GoBHppy Bucket List Mission - #46 "Swim" with Dolphins (check!)

Back in June of last year, I posted about a vision I had in a dream.  It was a VW Beetle Convertible with the license plate "GOBHPPY", sitting on a beach with the ocean to one side and a beach house up on a hill to the other.  My mom (and BFF) had always wanted to do those two things - own a beach house and a VW Beetle Convertible - but had run out of time.  The vision was her message to me to "Go Be Happy" and make my dreams come true while I had the time.

So I got myself a Beetle Convertible (with the GOBHPPY" license plate of course) and set out to start marking items off of my bucket list.  I challenged my family, friends and blog followers to join in on the adventure.  

And then...

My adrenal fatigue got worse and I could barely leave the house, much less go skydiving or take a trip to Europe.

BUT!  It's now a year later and my adrenals are getting stronger everyday, so it's time to get back to my mission!  And I am happy to say I got to mark something off this past weekend!

#46:  "Swim" with Dolphins.

Yes!  I finally did it!!  I have wanted to swim with dolphins for SO long.  I am pretty much obsessed with animals.  I always say I have a direct connection to them in my heart.  Like I feel their happiness, their pain.  I feel like I can look into their eyes and see their souls and my heart just swells with love when I'm around them.

So needless to say, I was kind of excited.

But let me back up a minute.

My friend and I had decided to take an impromptu trip to the Bahamas since she had just been through some rough stuff in her life and I was just coming off of the whole tiny house drama.  She had a friend who owned a condo and we could get cheap airfare since her parents worked for the airlines, so we figured, why not!

But... the one thing about getting "buddy passes" is that you have to fly standby.  And apparently, everyone and their brother decided to go to the Bahamas this past week.  So after spending an obscene amount of money to have my car valet parked at the airport, I met my friend at the gate and we hoped for the best.  But after one flight took off without us on it, and then another and another... we asked the agents to see if it  looked like we would get on at all.  The answer?  "It doesn't look good."

So we had to head back to my house and regroup.  We ended up finding a short Royal Carribean cruise that would take us to the same destination - Nassau, Bahamas - and the best part was, we'd get all our meals included on the ship!  So we booked it and headed out the next day.

I was just excited to be getting away, be on a cruise ship again (I've been on one cruise in my life and it was like 10 years ago but I LOVED it!) and get some sun on the beach.  But once I saw "Dolphin Interaction" on the list of excursions that were available when we docked, I was FLIPPING OUT!

So, on Saturday afternoon, we docked in Nassau, Bahamas and boarded a shuttle bus to the Atlantis resort (ironically, where we were supposed to be staying).  Once we arrived at the Atlantis, we got off the bus at a grand entrance with large pillars, koi ponds and the relaxing sounds of babbling fountains.  Our guide walked us along a winding path until we reached the location for our interaction - Dolphin Cay.

Dolphin Cove.jpg

Dolphin Cay is a man-made environment on 14 acres with 7 million gallons of seawater.  Even though it is just a short walk from the massive Atlantis buildings, it is peaceful and serene.  The pool is surrounded by lush greenery and palm trees, with white beaches and a sand bar littered with seagulls.  It is currently home to 45 dolphins, as well as sea lions and sting rays.

When we first arrived, our orientation didn't start for another 30 minutes, so we were allowed to just hang out on the beach, as long as we didn't go in the water.  My friend, Tracy, went up to the main building to use the restroom and get some water, so I sat down on one of the beach chairs to relax.  I decided to have a snack while I waited, so I pulled a Kind bar out of my bag and ripped it open.

No sooner did the wrapper make its familiar crackling noise, did this little guy walk up and "caw" at me like, "Hey, whatcha got?"

Seagull.jpg

It was the cutest thing.  It seriously was like a dog coming to get a treat.  So, like I always do, I started a conversation with him.  I told him that if I gave him something, he had to stay quiet and not announce it to all his friends (that were standing nearby), because I didn't want to be swarmed.  He just stood and looked at me intently, listening to every word I was saying.  So I pulled a small seed off of my protein bar and gently tossed it in the sand near my chair.  Again, reminding him to be nonchalant about picking it up.

He did exactly as I asked and picked it up stealthily, without making a sound.  And patiently waited for some more.  We continued to share the bar for about ten more minutes, with me giving him small pieces of seeds or nuts, and him taking them down to the pool to wash the sand off before he ate them.  He never ONCE made a sound (tell me that animals don't understand!) and his friends were none the wiser.  And when we were done, he flew away and posted up on the sandbar for a little R&R.

When it was time for our orientation, they took us into the pavilion that was behind the beach and had us all gather around the lockers.  One of the staff members explained to us that we would need to change into wet suits, put our belongings in a locker and then head into the orientation room, a large room with high ceilings that was set up like a classroom with rows of chairs.

We had to make sure we removed all of our jewelry, since it could be a danger to the dolphins, and wore our bathing suits underneath the suits.  (On a funny side note, we were told that they instituted the wet suits as a polite way to make sure everyone was "covered up" and dressed "appropriately."  Must've had a few too many string bikinis!)

Once we all gathered in the classroom, one of the trainers came in and gave us the rundown on the facility and the dolphins.  It turns out, that the facility itself was built specifically for a group of 16 dolphins that were saved after Hurricane Katrina left them homeless.  The dolphins had lived at the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi, which was destroyed in the storm.  Half of them were trapped in the rubble and half of them were swept out to sea.

The 8 that were swept out to sea ended up swimming up to a fisherman's boat and were begging for fish, which made the fisherman realize that they were not "wild" dolphins.  They were saved, along with the 8 that were trapped, and Dolphin Cay was constructed as their new home.

Since then, they've had many successful pregnancies, bringing their current number up to 45.  They have dolphins that range in age from 10 months all the way up to in their 50's.  I had no idea they could live that long!  Apparently, the average life span in the wild is 15-20 years, but they can live up to 50+ in captivity.

The trainer quizzed us on the five traits that they have in common with humans - 1) They breathe air, 2) Have hair, 3) Give birth to their young, 4) Nurse their babies and 5) Are warm blooded.  They also have four out of the five senses; they don't have the sense of smell.

He also explained that they use positive reinforcement for the dolphins, meaning they reward the positive behaviors with fish and simply ignore any negative behaviors.  The animals are never punished or reprimanded.  They use a dog whistle called a "bridge" that makes a short, high-pitched noise when they give the fish, which "bridges" the gap in time between the behavior and the receiving of the fish.  This way, they start to associate the noise of the whistle with something good coming.

Once our 30 minute orientation was done, we all headed out to the beach and broke up into small groups of 5-7 people and scattered around the pool.  We were met in the water by our trainers, Karlin and Radina, and our dolphin, Kelly.  Kelly is 41 years old and one of the best dolphins for interaction since she loves to get as many fish as possible, Karlin tells us.  

We immediately noticed that we were being joined by a second dolphin, a smaller guy who just kept circling around and weaving in and out of our group.  Right away, I knew this must be the 10 month old baby, Blue.  Which Karlin confirmed.  He said Blue doesn't receive any fish yet (he's still nursing), but he will come around for belly rubs and sort of swims around and does his own thing.

Karlin also pointed out that Blue's mother, Tracy, was working with the group next to us.  Occasionally, during our interaction, we'd hear Tracy make a little noise, which Karlin explained, was her calling for Blue to check on him.  Apparently, he doesn't come when she calls him most of the time.  But if he gets too awnry, she will swim right over and get him, so he eventually gives in.  Typical boy.  ;-)

First, the trainers had us stand in a straight line, side to side, with our hands face down in the water in front of us.  Then they had Kelly swim by right in front of us, so we could all feel her skin as she swam by.  It was amazingly soft!  Which is actually because dolphins shed their skin EVERY 2 HOURS!  Who knew!

Kelly swam by again, this time on her back, so we could rub her belly.  Again, super soft!

Then Radina had me and Tracy step forward from the group and get on our knees in the water (we were on a waist deep platform) so we could have individual time with Kelly.  First, she had her swim up in front of us so she could point out her blowhole (where they both breathe and make noises), her ear (a teeny, tiny little hole right behind their eye) and her tongue, which is larger than you'd expect (she had her do a little "nannynannybooboo" motion and stick it in and out).  I also asked about a scar she had on her side and it turns out, she was one of the dolphins that was saved from Katrina.

Kelly posed for a picture with me and Tracy, with our arms underneath her soft belly.  And then we each got to have a little one-on-one time with her, where we got to do my favorite part.... have her swim up and put her head in my hands while I gave her a kiss on the nose!  I was in heaven!!  

After everyone in the group got to spend individual time with Kelly, we all got back into a straight line, so she could swim by again.  Then we were also given a chance to lay down at the edge of the drop to deep water, and put our faces in the water with a swim mask, so we could see Kelly swim by at top speed.

Then, Radina had us all put our hands in the air and wave them back and forth to make Kelly "sing."  Which she did adorably.  At the end, we all backed up a little so Kelly could do a big jump for us out of the water (and splash us accordingly) and then waved goodbye to us with her fin as she backed up tail-first. 

Yea, it was pretty much as awesome as I always thought it would be.  And I want to be a dolphin trainer now.  Or at least have one for a pet.

But I am also psyched to mark the first thing off of my bucket list!!  Now, just 64 more things to go!

Ready to start marking things off your own bucket list?  Grab your Bucket List worksheet right here!


Until next time, keep your worries tiny and your dreams BIG!

P.S.  If you have a fun, inspiring, unique or just plain amazing Bucket List experience you'd like to share, drop me a line and let me know!  You may end up in an episode of my upcoming podcast!