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  • Claire Gilbert

Dolphins and a buffet for a turtle!

I never thought I'd get close enough to hug a wild dolphin.

It’s our first dive of the morning. The sprinkling of a quick sunny shower begins as the senior instructor gives her briefing. Also joining us are 3 new divemaster trainees. After buddy checks, we jump off the boat, descend, and make our way to the edge of the wall. I notice some sounds almost immediately at depth. I turn to the lead instructor and sure enough she is signalling something to me. She points to her ear, which usually means you’re having trouble equalising, or to listen. I assume the second. She then makes a motion with her hand going up and down in a flowing sideways “S” formation. The lightbulb goes off in my head, dolphins! Throughout the dive we have a wonderful soundtrack, which is both amazing and maddening. I keep my eyes on the blue drop off, but even as we ascend at the end of our dive, there’s no sight of the dolphins. As soon as we get to the surface, the captain of the boat is calling us. “Dolphins!” he says. There’s another group still in the water, so we eagerly await their return on the boat.

“I could literally put my arm out and it would be draped over her back right now.”

Looking me straight in the eye, is a magnificent creature. Matching my pace, but certainly not my effort, the dolphins seem to float effortlessly through the water as I kick as swiftly as I can to keep up. I have already lost the group of snorkelers I jumped in with. The dolphins must actually want to hangout with me because they are clearly making an effort to go slow. Two seem to wrestle and bump into each other playfully within an arms reach ahead of me. I look down and notice two babies just below me. I can’t believe they’re allowing me near their young. The one to my right keeps a closer eye on me than the rest. I never realised how big their eyes are. I suppose I’ve never been close enough to register the depth and understanding that lies there. After 2 minutes or so I realise that they’re not leaving me as soon as I assumed they would. I begin to count all the dolphins around me, not just the ones close enough to kiss. 1,2,3… 11! They’re in a pod of at least 100, but this little group has decided to gift me with their presence. I start to feel the painful burn of my tired leg muscles, but ignore it and kick harder. The dolphins have slowed their energetic pace for me, I must take advantage and keep up! The one to the right swims closer. I assume she’s the mother. I start to register her facial features. She doesn’t seem to have that permanent smile on her face like others I’ve seen. It’s more like a stern but polite smirk you may give to a stranger on the street. I could literally put my arm out and it would be draped over her back right now. I resist the urge to touch her, as I have no right to, and just appreciate the moment she and I are having. She backs off a bit and two fall in just ahead of me. One nearly smacks me in the face with its fin! It has been about 10 minutes now and my legs are screaming at me to stop. I realise I have no idea where the boat or the rest of the group is. I look up and see the boat is more than 50 meters away. I can tell I am slowing as I fight the pain in my legs. The dolphins do not slow with me. I wave goodbye and wish them well as I give up my space in the group. Feeling incredibly thankful for my time with them, I slowly make my way back to the boat.

Still reeling from the excitement of the wild dolphin encounter, we all jump off the boat for our second dive with large smiles on our faces. We’re just going over a few things like buoyancy and how to put in a CESA line. This group is really competent so this mostly turns out to be a fun dive for me. After finishing our skills, the senior instructor had promised to take us to the coral nursery nearby. I have never seen one so this is definitely a highlight for me. She swims backwards just ahead of me and starts pointing above my head. Immediately I think, “Oh god, a jellyfish is about to land on my face.” I duck and spin around quickly, nothing. Then I see a shadow higher up. It’s a turtle! I’ve seen many turtles before and it never gets old. However, this time is something special for me. This turtle is basically at an all you can eat buffet right now. He swims slowly and, one by one, gobbles up the jellyfish. We’re only in about 10 meters or 33 feet of water. The visibility is wonderful and the waves at the surface make an excellent backdrop to watch the turtle feasting on the jellies. I hear the voice of “Crush,” the turtle from “Finding Nemo,” in my head. “Righteous dude, check out the jelly buffet!” The view is so wonderful, I can hardly contain myself. My underwater dancing ensues.

It’s been another wonderful day in Utila. I’m off to celebrate the 4th of July with my new dive buddies at the dive shop. What a wonderful 4th of July it is! I can’t say I have one that can top it. Cheers to you America!

Until next time!

XOXO Claire Gilbert

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