Swimming with Dolphins

I know some of you read this post title and are judging me for swimming with dolphins. Believe me when I say I debated doing it or not. I want animals to be treated fairly. I don't want them to live in small, unnatural environments, and be beat just so I can swim with them for an hour. I decided to experience it myself and come to my own conclusions. In the end, I was pretty happy with what I saw of how they were treated, and I'm glad I participated because I learned more about dolphins in that hour than I have any other time.

A bit nervous, but ready to meet some dolphins!
We were in a taxi on our way to Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park a little after 8:00am. Andy and I had passes to swim with the dolphins; Sue and Dave weren't too interested in it, and Jayme couldn't because she was pregnant. The enclosure for all the dolphins and manatees was a large square of docks with fencing under, so their habitat was all ocean water, but they couldn't get out. Along the edges of the big square were smaller enclosures where 1-2 dolphins were housed if they were going to be meeting people, the rest were free to swim in the open middle. Andy and I were led to one of the smaller enclosures around the outside. Our dolphin "guide" Brenda went in first and got their attention by feeding them. We had two female dolphins, Krista who was 15 years old, and Olympia who was 20 years old and a bit shy. Brenda invited us off the dock to stand on the submerged platform that went along the perimeter. First, she had them swim past us and we got to pet them. We felt their back, belly, tail, teeth, and tongue while she told us facts about dolphins!
  • In the wild, dolphins live between 20-25 years, and under human care they can live up to 50.
  • Dolphins can make 400 noises, and all noises are made through their blowhole!
  • We saw their belly buttons! 
  • How to tell a male from a female: Males have 1 slit on their underbelly, females have 3.
  • In the wild, they nurse 1-3 years, and under human care just 12-18 months.
I'm touching a dolphin!
Brenda taught us hand movements and we instructed the dolphins. We got to kiss them, they kissed us on the cheek, they opened their mouths, and we touched their flippers. We swam to the middle of the enclosure and they both kissed us on the cheek, laid in our outstretched arms, and had a splash fight with us (they won). They showed us how to spot the difference between sharks and dolphins by their tail movements (dolphin tails go up and down in the water, shark tails move side to side). They pushed us up in the water with their noses, and gave us a ride with their fins.

After the dolphins, we were led to another enclosure where we got to feed manatees lettuce. They were a bit more shy than the dolphins and stayed under the surface of the water. For existing in water, they sure have leathery skin!

I came away with a greater knowledge about and appreciation for dolphins and manatees because they became tangible creatures I interacted with, not simply a picture on a calendar. Brenda said they only use positive reinforcement to train the dolphins to do all their tricks, and the animals are never "punished." One of my favorite parts of their care is that they still live in the ocean environment, not a pool.
Sea Lion kisses! Disclosure: sea lion kisses are a bit smellier than dolphin's

The five of us spent the rest of the morning in the park. We walked through Mayan replicas, saw alligators, and swam in the open ocean. We had lunch overlooking the dolphins, then saw part of a sea lion show. After the show, Jayme and I got kisses from the sea lion!

As if the day couldn't get any more exciting, that night was the Parade of Nations and Opening Ceremony for the Triathlon World Championships! Before heading into town for the festivities, we stopped at the official Team USA hotel where Jayme and I had the team doctor look at our knees (they were pretty nasty from our volleyball escapades). I maybe, probably, technically wasn't supposed to get free care from the doctor since I wasn't competing, but he helped me regardless.
Note the band-aids on our matching injuries

Once in town we shopped a bit before it was time for Jayme to line up with Team USA. We followed the parade to the Municipal building square for the Opening Ceremonies. At the beginning of the parade there was a mariachi band, as we walked there was a drumline, and as the athletes entered the square, there were Mayan drummers and actors. We stood behind the fencing, but it wasn't long before Jayme's paparazzi (aka Andy on video and me with my camera) made ourselves at home in the athlete area. Jayme and I spotted each other, and I joined her in the sea of triathletes. One of the speakers reminded everyone, "You are the best triathletes in the world!" I turned to Jayme, "Yea, you are!"

I think she's smiling :)

Teaching us the importance of recycling


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