DOLPHIN Time & Space
Iwas only seven years old at the time; a toe-headed, knock-kneed little kid, standing on that deserted stretch of Ft. Myers Beach so long ago. My eyes were fixed on a pod of dolphins that cruised the waters some four hundred yards from shore. It wasnt the first time that I had seen them. . .
Mom would bring my sister and me to this same section of beach nearly every Sunday morning, where rows of long deserted beach houses lined the shore of that area, miles from the central public beach. I recall dilapidated structures that were probably pre-depression, sat in the sand dunes like old bones. My mother had liked it better than the public beach, as she could sun herself in peace, and be able to spot her two children with ease. The dolphins were quite often there as well.
By this time I was already an excellent swimmer, having won medals at the city swimming meets and being, as it were, a water-baby. My parents had acclimated me to swimming at a very early age -- they had always said that I could swim before I could walk. [Later, while in my teens, I would parlay my affinity for distance swimming into two national championships]. Most of my time at the shore on those Sundays would be spent in the water. My mask and fins allowed me to explore a sizable area for sand-dollars, sharks teeth and a variety of shells. My sister on the other hand, being two years older, was into different things, and was content to stay on the sand. We rarely shared in our playtime in the ocean. The dolphins held no interest for her.
On this particular occasion, my fascination with their dorsal fins became so strong, that I took it upon myself to swim out to where those alluring creatures were. I was determined to make contact.
The quarter of a mile or so must have taken me some time to cover. I know that I didnt look back even once; headstrong in my quest for that alien encounter.
As nearly forty years have past since that event, most of my recollection at this point, consists of visual frames of memory. That is; set shots, with little movement. One notable exception is the compelling vision and vivid remembrance of my swimming up and into the pod.
The smooth gray creatures were directly in front of me, perpendicular to my course. Many dark gray fins passed in opposite directions, as the aqua-mammals cruised leisurely, probably gathering fish delicacies. They seemed unaffected by my presence, and kept the same pattern of movements, even as I intruded upon their paths. I can still recall with clarity, the sight of their massive, sensuous forms, gliding effortlessly in front in front of my mask. . .
Of course, I must have reached out to see if I could touch one, as I was that close. After all, it was the reason for coming; to feel some contact. Now, I cant say for certain as to whether I actually did touch one of the sea creatures, but some twenty or so years later, when I had the occasion to stroke a live dolphin in a petting pool at San Diegos, Seaworld, that remarkable sensation of silken skin -- like nothing else in the world -- it jarred in me, a powerful déjà vu. It was ultimately several years more, before I would recall any of the incident at all, because of what happened next.
After the initial excitement of the encounter set in, I became aware of a certain pride in my accomplishment, and like any kid having achieved something of personal significance, I wanted to show it off. I was so completely euphoric at having reached these marvelous creatures, that when I turned and raised up in the water to signal my mother, I was shocked to see her tiny figure on the shoreline, appearing at, what seemed, an incredible distance. I had never been in the ocean this far from shore. Seeing her there on the shore wasnt all that comforting either. Not only was she one of only a few people, all apparently standing and looking out at me, she was the only one jumping up and down waving her arms frantically.
My memory of that long swim back has been completely blocked out. I do recall, however, that by the time I arrived back to the shore, my mothers posture was very emphatic. In a tirade of frustration and fear she let into me. Why had I gone out so far? How could I have done something so foolish, as to try and swim with wild beasts who might do, God knows, what to me? I would never-ever-never get to come to the beach again if I so much as even thought about doing anything so foolish. I was never, never, never, ever to even think about it.
Over and over she went on; finger shaking in my face; stern eyes and harsh voice hammering at me.
Im sure I broke down in tears, and at my impressionable age, promptly did as I was told and forgot the entire event out of fear and intimidation.
In a similar way, to what I suppose, the suppressed memories of certain abused children emerge years later, this memory came back to me in its entirety, coaxed by a therapist, when I was forty years old! Needless to say, my interest in cetaceans began to grow considerably, and has since evolved into somewhat of a quest, about trying to "communicate" with dolphins.
In the course of my research into this project, I read all of the available information about mans efforts to communicate with this most sublime and yet playful of sea mammals. I first learned how the scientific evaluations seem to vary widely. Most conclusions drawn from whatever research had often been met with controversy and argument from opposing sides. Some scientific accounts equate a dolphins IQ to that of a monkey or dog, while others, such as Dr. John C. Lilly's studies of brain size and intelligence, seem to indicate that it may even be much greater than mans. Still others, people the hard core lab researchers might call, loonies, portray these salient creatures as everything from incarnate angelic entities and aliens from another solar system, to telepathic informants and sages, whose millions of years of existence in their present form, has enabled them to evolve to a much higher level of consciousness than humans. Personally, I tend towards the latter, and have found the accounts such as those in my friends, Joan Ocean and Timothy Wyllies books about their encounters, more insightful and exciting than the zoological views. But finally, I decided the only sensible way to form an opinion was to encounter the phenomenon first hand.
So, the first thing I did was go back to Ft. Myers Beach, Florida, to see if I could somehow pick up that thread from four decades before. My family had moved from Florida about a year or so of the incident and I had never even been back except for a few days of vacation in other parts of the state. Now, however, I intuitively sensed a powerful connection to that first extraordinary encounter and what it was I needed to do at that point in time.
After so many years, entering the area now overgrown with high-rise condos, hotels, golf courses and mile upon mile of strip retailing, was a complete culture shock for me. There was no way to even find that stretch of beach from so long ago. It was hopeless to even look. I had to push on.
My next course was to pursue a man I had read about who took people out to see wild dolphins off Key West.
Jody Carlson, the jovial, though serious, innkeeper at the Key West Bed & Breakfast, had provided a quaint and very pleasant atmosphere from which to hole up for the duration of my stay. I had arrived at just past eight in the morning and called the charter captains number to verify my passage aboard his afternoon cruise.
Captain Ron Canning of the Patty C, [a 31 cruising catamaran], and host of the Dolphin Watch cruises, had been taking people out to see the same pod of dolphins for the past nine years. He right off struck me as something of a minister in the way he handled the operation: very reverent in his work. He never enticed an encounter by offering food, but if the occasion would arise, and the dolphins appeared receptive, the captain would allow passengers to enter the water and swim among them. People floating free in the ocean, or swimming in the proximity of the cetaceans, allowed for the dolphins to choose whether an encounter would take place. If the swimmer exhibits no hostility, poses no threat, a dolphin may decide to stay around a bit and swim. There is absolutely no way to reach out and touch, or even get within ten feet of any animal, unless they chose it to happen. The captain was adamant about not jumping into the water; rather, one must slip unobtrusively into their atmosphere, and, as the saying goes, tread lightly. Id noticed his brochure outlining the program was available at the inn.
Captain Ron tells me, that his afternoon cruise has been booked by one group to the capacity of six, but the morning cruise has an opening if I can be to the dock by nine a.m., just ten minutes away. I threw my stuff into an unmade room, grabbed my snorkel gear, swim suit and towel, and jumped on the inns first available rent-a-bike, to peddle my way the few blocks to the marina.
Panting, I made the launch.
As soon as the boat cleared the harbor and Capt. Ron opened up the two quiet 35 h/p outboards, the sea breeze whisked away the muggy air of the land that had wrapped around me like a wet smelly blanket. White, white clouds ensconced the sky. Vibrant patches of luminescent turquoise water reflected white sandy bottoms through a crystal sea.
Capt. Ron slides a tape into the stereo deck and the two speakers mounted on the underside of the canopy, ring out with simulated ocean sounds: Humpback whale moans and sighs, atmospheric whistling and the melodic accompaniment of Paul Horns flute. The sounds are immediately affecting. The vast expanse of ocean before us now appears transparent to me with its glory extending infinitely. My euphoria builds!
I climb from the deck to the bridge and ask Ron if the sounds from his speakers have an attracting effect upon the dolphins. No, he says, after all these years of doing this, hes convinced its the emotional outpouring from his passengers that eventually beckon them. He merely heads out on a general course until he might spot some fins and then investigates. What he finds always determines what happens next.
For twenty minutes we motored out to the middle of a large bay area that I learn the pod of dolphins have adopted as their habitat. Then, Shauna, the first mate, spots four fins off the port side at about two hundred yards. Ron cuts the outboards back to half speed and gently swings the double-hulled vessel in their direction. All the passengers, six of us, are excited.
When we reach their location, Ron cuts the motors entirely and drifts just to the side of a group of six Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins. Shauna, encourages passengers to lie on the deck, with their heads over the edge of the boat, to try and make eye contact with any of the creatures. I choose to remain on the bridge.
After nine years of study, Ron can recognize all of the more than thirty regulars of this pod, by their distinctive dorsal fins. Names like, Hatchet, Sweetheart and Nicholas, have been given for reasons varying from markings, characteristics or in some cases, a certain passengers revelation upon witnessing the animals first sighting. When a new calf had been born into the pod just the month before, a child passenger had christened it, Happy. The name stuck.
Ron spots a shinny object in the mouth of one of the dolphins he identifies as Molly.
Oh no, he laments, shes picked up a damned lure and its stuck on her mouth.
He tells Shauna to take the helm as he goes below to get his gear. He reappears a moment later and lowers a platform from the rear of the boat, between the outboards, and steps down onto it.
Sensing my anticipation of entering the water myself, Ron tells me he needs to do this alone. So I watch as he slowly, methodically, swims just behind the six languid mammalian cruisers. It seems apparent that they recognize him as one by one, or in groups of two, they swim back around and up underneath him, in what can be best described as, an exuberant dance. Ron makes no attempt to get close to them but just keeps plodding along at a comfortable pace just behind the front line of dolphins.
It was really a thing of beauty to watch. There was a subtle harmony to the interaction; nothing was pushed or forced, just a benevolent swim in the sea. It was so incredibly simple that it eludes description, but suffice it to say, that I found it moving just to bear witness to the incident. I suddenly felt very relaxed; the anxiety of the moment before had dissolved.
After some ten minutes of swimming, Ron pulled up, and came back to the boat. When he exited the water, he said that Molly merely had a piece of fish in her mouth, commenting that she frequently liked to play with her food, before eating. He then ensured all of the passengers that the dolphins seemed to be in a receptive mood and if we wanted, we could attempt to swim with them as he had done. A resounding yes came from all aboard.
My days as a conditioned athlete are long past now, however, I felt tireless in my effort to stay with the creatures. Perhaps my excitement of being in their proximity had distracted me from feeling any strain, or maybe I was somehow drawn into their energy envelope, tapping into that incredible resource. Whatever the case, I continued to maintain my position long after the other swimmers had dropped off behind. I felt enchanted, almost hypnotized, by the steady movements of the pod as I closed the gap to five feet.
Then, quite unceremoniously, two of the animals began discharging a steady stream of a white, milky substance, that caught me square in the face. I was being doused with dolphin poop! A little while later, back on the boat, Shauna announced to everyone that only a few days before she had been christened in a similar fashion, while trailing a small group. Funny as it may seem, I guess I felt kind of honored to receive this anointing on my first occasion of swimming with the dolphins, as Shauna had been going out on a daily basis for almost two months, at that point in time.
Sometime later, Ron motored the boat up to another group of a dozen dolphins and once again, allowed us to enter the water. This time I swam into the midst of several of the creatures, all gliding leisurely along. As I came up on them I dove below the surface and turned on my back underwater so as to look up into the face of one of the animals. A solemn eye gazed back at me curiously. Two others near by took note of my movements and turned slowly on their backs as well. I surfaced for air and again dove below, this time a cork-screwing motion, blowing air bubbles from my snorkel and then checked to see what affect it may have. To my surprise, two of the dolphins responded by blowing bubbles from their blow-holes, as if to acknowledge their participation in this visual game of sorts.
From the bridge of the boat, Ron pointed his video camera at the activity while steering the craft on a parallel course. Unbeknownst to me, when I would dive below to swim among my fellow aquarians, one or two would breach above the water, in a dazzling display of power and grace.
As for me, I was content to swim among them and began to take note of the different characteristics of each of the individuals in this group. One dolphin in particular had allowed me to come the closest. There was a distinctive marking just behind the dorsal fin that resembled a spiders web, while the eyes of the creature seemed to greet me with a warmth whenever I chanced to view them at close range. I learned later from Ron that I had made contact, as it were, with one of the friendliest of the pod, a male dolphin he called, Sweetheart.
Another pleasant experience on this cruise was being dragged behind the boat on one of four lines that had a wing shaped piece of plywood attached. If one positioned their hands on the front edge of the board, arms extended; the pull of the boat would allow you to ride on the surface and stare down at the ocean bottom cursing by just twelve feet below. If one chose to do so, tilting the front edge downward, would drag a body below. Tilting the board to either side allowed for lateral movements. With a little practice I was able to cruise below the surface, to the bottom and up again, side to side and up and down with ease. The experience was intended to simulate that of a dolphin moving through the surf even though we were moving at only a few knots. A dolphin can swim with bursts of speed up to thirty knots.
The four hour cruise went by too quickly for me. I asked Ron about gaining passage the next day, and every day after that, the remainder of the week. He told me that he was not going out the following day but I was welcome to come the day after on the afternoon cruise. I agreed immediately.
When I returned to the inn I extended my three day reservation to ten so as to maximize my opportunities to return to swim with the pod. After unpacking and a shower, I sat on the second floor balcony overlooking the quiet, tree lined street, and began to reflect on the mornings events. Certain obscure things began to occur to me.
By nightfall, I was already asleep in my room. Heavy with the days events and reflections, I gave myself willingly to a dreamless nocturnal bliss.
The next day I was aboard a 45 sailing vessel called, Danger, a Bahamian sloop with a very shallow hull, slicing our way on a heading for a tiny island twelve miles from Key West. A place called Bocca Grande. I was told that there was a pod of dolphins that frequented the area; a completely different pod from the one Id encountered the day before.
We had drawn a perfect day for sailing: white puffs circling the sky, a steady wind at out back, and plenty to see in the water. Because of the ships shallow hull we could cruise through an area called The Lakes: a few square miles of shallows that were teaming with sea life, inaccessible to most large crafts. Sponges, sea turtles, conchs, lobsters, and various fish, all harbored in velvety covered rocks, zipped by just five feet below.
I listened as the owner of the boat, a skilled sailor, was breaking in a new captain to run this delicate course. He pointed to different colorations in the ocean surface as a means of determining depth. He also scanned the water surface in the distance and could easily guess the wind direction, intensity and duration, in time to take advantage of it. Once through this area it was a short distance to the island.
I also learned that the following day was to be the opening of the annual Lobster season for sports fishermen, so the captain anticipated the area around the island to be teaming with lobsters. He was right. After anchoring in about five feet of water, and swimming to a place just off shore, we spotted over a dozen, ripe for picking, as they say. It would be a bountiful harvest for the seasonal, three-day affair, that brought hundreds of boats and ships into the waters.
We remained anchored for over two hours while everyone aboard swam, kayaked and eventually ate lunch. I had continued to hound the owner of the boat about seeing some dolphins. He kept assuring me that he knew where they were and when we set sail we would go there. Finally we set sail for a small area a short distance from where were anchored. Within minutes, just as the sailor predicted, we spotted fins darting around in various directions. As the vessel sailed into a group of dolphins, they all at once began playing in the slipstream of fore and aft, just next to the boat.
I had seen this activity on television many times but the real sight of eight sleek bodies zipping all around the ship was exhilarating. The enormous energy they exhibited was astounding. This particular group was whipping around a half-square mile area at incredible speeds, evidently chasing down fish in between their body surfing off the hull of the boat. There was no way to get into the water with them as we all were moving far too fast. I had to settle for absorbing their presence from aboard the sloop.
On the following morning I was at the marina with my gear at nine, on a hunch I might be able to get aboard the Patty C. I looked at the group of six passengers already on deck and then at Capt. Ron. He signaled me to come aboard. Then I noticed Shauna wasnt there and asked about the first mate. Ron looked back blandly and replied, Youre it.
So, I prepared for departure, cast off the lines, and then introduced myself to the passengers; five women and one man, all from Toronto. Some spoke only French, others a broken English. The head of the group was a French-Canadian woman named, Trista. She was in her late thirties, I guessed. Her bronzed skin and trim physique told me she was something of a health guru to the rest of the group. This was their fourth cruise as a group that week. Trista and another woman, Meena, who I learned was a close associate, both sat at the front of the boat and appeared to relax and meditate as we got underway into the bay. It wasnt long before we spotted some fins.
Since my role had changed to a working one on this trip, I busied myself with outfitting everyone with fins and masks and preparing the platform for lowering, before joining the captain on the bridge. When we came upon a group of eight dolphins, I lowered the platform and helped the passengers who wanted to swim, into the water. One woman needed help with her mask and snorkel, but the others were well oriented. Ron steered the boat into the path of the slow moving pod and told everyone in the water to swim in their direction. Swimming in front of everyone, I was the first to cross their path, and quickly fell into an easy pace just behind them. In no time at all I recognized that Sweetheart was among the group and I moved in to reacquaint.
Later, at another end of the bay we encountered two, quickly swimming dolphins, who soon led us to a group of ten others. Because of the onslaught of sport fishing boats scrambling around on the big Lobster hunt, there was a very busy channel just ahead. Ron steadied the boat just to one side of the pod while three sports cruisers with avid lobster killers aboard, lay just beyond, conferring as to what direction to go.
Then two of the boats darted away to the north and the remaining craft started moving slowly towards the Patty C. Curiously, all the dolphins had come to rest underneath our hull and to either side, staying as close as possible to us like children hiding in their mothers dress. As the sports boat approached, the dolphins moved even closer to us, until ten or twelve bodies almost blocked out the bottom.
The captain of the other vessel asked some directions while his passengers all stood excitedly pointing at the bevy of beings just below us. Finally they departed [in the wrong direction], and Ron slowly motored the boat away from the channel, in the direction of the bay proper. The pod followed.
By this time, Meena, was overwhelmingly excited. She had already put her fins and mask on and was standing on the lower deck waiting for the platform to be lowered, just, as the saying goes, Chomping at the bit. As soon as we cleared the traffic lane and had motored into a vacant area, Ron cut the engines and I lowered the platform. Zoom, she was in the water, swimming as fast as she could to catch up to the main body of dolphins. I looked up at Ron and we both slowly shook our heads. We knew she was far too excited to get very close.
Soon, she was able to get to within ten feet of a party of six creatures. After remaining at that distance for some time, her exuberance now tempered with exhaustion, forced her to slow her pace. The dolphins slowed as well. Then she seemed to settle into a rhythm of stokes and the dolphins allowed her to close in to five feet before splitting off in different directions, leaving her behind just two. After another five minutes of trailing them, she pulled up and came back to the boat.
She needed little of my help to exit the water. In my estimation, she should have been wiped out by the hard swim, but instead, she bounced around the deck like a school girl. She beamed with energy.
As we returned to port everyone was calm and feeling pleased, except for me. I was somehow disappointed that I hadnt been able to get even closer to the pod myself. I sensed that Meena, had thwarted her chances of a more intimate encounter, by being overzealous in her approach. If she could have contained herself, perhaps she may have had more with which to entice the aquarians to come closer.
Over the next several days, I had six more close encounters with varying groups of the pod, and four additional with Sweetheart. Each time, I was allowed closer by increments, until we were as close to touching as can be, without actually touching. Only once had I even attempted to stroke the tail of the creature -- missing by centimeters, but causing him to swim away.
I left Key West and went to Tampa for two weeks. There, I began the arduous task of trying to sort things out and relate my feelings about this adventure into a story. I also wanted to get away from the main attraction long enough to reflect on the experience. It wasnt long before I wanted to return, only this time, with a trusted friend and someone with whom I am emotionally involved.
I asked my lover to join me for another visit and swim with the dolphins as I had done. Riva's opinion was very important to me because she is very insightful and has a highly developed psychic sense. She would be the last to tell you that though. I would venture to say, that because she has never questioned her abilities, but rather just goes about exercising them, she has developed a highly refined sensibility. Over the past twenty years, I have witnessed enough to know, she is the real thing, as they say.
After a rather romantic reunion, we drove the one hundred miles from Miami to Key West, and pulled into the same Bed & Breakfast I had stayed before. It felt a little like coming home to me as we comfortably settled into our room. The following afternoon I had a confirmed passage for the two of us on the Patty C.
The hot, moist August air was unwelcomed, though fortunately, Riva responded to the sea breeze as I had done on that first day, and fell into a pleasant euphoria as we held hands and stared into the open sea. There were four other passengers aboard, a family of three women and a young man. The taped music soothed us even further.
Then we spotted several fins and went to investigate. When we stopped in the midst of fourteen or fifteen of the animals Ron announced that we could enter the water if we wished. Instead of rushing to the platform, I told Riva to join me on the bow of the boat. There, we could dangle our legs over the edge, and look down into the clear water to see the dolphins below. Amazingly, they started to come around us, either one by one, or in groups of two. When they passed beneath us, some would turn on their side so as to point an eye directly up at us.
Riva was ecstatic; overwhelmed with the obvious forwardness of the creatures. I asked if she wanted to swim with them but she declined. Shes not a strong swimmer. So I went into the sea without her.
The dolphins were all around, swimming back and forth through three of us as we floated on the surface and looked down. I followed one, playfully rolling on my back, and then another, and another. It was like being at a square dance where everyone changes partners. When the dance changed, I was next to Sweetheart.
Funny, I wasnt even ticked off at that. It was as if someone had stepped in at the dance but I was ready to finish. Ready to leave the dance floor, feeling totally fulfilled and satisfied at the performance.
Riva hugged me when I got on board. She said that Ron had kept the boat right by us the entire time and she had witnessed the whole thing. Suddenly she knew everything that I had tried to tell her about the experience and more. She bathed in my energy from the encounter. I wish I could be as open as she is, to receiving something so pure, without question. One of my problems is an addiction to analysis.
I need to see how the dots are connected, so to speak. Physics has given me a playing field, of sorts, with Quantum Mechanics and the Theory of Relativity. However, my movement within this abstract realm of Time & Space, is propelled by my intuitive abilities, honed by over a quarter of a century of direct involvement within the sphere of Fine Art. Specifically, Abstract Art of the 20th Century. It is from that intuitive base that I have formed my impressions.
The dolphins have had over 30 million years to perfect their existence on this planet. They have inhabited three-quarters of the globe far longer than man and yet have never disturbed the environment, poisoned the air, or spent so much useless energy on a displaced instinct for survival. If their intelligence is as great as some suppose, they have had eons of time from which to contemplate the meanings and dynamics of life. They obviously can perceive more of their environment than humans, and so perhaps, know even more than humans about the enigmas of the mind, matter, time and space.
Intelligence may be attained, but knowledge is received. Humans may do well to cease as attainers and start to learn to become receivers. The Dolphins are downloading information even as we speak. . .all we have to do is learn to listen and, receive.