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SCUBA Diving and Swimming With Dolphins in the Ocean

Diving With Bottlenose Dolphins in Open Water

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Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Research and Education Center

Dolphin at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Research and Education Center

(c) Getty Images; Photographer Jaedle/Staff
I don't know if it's the dolphin's sleek bodies, their grinning faces, their participation in shows such as Sea World's or a multitude of other reasons, but I've yet to meet someone who doesn't want to get into the water with a dolphin. My husband and I had the opportunity to SCUBA dive and swim with a pair of trained Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins on an open-water dive in the Caribbean near Grand Bahama island. We went with the Underwater Explorers Society (UNEXSO) of Grand Bahama Island. UNEXSO trains and cares for a pod of 14 dolphins in an area they call Sanctuary Bay, which is approximately a 20-minute boat ride from Freeport.

The Dolphins Jumped Over the Net Into the Protected Area

Diving and swimming with dolphins is a controversial topic. On the ride to the Bay I asked if keeping the dolphins captive might not be considered cruel. I was told that when Sanctuary Bay was first built a group of animal activists posed the same question. These people were taken to the Bay, the gates were opened and all of the dolphins ushered into the open ocean. When the gates were closed every one of the dolphins jumped over the gate and back into the facility.

Apparently dolphins spend a major portion of their lives hunting for food. At Sanctuary Bay they are fed and they like their treatment. Also, the gate that they can easily clear keeps sharks out and the dolphins protected.

Diving With Bottlenose Dolphins

Prior to heading out for our dive our certifications were checked and we got our dive briefing. First, remove all jewelry, or if something can't be removed, tape it or ensure it's covered by a wet suit because jewelry can scratch or cut a dolphin. Second, when you touch a dolphin do it with an open hand. Third, if you don't follow instructions you will have to go back into the boat.

The dive was planned to be 30-40 minutes at a depth of about 30 feet, which is an easy dive. The six divers and two dive masters loaded up and two Bottlenose dolphins were whistled out of the pen. On the brief ride to the dive site they swam alongside the boat, jumped the wake and generally mesmerized all of us. That in itself is something most people don't get a chance to see.

Once we were in the water the dolphins made the rounds and checked us out. Then on hand signals they shot to the surface and left the water like missiles and gracefully reentered providing an amazing perspective from underwater. They swam up to us and let us pet them gently. And then they swam away!

The Dolphins Left When the Sharks Arrived

We had been warned, that if sharks came near, the dolphins would leave us quickly and swim back home. When I saw my husband turning around to see why the dolphins left, I turned and saw the group of reef sharks, too. He aimed his camera at the sharks and started swimming toward them, but I tugged frantically on one of his fins to convince him we should return to the boat. We climbed aboard and headed back to the Bay, where the dolphins greeted us.

A Second Dive With the Dolphins

We both consider UNEXSO, which has been around since 1965, to be a first-class PADI dive operation. Because the dive was shortened, UNEXSO let my husband and I repeat the dive the next day. Underwater, we played games with the dolphins. We'd hold rings through which the dolphins would thrust their noses and take them to another diver. Being with these creatures in their world is an experience that creates wonderful life long memories.

Snorkeling or Playing in Shallow Water With Dolphins

UNEXSO has opportunities for non-divers, including children, to spend time in the water interacting with these fantastic creatures. The Dolphin Encounter includes standing on a submerged platform, so you can pet a dolphin. You can also swim with the dolphins in a controlled environment.

More Places to Swim With Dolphins

You can swim with dolphins at Dolphin Cove in Jamaica. The setting is a section of a bay that's been penned off for the dolphins to swim and people to experience dolphin encounters. Here's an article describing what it's like to swim with dolphins in Dolphin Cove.

For a less structured dive with the dolphins check out Anthony's Key Resort in Rotan, Honduras. From Anthony's Key it's a short boat ride to Bailey's key where you'll dive to about 60 feet and should find two or three dolphins who love to hang out with divers. The dolphins will dictate your interaction with them, but in 45 minutes you should have one of your great life-time experiences.

There are numerous opportunities to interact with dolphins listed on the web, but before you go check them out carefully. Are the dolphin encounters and swims in open water? How do they care for the dolphins? For more information on interacting with dolphins in the wild check out this article from SCUBA Diving magazine.

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