more frequent.  If the fins confuse you, a dolphin becomes super obvious when they take a breath and exhale a plume of air out of their blowhole - at which point you can take a breath as well, because you will most certainly be holding yours (if you are in the water, that is).

So there I was, floating idly on the paddleboard with this playful dolphin coming right at me.  Then I heard a powerful exhale behind me and saw yet another dolphin coming at me - and this one was a baby!  Being closed in on by a mama dolphin and her calf is like seeing a Unicorn in Sherwood forest.  I got on my knees and quietly followed their shadows with my paddle as they continued to surface, side by side, not four feet from where I floated.  It became clear that the mama was teaching her baby some sort of lesson, so each time they surfaced I would gently exclaim, "Good job baby!" and "Hi baby!" and "Yay, beauties!" as I leaned in closer to the water.  Not sure if any of the boaters around saw what was happening, but it must have looked weird to see a woman floating aimlessly on a SUP talking to the water...

I was so tempted to jump in and swim with them, but didn't want to scare them off.  Mama's are very protective of their babies and I didn't want to appear as a threat to them.  So I just watched them surface just out of arms reach.  I could see the scars on the mama's back.  They surfaced so slowly, so purposefully it was as if they were checking me out.  Of course I have no photos because I literally jumped in the water to cool off and just grabbed the paddle and went out.  I cursed myself a couple of times during the close encounter for not being able to document such an incredible moment but realized that it didn't need to be photographed - it would forever be etched in my mind's eye, and that was good enough for me.

After about fifteen minutes of utter mesmerization  I looked up and saw Scott waving his arms at me from the dinghy dock to be picked up, and - almost as if they instinctively knew I had to go - my dolphin friends disappeared just as quickly as they came.  Hello and Goodbye.  Poof.  Like magic.

4 comments:

Chelsea said...

Totally got goosebumps! Absolute magic!

Anonymous said...

It would have been respectful if you could have mentioned the blog that you stole the dolphin image from. Image from 'here' is a bit lame.

Mandy de Roo: Traveling, Food, Lifestyle and More said...

Wow.... that's just beautiful.

Thank you so much for sharing this story!

Tess said...

Brit, we just returned from the BVIs on the 17th (I was hoping we would see you guys as I knew you were headed that way but no such luck)and were sailing on a Cat for 10 days. I often went out paddle boarding and loved it. But if I had seen a Momma dolphin and baby I think I would have lost my mind. Honestly, this is one of the coolest experiences I think a person could have. Thanks for sharing an amazing experience. I think Momma and baby knew they could trust you and probably picked up your good vibe. Cheers!

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