Kisses from Flipper

By: Julia Stein

I had never met a movie star before – until I went to swim with the dolphins.

Coming right up to me, kissing my cheek and begging for a hug was a real-life celebrity. This was Jake, one of the dolphins that starred as Flipper in the 1996 movie of the same name, and he seemed as pleased as Punch to see me.

Jake is one of the 19 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins at the Dolphin Encounters attraction on Blue Lagoon Island in the Bahamas.

In fact, quite a few of the dolphins are famous, having also starred in Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s 2001 movie Holiday in the Sun and TV shows all over the world.Jake and his aquatic friends really seemed thrilled to have me, and the others in my small group, take part in the swim-with-the-dolphins programme.

In fact, he even asked me to dance. Apparently, he’s a fan of soca music and Sixties songs, as I found out when he practised his moves in the water. I held his flippers and jiggled around while the training staff sang encouragingly. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to worry about stepping on his toes.

I was also really surprised how gorgeous he felt to touch. Silky and smooth like a hard-boiled egg after the shell has been removed, the dolphins shed their skin every few hours, which keeps it shiny and new.

Blue Lagoon Island is located three miles from Nassau and Dolphin Encounters transport you there by boat from nearby Paradise Island. It takes just 20 minutes on a high-speed catamaran and it’s a scenic journey through turquoise water.

Only the dolphins live on the private island so you meet them in their own home. They have large ocean pools where they can eat and play with the many species of fish and crabs, lobsters and other sea life found naturally in their ocean environment.

The attraction is not only about entertainment; Dolphin Encounters places great emphasis on education and conservation of dolphins and all other sea mammals. An informative orientation talk upon arrival explains all about these intelligent creatures and the importance of their survival, as well as preparing you for the magical experience ahead.

Clothes and bags are left in the storage lockers, so it’s swimsuits only – lifejackets are provided and must be put on by everybody – for what is certain to be some of the most memorable moments of your life. Children older than five can take part but adults are sure to enjoy it just as much.

Groups of up to 10 first of all sit on the edge of a platform in the dolphin lagoon before the trainer asks everyone to get in the water and line up. By this time, the two dolphins in our pool are already circling round, having a good look at the visitors. Then, at the instructions of the trainers, they are soon doing laps in front of our line and we all get to pat them as they whiz past.

Then it’s our chance to hug them, kiss them and do our little dance. We even get to feed them a fish. The dolphins certainly know what they are doing even if we don’t and I get the impression they think we humans haven’t been trained very well.

After this it’s back onto the platform until one by one the participants splash back into the water and float, arms outstretched and legs straight behind, for the “foot push”. At the word of the instructor, the two dolphins position themselves behind the person’s feet and “nose” them through the water until they are almost flying in air. Exhilarating. If you don’t want to swim in the pool, you can take part in the Close Encounter programme where you interact with the dolphins from a platform three feet under water and still get a hug, kiss and dance. Or, you can simply observe.

All the training with the dolphins is accomplished using a positive reinforcement system. This coaching, which is one trainer to one dolphin, not only helps the dolphins perfect their routines, it stimulates them mentally and physically. The technique is also used to encourage the dolphins to voluntarily take part in regular medical check-ups.

Blue Lagoon Island is also home to six darling California sea lions, which were displaced from their oceanarium in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina a couple of years ago. Dolphin Encounters was thrilled to adopt them and, for the first time, they live in natural sea pools. The sea lions are celebrities, too, with several of them having taken part in movies.

A family-owned business, which has been open for more than 18 years, Dolphin Encounters has had more than 2.5 million visitors. It’s easy to see why. Swimming with the dolphins is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and if this has long been your dream, it can come true right here. Mine certainly did.

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