Playing with Dolphins!
Location: Coxen Hole, Roatan Island - Honduras
by Wayne & Karen Brown
Nantucket Clipper is now in the country of Honduras. We are docked at Coxen Hole, on the tropical island of Roatan. Roatan is about 30 miles off the Caribbean coast of Honduras. It is about 40 miles long and 4 miles wide. About 8,000 people live in Roatan. The official language is Spanish, but most people here speak English, too. Roatan is part of the country of Honduras
Today we will be in the water with bottlenose dolphins! These are the dolphins that are usually seen at aquariums and marine parks. They are called bottlenose because they have a rounded snout that looks a soda bottle. We have played with bottlenose dolphins in the wild before. This is the first time we will be playing with trained dolphins.
We arrive at the dolphin center and are taken by small boat to a tiny caye about 300 feet from shore. The dolphins are all in a small cove surrounded by a wooden walkway. As we walk from the boat to the welcome area we can see dolphins swimming around in the cove. A woman welcomes us and splits our large group into smaller groups of about 4-6 people. Our group includes Katie, Dan, and Abby. Each group will have their own dolphin teacher.
We walk down into the water. In the cove we stand in water that is only about up to waists. Our dolphin teacher, Anna, is here waiting for us. Anna is from Austria. (Can you find Austria on a world map or globe?) There are no dolphins in Austria. There is no ocean by Austria, either. Anna traveled thousands of miles from her home just to work with dolphins in Roatan.
Anna tells us that the dolphin center has 20 bottlenose dolphins. These dolphins were brought here from the coast of Honduras. She says the dolphins are free to leave any time. They can swim back out to sea, but in the eleven years the center has been here only two dolphins have left. The dolphins stay here because they are well fed and the dolphin teachers, like Anna, are fun to play with.
Anna says she works with the other dolphin teachers here teaching dolphins fun things to do. The dolphins love to learn new things. Each dolphin teacher works with only one dolphin. Anna's dolphin is a girl dolphin, named Susie. Susie is a mother who gave birth to her first baby about 1 1/2 years ago.
Anna blows on a small whistle that hangs on a ribbon around her neck. It looks like a dog whistle. One of the dolphins turns and swims toward us. Anna says this is Susie. Anna has Susie greet us by waving to us. Susie turns over and wiggles her pectoral fins as she swim toward us.
Susie turns over and swims over to Anna. Anna gently rubs Susie's head with her hands. Anna explains that dolphins usually like to touch and be touched. Anna has us line up on both sides of her. She has Susie float in front of us so we can pet her. As we pet Susie we notice her skin feels like rubbery. It feels like touching a wet inner tube.
As we are petting Susie, Anna tells us about these dolphins. Susie is over six feet long and weighs about 350 pounds. Bottlenose dolphins can grow up to 12 1/4 feet long and weigh up to 1,435 pounds! There are 26 different kinds (species) of dolphins. Bottlnose dolphins are a medium sized dolphin. The smallest dolphin is the Hector's Dolphin, found around New Zealand. Hector's dolphins only grow to about 5 feet long and weigh up to 130 pounds. The largest dolphin is the orca, which is also called the killer whale. Orcas can grow up to 32 feet long and weigh up to 9 tons!
Anna ask us if we'd like a dolphin kiss. Everybody says "yes"! Anna has Susie swim up to each of us. Susie sticks her snout in our faces and sticks out her tongue for a kiss. Each one of us gets a big wet kiss from Susie.
After all the kisses Anna has Susie stop in front of each of us to hold her. Susie probably weighs about 350 pounds, so we can't pick her up. We can hold her in the water though. We put our arms under her and bring her up to the top of the water. Susie lets each one of us hold her and we can feel her strong muscles.
After playing with Susie for about half an hour, it is time to leave. The dolphins put on a little show for us. They swim very fast out into middle of the cove. Suddenly they jump high out of the water! They dive into the water and then make another big jump. Susie swims out into the cove to join her baby and the other dolphins. As she swims away she shows us how she can "walk" on the top of the water, backwards, using her tail.
We had fun with the dolphins today. It was great to be in the water with them and not have a window between us and them. Compared to the wild bottlenose dolphins we have seen in the past these dolphins seem to be a lot more interested in us. This is probably because these dolphins are trained to interact with people.
We wonder how much of what we are doing with them the dolphins understand. Are the dolphins having as much fun with us as we are with them?
After spending the day on Roatan, we head by to Nantucket Clipper. Tomorrow will be our last day for exploring before the expedition ends.
Join us tomorrow as we visit a tiny island between Roatan and Honduras and look for boa constrictors.
Wayne & Karen
Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras
Position: 16º 20' N / 86º 38' W
Air Temp: 83ºF
Weather: light breeze, sunny with scattered clouds.
These bottlenose dolphins are playing in a small, shallow cove at the dolphin center. (Enlarge the photo and see how many dolphins you can count.)
At the dolphin center a dolphin teacher works with one dolphin and 4 or 5 people.
Anna is a dolphin teacher from Austria. Her dolphin's name is Susie.
Susie greets us by waving to us.
Katie gets a big, wet kiss from her dolphin friend, Susie.
Susie shows us how she can walk on top of the water with her tail.