Swimming With Dolphins: Stick To Your Ethical Beliefs

Swimming With Dolphins: Stick To Your Ethical Beliefs

Every time I walk to the beach to surf, I say a secret, quiet prayer for dolphins to show up. I have this fantasy they pop their snots out of the water and lay their heads on my board. I shriek with excitement as I pet them and coo. Then as I catch a wave, they jump through the water along side me.  We become instant best friends. This has never happened. I always ask fellow surfers as I paddle out, “Have you seen dolphins today?!” The typical response: “They were here an hour ago.” Of the 400 or so times I’ve surf since learning in Summer 2016,  I’ve only seen dolphins one time. I had just paddled out at Tourmaline surf break in San Diego, and as I paddled past the break, they were swimming away, out in the distance, which meant I paddled furiously out into the distance after them, excitedly. I was desperate to be swimming with dolphins. When I got about 50 meters from them, I sat up on my board because I suddenly realized how far from shore I was; I got scared. So I decided I’d wait for my fantasy to come true, for the dolphins to come to me. I waited for a long while.

Last week, while traveling in Mexico, a company that offers adventure tours in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico wanted to host me for their swimming with dolphins experience. The thought of being in water, swimming with dolphins, touching and hugging them, I couldn’t contain myself. I immediately fantasized about jumping out of a boat in the middle of the ocean with a dozen dolphins all around–all who had been trained to know I wasn’t a threat–and we’d play and love each other.

I pictured myself at 7 years old, the only time I’ve gone swimming with dolphins, during which they pushed me by my feet along the surface. Being  so young, I enjoyed the adventure yet was scared while my parents and grandparents yelled, “It’s okay, Sabrin!” I was sure this time around, on my 32nd birthday, fear would be the last thing on my mind. I couldn’t wait for my birthday to arrive!

Then, after confirming the time and place with the rep for the adventure tour company in Puerto Vallarta, I started questioning my choice. I reached out and stated my concerns having watched promotional YouTube videos on their swimming with dolphins experience. I realized my open-water fantasy was far from reality. These dolphins live in captivity, in tanks.

My transition to veganism was mostly fueled at age 18 by newfound knowledge of the destructive and abusive meat industry. So, 14 years later, I checked myself, my ethics. Though these dolphins aren’t necessarily being killed, is there any difference between caging animals in a kill factory to caging animals for human entertainment? The company representative sent me a long email filled with facts about their level of care for the dolphins, citing how they differentiate from other swim with dolphin tours. I appreciated the care this rep took to appease my worries, but nothing could convince me any animal of its size would enjoy, let alone thrive, in such a small container. Especially when they’re meant to be free and wild.

So I declined, because ethically I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I worried if I was there and realized how bored and unhappy the dolphins are, I might try to set them free. Free Willy, am I right! And write an unfavorable review on this company’s swimming with dolphins experience that had just hosted me and a friend. And possibly go to jail.

Therefore, three days later, you can imagine my utter exuberance when I heard, “Do you see the dolphins?”

I was climbing the uneven cobblestone, multi-colored tiled steps from the beach in front of Casa de Mita, a hotel in Punta de Mita, Mexico. “What?” I screamed. I frantically scanned the ocean for fins grazing the surface of the calm 6pm water, the slightly overcast sky making the evening seem easy. And then I saw them, their fins casually popping up.

Because the lighting was as fantastic as I’ve ever seen it in Punta Mita, I quickly posed on the overlook because I knew the photo op for my blog was spectacular. (After all, I am my mother’s daughter!) And then I ran, barefoot, back down the uneven cobblestone staircase to the beach and right into the ocean, arms flailing. I hurried past the break, bathing suit awry, giggling and rushing. I swam and swam and peered over the ocean’s surface for another glimpse of their dorsal fins. “There, right there!” I shouted to myself, so I went faster. But when I got about 100 meters from shore, fear started creeping in. I realized just how vulnerable I was. In the middle of the ocean, swimming alone, toward powerful animals who don’t know who the hell I am. I treaded water for a few minutes, making whistling sounds, clapping my hands, thinking, Maybe they’ll just come check me out. Fear continued to grow. I didn’t have the comfort of my surfboard to separate me from danger.

So I swam back in, ran like a maniac back to Casa de Mita, and snatched their kayak I’ve never used, awkwardly lugging it to the ocean, the waves tossing the boat to the side while I tried to get in, falling out, still giggling, looking as ridiculous as I ever have, nervous I was missing my chance to befriend them. Finally, I secured myself on the kayak, got hold of the paddle, and rushed as fast as I could out into the open ocean. Within 5 minutes I was within earshot to them, every 30 or so seconds seeing the pair of fins above the surface, crisp crescents that made my blood pump faster. I paddled and paddled, and then finally stopped, looked around, and waited. A calmness mixed with fear surfaced.

The idea that I wouldn’t feel any fear if I had a boat between me–not true. Just as much as I trusted the dolphins, I feared them. What if they ram their noses into the boat just to tip me over? What if while I wave my hands under the water, they come and bite me? What if a shark comes here too and they all kill me? So I breathed and focused on the good thoughts. Here I was, all bummed I didn’t get to swim with dolphins just days before on my birthday, and instead, in the middle of the ocean, two days later,  I was by myself as the sun dipped and the waves crashed on shore, no one but me and these two, dancing on the surface, doing their thing. I had nothing to fear.

Sometimes, good things come to those who wait. Secret prayers can come true.

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