I have always felt an intense pull toward marine mammals. This is a weird sensation for someone from Iowa with no substantial bodies of water nearby. Swimming with the dolphins has always been a goal. Two years ago, I got that chance. I was planning a trip to Florida with my son and some friends. At the beginning of the trip, we participated in several boat rides where we had the chance to view dolphins in the wild. I had seen whales on whale watching trips in California but they were always so far away. Which is the way it should be, I would not want to be harrassing a whale in the wild. But on this Florida trip, the dolphins would come right up to our boat. I even actually heard air as it was blown out of a dolphin's blowhole, which was a thrilling event for me. I can still remember hearing it.
After leaving Ft. Myers, we drove down to Key Largo to stay for two days and soon I would actually be in the water with a dolphin. Dolphins Plus was our destination. This trip was planned with the dolphins as the highlight, it had been in the planning for a year. I was so excited that sleeping the night before was difficult. It was finally morning and we headed for the Dolphins Plus facility. Dolphins Plus is a education and research facility located on Key Largo. Dolphins Plus heads up the Marine Mammal Conservancy, which works to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured marine mammals. While we were there the Conservancy was working with a group of pilot whales that stranded themselves in the Keys.
We had reservations to participate in a structured swim with the dolphins. During the structured swim two people entered the water with two dolphins. A trainer was present. We were asked to get in, my son and I went first. The next step was to hold out our arms with palms down. The dolphins swam close to us with their backs arched so we could touch them. This was how they got used to us and us to them. I could not believe I was in the water with a dolphin. . . touching one! The dolphins skin was not what I expected it to be. For some reason, although I was well aware that they are mammals, I expected something cold and rubbery not warm and silky. We were instructed to do certain activities with the dolphins. It was truly an exhilarating experience. My son and I swam with L. B. and Dinghy, two of ten Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins at the Dolphins Plus facility. It was such a powerful experience being so close to those beautiful, intelligent creatures. As we were leaving L. B. hung out near the surface, just floating there, with one eye out of the water watching us. I felt so connected with all the world, making eye contact with him. After you look into a dolphin's eye, it seems unfathomable that anyone would do anything to harm them.
There is still much controversy surrounding the dolphin-safe tuna issue. I did not know this, just like I am assuming that most Americans do not. Dolphin-safe labels do not necessarily mean no dolphins were hurt or killed, just less. That is unacceptable. Since the onset of purse seining in the 1950s, seven million dolphins have been killed. Purse seining, the preferred method for tuna fishing, involves the use of a large net that would capture dolphins and the main target tuna, which swim in schools under dolphins. The idea is that the dolphins get out but they all do not. Since dolphins breath air they can be easily drowned or injured when trapped in a net. In 1990 the three main companies, Starkist, Chicken of the Sea, and Bumble Bee, that supply 90% of the tuna in the US started using the dolphin-safe label, which indictes that no dolphin deaths have been observed. Observed being the key word. Now the government wants to loosen these dolphin safe rules, so we can import more tuna from Mexico, the country that both harvests the most tuna but also kills the most dolphins.
Especially after actually meeting a dolphin in person, I want to do whatever I can to help. It is essential for letters to be sent to the Whitehouse to let them know how important dolphin conservation is to people. A letter can be sent to the whitehouse by going to www.savedolphins.org, filling out your name and address then hit send. Hopefully, President Bush and the Secretary of Commerce will soon realize that loosening the restrictions protecting these amazing creatures is totally unacceptble.
Jackie Wellman, author of Spiritual Clarity, http://www.hoppy.bravehost.com , http://spiritualclarity.blogspot.com