Post #163

Swimming with dolphins

17th January 2004, late evening | Comments (21)

A few weeks ago a pod of over 1,500 dolphins was spotted off England’s south coast. While we’ve long known that dolphins, whales and sharks are regular visitors to our waters, I don’t think anyone had seen such large numbers here before. It must have been fabulous to be out in a small boat with them racing around you.

I was lucky enough to swim with wild dolphins in New Zealand a few years back and I’ll never forget it. Five o’clock in the morning, freezing, freezing water, no feeling in my hands or feet (well, except pain) and wave after wave of wonderful grey bodies, rolling and twisting and gliding around me.

We’d been told by the boat’s crew that as the dolphins we’d be meeting were wild, they wouldn’t stop and play unless they found us alluring. How do we manage to lure dolphins? I asked. Sing to them, came the reply. Sing to them? Yup, sing through your snorkels. And if you do attract one he’ll swim around and around you, and it’s your job to keep up with him — keep turning and maintain eye contact. The minute you break eye contact, he’ll be off.

Dunstan in his wetsuit

With those slightly puzzling instructions in mind, we set off to sea; every passenger leaning over the side of the boat, or standing on the benches, trying to be the first to spot the pod which traversed the bay at that time each day. I kept a look out as well:

Wave, wave, wave, bird, wave, dolphin, wave, w… Ooh! Oooh, its a fish thing! A dolphin! ISEEADOLPHIN!! I shouted.

Bingo! Eagle Eye Orchard bags the first dolphins of the day. The boat altered course to intercept the pod, and we all bunged on our snorkels and masks.

The boat stops, everyone leaps into the water. Half of us leap straight back out with snorkeled-cries of Fuhing hell tha col!! The skipper yells, You’re missing the dolphins, get back in there!

Good point.

So, back in the water, doggy paddle around to the front of the boat, hands and feet in agony, thinking Dolphinsdolphinsdolphins, think of the dolphinsdolphinsdolphins…

START SINGING! shout the crew.

Oh yes, I forgot about that.

And there we are. Ten people, in ten degree water, at five in the morning, heads down, scanning the gloom, all singing the theme to the Wombles, or Dallas, or Bohemian Rhapsody, and all trying to behave in a manner guaranteed to entice dolphins.

A dolphin

Show tunes soon gave way to muffled squeaks of excitement as out of the grey-green water came the pointy shapes of our potential dates. One moment there was nothing, the next: Dolphin City.


Uner grou oer grou, onguing ree, uh omles uh imulun ommon ah ee…

Come to me little dolphins, you like my song the best. Wombles are mammals too…

Sing, sing, sing.

Nothing. Not a glance. They swim in, they swam past. They were gone.


A mad rush, out the water, into the boat, get ahead of the pod, and back into the water, everyone silently cursing everyone else for driving the dolphins away with their sub-standard snorkel singing.


Time to change tactics. How about something watery?

Ah inin in a ain, uh inin in a ain, uh uh unuhull eeelin uh ha-ha-haee ahen…

Boof… out the gloom they appear again, and this time… Yes! They’re paying attention! I must smell of mackerel or something.

A dolphin

They’re swimming about a metre or so below the surface, so I duck down and get level with them. They seem to be everywhere except near me, how do I make them come closer?

But then suddenly there’s one right in front of me, swimming right to left, looking at me out the corner of his eye. I fanatically scrabble to keep up with him as he turns, dragging the water past me, desperately keeping eye contact.

Four turns, five turns, six turns, running out of air, it’s so cold my chest hurts, seven turns, eight turns, hey, I could touch him, he’s only about a metre away, nine turns, stretch out a hand, but he slides out of reach, ten turns, nearly lost him there, eleven turns, shit, gotta breathe, twelve turns, fuck me, I’m swimming with a dolphin, this is just the most amazing thing ever, thirteen tur-- nogottabreathe, whoosh! to the surface, AAAAAAH… YES!!! I SWAM WITH A DOLPHIN! HA HA!! DID YOU SEE ME? I AM DOLPHIN-BOY! WE NEED TO LURE A DOLPHIN, WHO SHALL WE CALL? WHY, CALL DUNSTA…


Oh yeah, dolphinsdolphinsdolphins…

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Comments (21)

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  1. Seriocomic:

    "Uner grou oer grou, onguing ree, uh omles uh imulun ommon ah ee…"

    Ha ha!, thanks for making me laugh and snort my coffee out my nose!

    Glad you liked my little part of the world down-under (NZ). Great photos, great post!

    Posted 1 hour, 30 minutes after the fact
  2. Erin:

    I never swam with dolphins, but one time when we were sailing south down the north-east coast of New Zealand, a pod of dolphins played with the boat. They swam south with us for about four hours, and when we stopped, they stopped too. I wish we could have known what they were thinking. Glad you liked NZ. We're very proud of our little corner of the world.

    Posted 2 hours, 11 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  3. Wes:

    That sounds like so much fun, I wish I could have done it at some point. Or even just seen them. Reminds me, I'll have to make a trip down to New Zealand someday myself, if only for experiences like that. Tres cool.

    Maybe I'll write my own stories about the childlike fascination that runs through your head whenever you're out on the Oregon coast at the right time of year and you see anything black on the horizon. (That being the closest I can get. I'm just not as funny.) Crowds form at the cliffs in the parks by the railing, and when you're on the beach people bring binoculars. The collective gasp when they spot one can probably be heard from Portland, an hour and a half away.

    Several years ago, when we went to Lincoln City on the coast during Spring Break, which I guess is whale watching season, the house we rented had a little scope mounted on a windowsill so you could go whale-spotting while you were there.

    Posted 2 hours, 29 minutes after the fact
  4. Dunstan:

    Well damn me, I never knew you were a Kiwi, Erin.
    Where abouts are you from?

    My mum and dad are heading off to NZ in a week's time, lucky swines... away for a month and a half.


    Ho hum, at least I get to pretend I own this house for a while :o)

    Posted 2 hours, 57 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Erin
    Inspired: ↓ Erin
  5. Erin:

    From Wellington - Scott and I both. I've lived in Sydney for nearly six years, but I go home every couple of months or so. Wish I could go for six weeks.

    Posted 3 hours, 35 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Dunstan
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  6. David:

    I'm very jealous -- I'd love to swim with dolphins. It does remind me of something Bill Bailey [] once said though:

    'It's such a weird thing to want to do. The equivalent would be someone coming to England and saying to the farmer, "Can I get in with the cows?"

    '"Well, if you want, I suppose. What d'you want to do with them?

    '"I just want to, you know, scuffle about with them."'

    Posted 5 hours, 20 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Tim
  7. Richard:

    Wow, tis quite amazing the number of kiwis that pop up from the undergrowth. A lovely story of frigid waters and sleek mammals from down home. Makes me miss it all the more.

    Mind you cow scuffling does project a certain appeal, given the general awareness of bovine fecal concerns. I'm sure many a rural kiwi has heard of the "stand-barefoot-in-a-warm-cow-pat-to-beat-the-cool-winter-morn-san-shoes" practice, as preached by their elders.

    The Japanese are rather fond of placing themselves in amongst the sheep.
    Wooley sweater by proxy, who knows with the Japanese?

    Thank you and good night.

    Posted 6 hours, 46 minutes after the fact
  8. David House:

    That sounds great fun! So you think the singing thing actually worked? Don't think those guys were just making you look like a fool?

    Posted 11 hours, 26 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  9. Dunstan:

    Ah, my friend lived in Wellington (Diana Perry, on the off chance), so I spent a few days wandering its streets and the surrounding hills (those hills are great BTW, so nice to be able to step into the woods and have the country's capital city vanish. Amazing.)

    Unfortunately I didn't get to see any rugby, though the day after we left to go to the Lazy fish [1] (do you know that?) someone was playing a big match there.

    Yeah, I liked Wellington.


    Posted 12 hours, 55 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Erin
  10. Dunstan:

    I can see their logic, David. A dolphin is surely gonna find something that makes different noises more interesting than something that's just floating there, silently.

    Either way, I'm sure we looked (and sounded) daft.

    Posted 12 hours, 56 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ David House
  11. Erin:

    Beautiful entry by the way. And they always tell you to sing to dolphins. I forget why it works, but it sounds logical.

    Posted 13 hours, 13 minutes after the fact
  12. Mark Wubben:

    Thanks for making me laugh. You are really an entertaining writer.

    Posted 14 hours, 16 minutes after the fact
  13. Lee:

    Uner grou oer grou, onguing ree, uh omles uh imulun ommon ah ee… - that is just classic. You do have a very engaging writing style, sort of Bill Bryson-esque.

    I was in NZ this time last year, oh how I miss it. I'm a fellow brit, and I love dear old Blighty, but if Sellafield ever explodes, NZ's where I'm going, it really is middle-earth.

    Posted 15 hours, 39 minutes after the fact
  14. Rick Yribe:

    That was an awesome post. Just makes me want to go out somewhere and attempt to swim with dolphins myself.

    Posted 17 hours, 30 minutes after the fact
  15. Tim:

    +1 on the Bill Bailey, though I'm sure it's an amazing experience (swimming with dolphins, that is).

    Posted 1 day, 11 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ David
  16. Richard Rutter:

    So Dunstan; tedious comment to a heart-warming post; how did you take the photos? (assuming you took them)

    Posted 1 day, 14 hours after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  17. Dunstan:

    I used a whole bunch of waterproof disposable cameras, Rich. You can see one in my hand in the first photo.

    You can buy them to go down to varying depths. I used them for scuba diving as well.

    You certainly get better results with an external flash underwater, but these disposable cameras still let you snap away at a fraction of the cost.

    I've got photos of sea turtles, sharks, lots of things (though I had run out by the time we saw a huge Manta Ray).

    Well worth the money.

    Posted 1 day, 14 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Richard Rutter
    Inspired: ↓ Bernd
  18. Bernd:

    Wow, I didn't realize disposable cameras were that good...
    Great pictures (swimming with Dolphins).

    Posted 1 day, 17 hours after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Dunstan
  19. Matt Frost:

    In summertime, along the southeast cost of the US, there's dolphins (porpoises, I suppose) and warm water both- for free.

    If you're a strong enough swimmer, you can swim out to where they are schooling and tread water in their midst while they dive and surface around you. Even in the breakers, you can hear their chatter.

    I'll have to try singing next time.

    Posted 1 day, 17 hours after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Sian
  20. Sian:


    Posted 2 days, 1 hour after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Matt Frost
  21. Mae:

    i really love dolphins. in fact, everytime i visit to malls, i look at dolphin stuff. I have collections of it...

    Posted 1 year, 3 months after the fact

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