Wild Dolphins in Paradise – Bimini Scouting Report July 2019
Wild Dolphins in Paradise – Bimini Scouting Report
This July, Team Ninja set out on a special scouting mission – we were out to find some of the friendliest wild dolphins in the world for our upcoming ‘Wild Dolphins Expedition Series’. So did we make amazing new underwater buddies? Here’s Sze Wei’s trip report!
Island Time in Bimini
Arriving in Bimini felt like stepping into an old world paradise – beautiful blue sunny skies, just enough of a breeze, picture postcard pristine beaches, shimmeringly beautiful aquamarine water, and super friendly relaxed locals – yep we were now on Island Time! Located just 50 miles off Florida’s coast, Bimini consists of two tiny main islands (each with a single road), lots of cays, and just oodles of charm! Wild dolphins live around the islands year round – and who can blame them! Jay and I turned up at the peak of the dolphin season, when flat oceans and calm weather gives the best chance of magical interactions.
Heading out on the boat the first day, I was excited but also somewhat anxious – are we actually going to find them? Will they come play with us? After all, these are wild dolphins in the big blue ocean. I’ve seen dolphins before while scuba diving, most memorably in Cabo Pearce at Socorro in the Revillagigedo, Mexico – and while those encounters were amazing, they were usually brief, with the dolphins zipping off into the blue, leaving us trailing after them wistfully.
I shouldn’t have worried! After motoring out for about an hour, pretty much on schedule, Captain Alex suddenly said the magic words – “Dolphins!! Get ready!”. We’d come across a pod of friendly Atlantic Spotted Dolphins! They were happily tailing the boat, as if begging us to jump in and play with them, and wondering what’s taking us so long!
Swimming With Wild Dolphins
Slipping into the water to swim with these beautiful spotty dolphins for the first time was truly magical. The dolphins here are genuinely friendly! They are super curious and come straight up to look at you, swimming beside snorkelers, making sustained eye contact, with big smiley grins – seeming to love the interaction! And they absolutely adore freedivers! Anytime someone duck dived down, the dolphins would zip over to greet them, almost like they’re welcoming their new aquatic mammal cousins. They’d then roll around the freediver and mimic their movements – a truly amazing sense of connection that is all the more wonderful knowing that these are wild dolphins that are choosing to play with us.
You don’t have to be an amazing freediver to get awesome interactions though! We had a family with young kids with our group, and they all had an amazing time. It was incredible to see how they reacted to the children, as well as seeing the giant ear to ear smiles of the children. Just being in the water with dolphins zipping round, hearing their excited clicks and squeaks, admiring how beautifully they move in the water, and how the sun plays and dapples on their spots, was just totally magical! The pod stayed with us for over an hour, until Captain Alex finally called time. I definitely felt that I had earned my dinner that night after all that dolphin play!
Bubble Ring Buddies
Day two – and we found even more spotty friends! We encountered a really big pod, and had multiple groups of 6 or 7 dolphins playing with each other, and with us! It was really interesting to see them interacting with each other, with individuals jumping between groups, and juveniles (who don’t have spots) a lot more boisterous and curious than the fully spotted adults. For me, swimming over to a group of dolphins, and then having them veer up and head straight at me, making eye contact with each individual in the group, was exhilarating! The highlight for me was when a super playful group started blowing bubble rings at me when I was right above them! It was like they were inviting me to join!
Day three was the same, but different! This time, we came across a group of bottlenose dolphins. Captain Alex wasn’t sure if they would hang out with us because the bottlenose dolphins here aren’t usually as curious of humans. But we decided to drop in anyway and give it a try. Once in the water, we got a good look at them – and they were feeding!! We got to witness dolphin foraging behaviour – with about 6 bottlenose dolphins nosing their way along the sandy bottom, and then suddenly burying their beaks in the sand and spinning around! It was funny to see their tails wiggling round in tight circles. Sometimes they would successfully grab something and swim away chewing happily. These bottlenose were bigger, more muscular, and more focused dolphins – and while they didn’t really interact and play with us like their spotty cousins, it was a real privilege to be allowed to watch wild feeding behaviour.
So what were they looking for? Well, at one point, one of the dolphins did his wiggly circly beak burying dance and then came up with something in his beak – it was a long spotted eel! And man, he was really excited with his catch! Right in front of us, he shot straight up to the surface, and actually threw the eel clear out of and across the water! He then zipped down and picked it up again, and then clearly really pleased with himself, paraded his eel round to everyone in our group! He looked kinda silly with a long eel moustache – but he was positively showing off his catch, making sure everyone got a super good look before finally tucking into it! It was a spectacular experience, and totally unexpected! I guess dolphins like crowd adulation as much we humans do!
Total Dolphin Love
Swimming with wild dolphins in Bimini was an amazing experience, and for an ocean lover like me, it was all the more meaningful as these are dolphins in their natural environment, wild and free as they should be. No one is baiting them or feeding them. They aren’t trained by humans or forced to live in captivity. They are truly wild and for some reason are as curious of us as we are as of them. Their innate intelligence and playful characters really came through in these encounters, and I learnt to love, respect, and want to protect them even more. Organizations like Empty The Tanks and Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project are 2 really great places to start if you’d like to help protect them too and learn about the issues they face. I need to say a big thank you to Captain Alex and Roberta (guide extraordinaire), for sharing their dolphin world with us, and being so totally fun to hang out with! And kudos to Neal for running an awesome operation – Team Ninja looks forward to working with you in the future! Watch this space! And finally, as always, thanks to Ninja Leader Jay, for helping me tick off yet another awesome ocean bucket list experience!