When I was in 5th grade, we had a Science Fair. I did my project on ‘Communication Between Man and Dolphin.’ I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was back then in the days before Internet and Amazon and being able having a world of information at your fingertips. I had to do some extensive research. I found a book on the subject and learned what was involved in becoming a marine biologist. I wrote to a dolphin institute with a list of questions and they wrote back. Then I even managed to track down a record album of dolphin and whale sounds. I played that during my science fair presentation. It was a hit.
The whole thing was so exotic and out-of-reach for a girl from southwestern Ohio. I was about as likely to become a marine biologist as I was an astronaut. So I certainly never ever expected to hug a dolphin one day.
Oh, I knew that there were tourist attractions in Mexico and other warm, tropical places where you could pay a small fortune to be in the water with dolphins and have your picture taken with them. But they were so expensive and I still didn’t believe that you would actually interact with a dolphin. Then we booked a Dolphin Encounter while we were in the Bahamas. It was my pay-off for working a million hours of overtime before vacation.
My husband was opposed to it on principle. We’d watched a terrifying documentary called “The Cove” that revealed the horrible slaughter of dolphins taking place in Japan and all the money involved in trapping and selling them to dolphin shows for tourists. It was a hard show to watch and we vowed to boycott companies that used dolphins as entertainment. We didn’t want to add to the market for capturing dolphins.
But my daughter wanted to play with dolphins, and it looked like so much fun. Secretly, I wanted to, too.
We booked the excursion.
About eight of us kneeled on a platform in a caged-off area of the water. Our dolphin, Cacique, swam in circles in front of us, splashing us with his antics so that we were all as wet as he was. Next, he started down the line, giving each of us a kiss on the cheek and a chance to rub him down. We were all delighted. Then he began giving hugs. We were instructed to hold out our arms and Cacique moved up into them, pressing himself against us and holding us in an embrace that I never expected. A million thoughts scrambled through my mind:
oh my god I’m hugging a dolphin he’s so heavy I don’t know if I’m doing this right does he like it am I hurting him I’m hugging a dolphin! am I supposed to be doing this he does this all day I am hugging a dolphin he’s so sleek and friendly he has his fins around me like he’s hugging me I wonder where that dolphin book I had was I want to keep hugging him does he like doing this does he know how wonderful I think this is can he feel my excitement I didn’t think this would be a real hug what about the cove he’s okay isn’t he I wish I’d never seen that film this is awesome I wish I could take a picture I can’t believe I’m hugging a dolphin!
Then he moved on to the next person down the row.
I was on Cloud Nine. It was an experience that I’ll never forget. But the hug wasn’t the end of it. We also got to dance with him, holding his fins. We got to run our hands across his teeth. We got to kiss him (which wasn’t gross) and we got to feed him a fish. We each spent about a total of 5-10 minutes with him; too short a time, but even hours wouldn’t have been enough.
This was one of the highlights of my life; an experience I’ll never forget. If I close my eyes and imagine it, I can still feel the weight of Cacique pressed against me as we embraced. It took me back to childhood and my fascination with this intelligent species. I feel guilty about perpetuating the exploitation of dolphins, but can’t help myself. It was absolutely magical to me.
I hugged a dolphin!