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The swimmer hung suspended in deep sea water, motionless arms outstretched to either side. Two triangular fins, each the size of a telephone book, rose in the water beside her. She cupped a fin in each hand.
A whistle sounded. Two dark gray shapes leaped out of the water and carried her across the lagoon.
She was riding dolphins!
* * * *
Dolphins have fascinated humans for ages. From ancient Greek pottery designs to TV’s “Flipper,” people have imagined interacting with these graceful sea mammals that seem to smile and play.
Have you ever dreamed of swimming with dolphins? Performing with them in a water show?
Kissing, singing, rubbing, spinning, leaping, even riding dolphins—yours to enjoy in Curaçao.
Curaçao (pronounced “Koor-ah-sa-o”) is a small Caribbean island just north of Venezuela. It’s one of three popular Netherlands Antilles islands--Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao-- known as the “ABCs.”
At the popular Dolphin Academy at the Seaquarium on Curaçao, indoor displays and dioramas teach about Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and their behaviors.
Better yet, if you like getting wet, jump in and swim with them!
You and a half dozen other eager visitors don swim fins and join Academy Trainer Livingston and his assistants in a specially constructed lagoon the size of a baseball diamond that opens into the ocean. Treading the lagoon’s warm water, you wave to your picture-taking cohorts in the stands.
Livingston whistles and three dolphins swim into the lagoon from the ocean. He explains, “We usually have four at a time, but one of our females is about to give birth so she sits this one out.”
Livingston whistles again, and the dolphins leap up, surrounding and splashing everyone in the lagoon. Swimmers and the audience squeal in surprise and delight.
“Meet Deedee and Geegee, both females and the male, Papito,” announces Livingston. “Now, everybody spread out.”
When the humans distance themselves from one another, Livingston raises his hands overhead. The dolphins swim to him and await their next command. Livingston points right at you. The dolphins race to your side!
Livingston continues his instruction. “Keep your hands quiet and the dolphins will approach. They’re trained to avoid anyone waving wildly in the water.”
So you hug your arms to your chest, tread with your fins and wait. In moments, Geegee, a 400-pound female sidles up. “OK, pet her back,” instructs Livingston.
You reach out an eager hand and stroke the dolphin’s rubbery wet back. “Swim with her,” continues Livingston.
You don’t need to be told twice. Propelled by swim fins, you easily keep up with the swirling creature as she slowly weaves in and out of the squealing swimmers. “Keep your hands to your sides until she approaches you,” warns Livingston to the others.
You stroke her gently until she turns to another eager swimmer. You sigh in wonder.
You have petted a dolphin.
Geegee approaches Bruce, another swimmer. As she nears him, she rolls over in the water, an invitation to rub her white belly. Bruce reaches for her and smiles as she relaxes under his massage. They drift together for several minutes on a light current that floats them the length of the lagoon.
It’s hard to tell who’s enjoying this more!
The swimmers spread out again and Livingston continues his instruction. Pointing to one of the swimmers, he orders, “Tap the water with your hands.”
Joy obeys, and Deedee glides in front of her. “Stick your hand out, open and close your fingers like scissors, and say ‘sing’.”
Joy’s hands mime a scissor motion, and Deedee rises halfway out of the water. “Sing!” commands Joy and the dolphin squeaks. Everyone in the water and the picture-taking gallery applaud.
Eileen is next in line. She taps the water in front of her, Papito approaches and as she brings one arm to her side and leans over, the big male dolphin gently touches the side of her head with his beak.
“He’s kissing you!” everyone shouts and Eileen laughs.
“I found true love in Curaçao!” she giggles.
John is next. He taps the water, Geegee appears, and Livingston orders, “Spin in the water.” As soon as John turns around, the dolphin raises herself half out of the water, spins on her tail and spirals, mirroring John.
“Link arms,” instructs Livingston. So you, Bruce and John hold one another around the waist and tap the water. Geegee and Deedee appear. “Raise both arms overhead, and say ‘wave’.” continues Livingston. As you lift your arms up, the two dolphins rise together halfway out of the water and wave their flippers.
But the best part is the ride.
Treading water, you tap the water with your arms out to the side and wait. Geegee and Deedee swim up carefully, right under your outstretched hands and stop just below the surface.
“Hold your head up so we can get a good picture,” advises Livingston. Holding lightly to the dolphins’ dorsal fins, you lift your head and chest. The dolphins take off!
You’ve never skimmed water so fast. You’re nearly drowned by your own wave, but you don’t care. The dolphins carry you easily and quickly—too quickly-- across the length of the lagoon. In less than ten seconds, the ride’s over.
The dolphins turn away and swim to the next excited visitor. You remove your fins and clamber up the ladder to a waiting towel.
“Look at these!” says Gary, who kept dry in the audience and took dozens of digital photos. On the bus back to your cruise ship, you pass around the camera, reliving the afternoon’s adventure.
“It was magical!” John exults, knocking water out of his ear.
“Good for the soul,” murmurs Eileen, still entranced by her “kiss.”
“I loved it,” marvels Joy. “The dolphins were gentle--and cute. Today is my favorite day on the cruise!”
“What do you think of my new 400-pound girlfriend,” jokes Bruce.
You marvel that you and your friends lived an once-in-a-lifetime dream-- swimming with dolphins!
Curacao’s Dolphin Academy at the Seaquarium offers a variety of dolphin encounters both in and out of the water, weather permitting. Of the ten dolphins currently trained, some were born here and some were born in the wild, said Barry Brown, Dolphin Academy’s Photo Shop manager. He emphasized, “The dolphins are not captive. They spend as much time as possible in the open ocean, reporting for ‘work’ in the lagoon when summoned.”
He continued, “Three dolphins are specially trained to work with handicapped children. Three others are ocean-trained to do research. Right now, they’re participating in an echo-locating project to determine how far squeals and echoes travel underwater.” The Seaquarium itself has other animals such as sharks and fish on display and for study. This Academy is affiliated with the Dolphin Academy in Roatan, Honduras. Learn more at www.dolphin-academy.com.
Several cruise ships call on Curaçao or you can fly from the US on American Airlines or Delta Airlines. Consult your favorite travel agent--and join Geegee and me in the lagoon!
c. “Follow Me!” Alamogordo (NM) Daily News 2005