A fisherman’s boat never looked so intriguing. His tanned arm reached out to me like the land animal I was and helped me up on board. I felt the peeling paint beneath my feet and I started holding my breath; because today was going to be the day I swam with wild Dolphins at Bali’s Lovina coast.
The fisherman was a pacifist, he didn’t like to “push the dolphins too hard”. He had his special methods of allowing them to come to him, he speeds to catch up to them and then slows down for the land animals like myself to jump in to the water and dance along with the jolliest aquatics to ever grace the waters.
I was never a fan of dolphins in captivity, to be fair- never an advocate of any animal locked up without some major medical or existential reason. So to watch animals practice this utmost freedom so close to you is breathtaking, and to be honest rather intimidating.
I threw myself in the water and grabbed onto one of the two makeshift handles to the side of the boat. The fisherman who spoke very little english smiled at me, I signaled that I was ready- although I really wasn’t. To give you a clearer picture, in order to get to the area where dolphins are no longer feeding on tuna, and swimming freely, we needed to get really far away from shore. With that, and the visibility under water that day, while wearing overly used snorkels, you can barely see more than 20 meters ahead. Your range of vision shifts between foggy blue, sudden and momentary sights of shallow water loving creatures; and surely dolphins swimming to your right, in front of you and really down below you.
First of all, dolphins are HUGE. I have only felt so small a couple of times before; and none were as humbling as that experience was. Second of all, you can hear them communicate under water; and they sound so soothing. The trick however is to quiet your mind, quiet your fear, and especially your overly enthusiastic heart beat. What is left beyond the exhilaration is a feeling of foreignness. Which explains this third point. Experiencing dolphins swimming in open water makes you feel somewhat out of place, you feel as though you shouldn’t be there, as though the boat shouldn’t be there, as though you are too close to what’s real; to what’s natural and untouched by humans.
Then you get stung by a tiny jelly fish so you never forget that lesson.
One thing about feeling foreign against wilder animals is not that you feel unwelcome; it is that you become insignificant to the majesty and the magnitude that is their journey underwater. They swim in packs, in families, in twos and threes. They swim and they twirl underwater and that my friends is the most amazing thing I never expected to see so close. They start to swim in a wide circle below my bird eye view. My eyes grow bigger and I have to remember to latch my lips tighter over the snorkel’s air pipe if I wanted to remain a calm spectator not swallowing bigger amounts of salt water. I steady myself and the performance continues regardless. The circle becomes more intricate, and dolphins pirrouette underwater in an acrobatic masterpiece.
In hindsight, we are the major producers of our experiences. We are the ones who zoom into certain scenes; and discard others. We choose to tell our story in one way vs the other.
The experience in real time was blowing my mind away. Now that the salt on my skin is long washed off, I regain the ability to use words to try and express to you just how precious our interactions with animals might be. Perhaps we can grow kinder to them because they dance despite us and around us. Not everything must play out for our entertainment. The point is to join the wonder that exists; there really is no need to recreate it.