Swimming with dolphins
31.03.2013 21 °C
What an amazing day we've had! After the short drive from Puketi Forest to Paihia, in the Bay of Islands, we did a few necessaries - checked out a few things online, laundry etc. - then grabbed some chips on the promenade before our dolphin watching, and hopefully swimming, tour.
We stood on the harbour eating our chips and a group of people wearing AAT Kings badges walked in front of us. This was the same tour company Andrew's mum, Mary, was with (doing a 17 day coach tour of New Zealand), so I asked a lady what tour she was on but it wasn't the same one. We walked down the pier towards where our trip would go from, as boarding time was getting close, and then Andrew took our chip papers to the bin while I waited for the boat and he spotted a AAT Kings coach pulling up. A few minutes later Andrew looked down the the jetty to me, waved his arms around and then walked quickly out of sight. It must be Mary! I ran all the way back down the jetty, dodging people left and right, and there she was! We didn't expect to meet at the harbour, as we thought she would be arriving later, so it was such a lovely surprise. We all agreed it was strange to see each other again after almost 10 weeks in the other side of the world.
Our boat was boarding so we said goodbye for now and ran back down. The woman collecting our tickets before we got on said 'winners!'. We looked puzzled but it turned out the company, Fullers Great Sights, have a promotion where a person on each trip gets their ticket price refunded. So we were getting ninety-nine dollars back when we got off - result!
The captain of the boat and the woman, who was the dolphin expert, talked us through the likelihood of seeing dolphins - quite high as they'd been told a pod had been seen by another boat just a short time ago - and swimming with dolphins - not great, as they need to be in the right mood and not have any babies or juvenile dolphins in the pod. I didn't know this, but the survival rate of baby dolphins is really low and one of the reasons is that they have the same body fat as human babies so they have to get their fat, to keep them from freezing to death in the water, from their mothers milk. But the mothers milk doesn't go from teet to mouth like humans and plenty of other animals, the mothers have to shoot their milk in to the water and the babies have to pick as much up from the stream of milk in the water as possible. Obviously this is extremely difficult and so many just don't get enough to survive. In terms of swimming with them then, if there is a baby in the pod it can stop the mother from feeding the baby, which needs feeding up to 20 times a day!
We were told we'd probably have to sail quite far to see dolphins today but keep our eyes out and let them know if we see anything. About ten or fifteen minutes in someone spotted dolphins, and we sailed closer. There they were! They were incredible. Jumping out of the water like in all those wildlife programmes my Dad watches! It was too hard to get pictures of this, as they're so quick. They swam in front of the boat, inches away from us - they even sprayed me with water from their blow holes they were so close! We have a video of this, which we'll upload on our return.
The captain and dolphin expert told us this was the same pod they saw this morning but in a completely different mood - and that they judged it was fine for us to go in! They made it very clear how hard it was to get close to the dolphins if you're not a great swimmer and that the waters were quite rough, so along with a couple of other women, I let the alpha males go in first to see how it was whether it was. As Andrew and loads of other people from the boat tried to swim close to the dolphins and attract them through twirling in the water, diving, clicking and making noises under water, we looked on from the boat and saw them, away from the swimmers, making enormous jumps crossing over each other in the air. Andrew got out because it was so tiring, so I thought I wouldn't be able to get in.
Eventually, the dolphins started playing again and Andrew jumped back in. They were really deep in the water, but he could see them, then they were right next to him! They started playing around him and he says he even eyeballed one under the water!!
I couldn't miss out and thought it was best to try and get out than not try at all, so I grabbed some flippers and snorkel and jumped in. They were really close but I couldn't see them under water. We got back on the boat, moved around a bit, and the captain and expert said I could get in first to try and see them, which was lovely and they didn't need to because I wasn't the only one who hadn't seen them in the water yet. They swam towards us and I jumped off the boat as the dolphin jumped straight up out of the water and I saw it drop straight back in and swim right to the bottom. It was so big and powerful but really graceful. I stuck my head out of the water and gave the people on the boat the thumbs up that I seen one. Then I put my head back down and saw four dolphins gliding and crossing underneath me in the water. It was incredible! I wish I had a video of it, but I will never forget seeing that. I couldn't stop smiling when I got out!
Back on dry land, amazed at what we'd just seen, we found a campsite just down the road from Mary, showered and then went to say hello before she had her dinner. Mary even had a gift for us - an Easter egg each! We'd missed out on Pancake Day in Peru so I was really happy to be able to part in Easter! We had some wine, caught up a little and set a time for meeting tomorrow.