A day to remember, FOREVER

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Jan 08, 2008

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Flag of Dominican Republic  ,
Monday, January 7, 2008

Yes, this was a day that I'll never forget and definitely one of the highlights of my life!  This was the day, for a mere $150, one of my life-long dreams was to come true: to swim with dolphins.  Earlier in the week my dad and I had booked a trip to Ocean World for today, which was not too far away - by Puerto Plata.  Everyone was going except for Tony, his wife and her parents, and all of the "kids" were booked to swim with the dolphins, except for Jonathan who was going to swim with sharks instead! 

I should preface this entry by stating that I do recognize that it is inherently and generally wrong to capture animals from the wild to keep them in captivity.  Even though the enclosure at Ocean World in the DR is apparently the largest man-made dolphin enclosure in the world, it is still, of course, a far cry from the vast entity of the world's oceans that they would normally have to call their home.  While it is not right, nor natural, for an animal species to be captured by humans and forced to live the rest of their lives in a confined space against their will, I do think there is benefit to having some types of species, such as the dolphin, kept in this way for the educational purposes of mankind.  The dolphin is an absolutely amazing animal - the 2nd most "intelligent" of all animals (after the chimpanzee variety), whereas dogs come in as number 8! (and you know how smart they can be).  Like domesticated dogs, they also clearly enjoy social interaction and companionship with humans.  They have also been known to work in co-operation with humans in numerous situations.  The U.S. Navy employs dolphins, for example, to travel with their ships and scope out the ocean floors for mines, which they do better than any other method that could be used.  Like canines, wild dolphins have been documented, on numerous occasions, to assist human beings in the ocean.  One story that comes to mind was a situation where a person's boat had capsized in the ocean and left the person alone in the water, at night, where there were sharks harbouring in the area.  A group of dolphins came by and protectively swam in circles around the human all night so as to protect him from being eaten by the sharks.  Stories like this draw me to believe that dolphins truly are our kindred spirits and that human beings can assert a personal connection with them moreso than other animal species.  I'm drawn to animals of many kinds, but the dolphin - despite my one-on-one experiences with them being very limited - is one animal that is particularly special to my heart.  It is my hope that the opportunity for people to come close to these creatures in this way, such as at Ocean World, will allow them too to experience how special these animals are and to not just garner an understanding and respect for them in general, but to establish a perspective of active support in protecting these creatures from the cruelties of mankind. (and maybe to even realize that ALL of God's creatures deserve respect and protection and preservation by us human beings who control the earth, and that the dolphins deserve to live just as much as our beloved pet dog does, as does the pig who we eat for dinner (the 3rd smartest animal, right after dolphins!), or Anthony the Rat (see Jan. 6 post), for example.)  What cruelties of mankind, you may wonder, am I referring to when it comes to dolphins?  An estimated 7,000,000 dolphins - at least - have been killed in the last thirty years by the international tuna industry by purse-seining in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) alone, with millions more killed by driftnets.  Each year, hundreds of thousands of additional dolphins still are estimated to die in the driftnets, gillnets, and purse seine nets of the tuna industry.  If these facts are new to you and you find it hard to envision as a reality, I have included a few photos here to illustrate the facts.

Back to the most memorable day of my life though... I was very optimistic that the rain would go away today, as it was supposed to, and that we would be rewarded by our patience with the sun for our day's excursion.  But such was not to be the case.  When I got up at around 7am, it was pouring rain outside!  Well, that's okay, I thought - this means that by the time we get there, it will be over for sure.  The bus came to pick us up at the hotel at 8:35am and it was STILL pouring.  We arrived at Ocean World about an hour later, and it was still pouring torrential rains that were not giving up!  This was to be the theme for the day, but despite the nasty weather, I think we still all had a good time.  When we first got there, I went down to see the dolphins right away and was delighted to watch them swimming and coming up to me to allow me to take some good pictures of them.  I watched another group do their dolphin swim and I couldn't believe that that would be me later in the day! (our swim time was 3pm, and Jonathan's shark time was at 4)

One of the first things we went to see was the bird show, followed by the sea lion show.  A few parrots were featured for the bird show, doing some very impressive tricks.  Parrots, as people might not know, are also another very smart animal!  (they have even been known to be psychic - really!  I have read a fascinating story about this.)  And they can have a vocabularly consisting of hundreds of spoken human words that they understand.  Alex the Parrot, who just died last September at age 31, was one such demonstratedly intelligent parrot, and he would devise his own made up sentences from the words that he knew.  The night that he died, his last words to his owner were "You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you."  One of the parrots in the show I found to be equally fascinating, and if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, it would have been hard to believe that this animal could actually do math!  Yes!  His trainer called out to the audience for 2 numbers, betwen 1 and 5.  The numbers 2 and 3 were called out.  The trainer put up 2 of his fingers in front of the parrot, and then 3.  Then he gave him a bell, and the crowd quietly waited to see what he would do.  He went up to the bell and rang it... 5 times!  Amazing!  And if that wasn't neat enough, they then asked the audience to pick two numbers between 5 and 10!  The numbers 10 and 8 were chosen.  Do you think a bird can add up to 18?  Well, now I know they can.  The trainer held up five fingers to him, and then his full ten.  It was kind of funny watching him do this because you were thinking "um, is the parrot actually paying attention? Is he looking??"  But I did not give him enough credit and it was truly amazing as he rang that bell 18 times, without fault!!  And parrots are not the only types of birds that have demonstrated such feats of intelligence.  (So think of that the next time you decide to kill and eat a bird...)

After the bird show, we watched the sea lion show.  Sea lions are not animals that I know much about at all.  And when you really look at one up close, like we got to do today, it looks like a crazy, odd kind of creature.  Like what is with those feet?  Their back "feet" are a hybrid of what act as feet but look like a tail split in two - they kind of drag them along behind them, yet they serve them as swift vehicles in the sea.  The three sea lions featured in this presentation were so entertaining - they really seemed to be having a good time, and they were sure clapping a lot, at the enjoyment that they were presumably experiencing from acting in front of an engaged human audience.  At the end of the show, we were told that you could pay $10 to have your picture taken with one of the sea lions kissing you.  My dad asked Leanna and I if we wanted a picture, but we both said "no way!" - I was too scared to have the lips of this kind of scary looking creature touching my face - and I asked my dad "why don't you do it" and he said "okay"!  But it was kind of false advertising, because then they brought out the photo op sea lion, and he was this huge, enormous blob of a sea lion that no one had seen before who suddenly sauntered out.  If I hadn't already refused the photo, then seeing this giant guy would have certainly done it for me!  Anthony and Connor had their photo taken with the sea lion too, and then my dad.  It really was funny to watch and the photo they took is hilarious (which I don't have here, unforutunately).  My dad said he felt all of his whiskers against his face.

More rain to endure.  We walked through the bird sanctuary, where there were some neat parrots to see up close and have our picture taken with.  Then around this point Ray and I went to the gift shop and bought a bunch of $3 yellow plastic raincoats for mostly everyone to wear.  We had lunch and then went to see the dolphin show.  My dad sat in the front row, in front of us (as did Connor), and Leanna and I couldn't stop laughing at the sight of his yellow rain coat inflated like a balloon.  And Connor's was the same, though a miniature version.

Finally, it was 2:30pm and time for us to get ready for our swim!  We went to the area where we were to don our bathing suits and lifejackets, and during this time, something rather miraculous happened in that the rain suddenly dramatically was reduced to nothing but a light sprinkling.  This continued on and so we were so lucky that we were able to do our swim NOT in the pouring rain, which wouldn't have been too fun.  In fact, the weather was perfect for our swim encounter.  There were the six of us together, plus several others in the group - about a total of 10 or 12.  We attended a short talk first where one of the trainers told us not to touch the dolphins' eyes, snouts, blowholes or genitals (yes, they do have them).  And then we went out and I couldn't believe it was going to happen!  Getting a little nervous at this point of interacting with the unknown...

We all sat along the little dock, and then, one-by-one, each of us jumped into the water to have a short swim with the 2 dolphins, Shark and Boomer, by holding on to their fins with each hand.  Rochelle (I think it was) was the very first one to go!  And I was third!  I jumped in and swam out to the middle of the water.  And then the two very well-trained dolphins came swimming at me under water and went behind me and swam underneath my arms.  I then grabbed onto their fins and they took me for a fast ride!  All I really remember was tonnes of water splashing in my face and because I was screaming (I think), I had my mouth open the whole time and actually swallowed the salt water.  Then it was over and I went back up and watched everyone else do it.  There was a little girl in our group, about 5 years old, who went to do it by herself.  When the dolphins passed by her, she failed to grab onto the fin with one of her arms, and the dolphins patiently stopped and waited until she secured both hands onto their fins, and then they took off.  It was so cute to watch them accommodate to the little girl's limitations.  It wasn't like they were just machines and were just going through the motions automatically - they are smart and when the little girl didn't do what she was supposed to do, they waited until she did.

After our swims, we all jumped into the water together and formed a line.  One of the dolphins swam in a line in front of us so that we could touch his rubbery skin as he passed by.  The first time this happened, I had my arm out as was told, but didn't realize what was going to happen, so when I was suddenly touching dolphin skin out of nowhere (I was looking the other way), I screamed!  The trainer told me not to give the dolphin a heart attack.  The dolphin did this several times and we got to feel some more.  Connor had his hand out a little bit too long one time and touched the dolphin's genitals and got in trouble for that! 

Then we got to play with the two dolphins, in pairs, two at a time.  I went with Leanna.  Right away the trainer told me to kiss the dolphin, and he put his snout right up to me and I kissed him on the lips three times!  We fed the dolphin a fish that he gave us, and hugged them and danced with them.  It was so much fun.  The dolphins are so sweet and playful.  They must be having a good time - they are too smart to be doing this if they didn't enjoy it.  I see it akin to our dog Penny who just LOVES to play with people herself.  Their skin was so smooth and by now I was used to it (hey, I was literally hugging the dolphin and he was hugging me back!).  And I looked right into his eye and just wondered what he might be thinking about this all!  I really do hope they get as much enjoyment from the human interactions as we do from them.

Everyone else went and had their dual experiences with Shark and Boomer.  And we got a few really good pictures taken with them - one of one of the dolphin jumping over us, in mid-air, and the other of him posing with us, in front of us.  I bought these photos after and I will cherish them always!  I do hope that everyone who got to swim with the dolphins that day, and any other day, will also take that experience with them as one to remember and cherish forever.

After this we went to see Jonathan have his encounter with the sharks and the stingrays.  There was a pool of stingrays there (that have had their stingers removed), swimming about, and first he and his group went in that pool and snorkelled with them.  Then they were to be part of the shark "show", which we all watched.  I asked one of the presenters what kind of sharks they were and he told me "Dominican Great White Sharks", which I highly doubt is accurate.  They were only about 7 feet long each at the month, but nonetheless scary enough that I wouldn't want to be in any same body of water as them!  They said that they keep the sharks "in training" for a year before letting them swim with visitors, and supposedly they are "trained" to not bite people - though I don't know exactly how one trains a shark not to bite, which is an instinctive function that they need for survival.  Anyways, after this spectacle and seeing Jonathan peruse the shark-infested water with calm and steadfastness, the day was over and it was time to go home.

Everyone was going to the Seafood restaurant at the resort tonight for dinner (a bit ironic, considering the day's educational events), and because Leanna and I don't partake in eating anything that had a face or a mother, we decided to eat at the buffet alone, instead.  But we were so exhausted from our active day and zonked out on the beds right away.  Then a brief break for dinner, and then again we went to bed.  It was an early night for us, preceded by one of the most special days of our lives!
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