Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Monday, August 23, 2010

Swimming With Dolphins...

I just had the most amazing experience and have to share it with you all. We were out on snorkel transect 9. I was snorkelling at the back of the group to make sure nobody was left behind when everyone on the boat shouted “dolphins!”. Now, I've been in this position before and got very excited and they just changed direction, so this time I thought nothing of it and decided to check out a turtle resting below. On resurfacing I saw them, 11 adult bottlenose dolphins between me and the boat. They were just effortlessly gliding through the water towards me. They surrounded me and were almost upright showing their ventral surfaces (undersides).

They were just looking at me watching me, they then dived down just below me looking at me still. So I took the deepest breath possible and dived down with them, they swam towards me again, in a very compact group, a few meters across and just 2 feet away from me. They continued to look at me and I was then approached face-on by one, I just wanted to have the ability to make a noise, any noise underwater. This was a moment of a lifetime and I was very aware of this, while unbelievably remaining calm and trying not to scare these wild creatures away.

-- An unique underwater view of unusual behaviours --

Their behaviour was incredibly interesting. From the boat and only seeing the surface, we commonly interpret their behaviour as foraging for food, however from below it seemed very different. The dolphins were just diving for a few minutes slowly and swimming slowly, they seemed like they were hovering below the surface, hidden from the boat, in a very compact group. I also saw several of them on the seabed, less than 10 meters deep, rubbing themselves on the dead coral. I don't know if this was to dislodge parasites, to scratch, or for pleasure, but it was very interesting. I surfaced with the dolphins a couple of times, when I shouted to the boat “just kill me now!”

-- After what seemed like hours, the dolphins slowly swim away --

I still have no idea how long I was with them for (I have been told it was a while), but time really seemed to stand still. Finally they surfaced and began to swim away, very slowly, so our boat captain told me to get back in, and we just cruised with them for a while more, ensuring we collected all the behavioural data we could and photographing their dorsal fins (for identifying individuals and mark-recapture, to estimate population size). On getting on the boat, our experienced captain (Shafii) asked “how many males and females then?”, but I did not have the ability to do this as all my thoughts at the time were just concentrating on looking back into their eyes and enjoying the experience. I didn't have a camera, but to be honest, I don't care because I could enjoy the moment, rather than experiencing it through a viewfinder.

Ever since I have been on an unbelievable high, with tons of energy, which should get me through the second half of this expedition, I know the people of the boat hated me for a while (and maybe still- especially my wife who has been waiting her life for this). I don't even think swimming with a humpback whale could match this experience!

9 August 2010, Johnny Zabari