Updated: Aug 12, 2022
A few days ago I met up with some friends to go dive with hopes of encountering the Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin. There are a few particular places on island that there is a better chance of spotting them because of the topography of the bottom and the dolphins’ affinity for resting in shallow waters near the coastline. We pulled up to the site with no dolphins to be seen from the surface. I go to this spot pretty regularly and have had good luck in encountering the dolphins but it is nature and the animals don’t always cooperate with your dream vision of what the dive is going to look like. This day ended up being my best and worst dolphin encounter to date.
It was a chilly morning, but still really beautiful, and the cold had us questioning how badly we actually wanted to get in. We all sat at the edge of the road scanning the horizon for any sign of dolphins or other wildlife. One of my friends noticed what they thought was a turtle close to shore in the waves. It turned out to be a Hawaiian Monk Seal. I was really lucky to have an amazing monk seal encounter a week or so ago, so in hopes of recreating that I decided I wanted to get in the water and start the dive.
If we didn’t see dolphins it would still be a fun time in the water.
As we were getting ready a nice guy came up to us asking if we were marine biologists. He said his buddy had recognized us. He told us that the last few days he had been hanging out and the dolphins were coming in a little later in the morning after most of the divers had left. I still have no idea how his buddy knew us but we appreciated the tip. He was very friendly and we thanked him for his advice. We decided that we would just go ahead and hop in for a fun dive. Maybe the dolphins would show up towards the end.
After swimming around for an hour or so and seeing nothing we all were starting to get a little cold. We hopped out and went to warm up on the beach for a bit. While relaxing in the sun we were scanning the horizon with hopes that maybe the dolphins would show up. A few moments later we could see the shine of the sun hitting their reflective backs. We decided to get back in the water and hope for some good interactions.
It may have been one of the busiest times I have ever seen this spot.. I’m not sure if it was because it was a Friday, everyone is working from home, or a combination of both, but there were tons of divers in the water. My friends and I swam off a little ways to one side of the bay in hopes that maybe we could get some more personal interactions away from some of the people.
The interactions I had with the dolphins this day were probably the best I have had to date.
Most of the time I see the Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins they are resting or sleeping. They will swim by but they don’t really interact with you. Today was different. The dolphins were dancing, twirling, and playing with each other and with me while in the water. I typically just hover at the surface so I avoid disturbing their rest. Today they were being so playful! Even when I would dive away from them, they would come and spin around me. It was honestly the dolphin experience I had only ever dreamed about or seen from the rare lucky diver.
While the interactions I had were some of the best I have yet to experience I was still disappointed. I wasn’t dissapointed in the dolphins, but in the humans. I saw some of the worst chasing, following, and harassment from other divers than I ever have before. For those of you that wouldn’t give the animals any space you suck! I’m talking to you, girl with the white bikini and blue fins that chased the dolphins around the bay the whole time like a dog chasing a squirrel. Also talking to you, guy on scuba with the underwater scooter shoving yourself into the middle of the pod to “get the shot”. These two were by far the worst of the bunch but there were many more.
Dolphin Interaction Do’s and Don’ts
The dolphins typically come into this area because of the protected shallow waters. While they are resting they will sleep half of their brain at once. This leaves them in a more vulnerable state to other predators. Whenever I go attempt to swim with the dolphins their well-being far outweighs my need for the “perfect interaction” of “insta-worthy moment”. It was obvious that not everyone felt the same way. Since the dolphins are typically resting, there are some do’s and don’ts. You can respect their space while also giving yourself the chance for the best dolphin encounter possible.
DO: Take time to read their behavior and understand what sort of state the dolphins are in. This particular dive was extremely unusual where most of the pod was awake and active. If the dolphins are all surfacing at the same time, casually swimming through the water, and have minimal vocalizations those are all signals they are most likely sleeping. If sleeping; stay at the surface, don’t dive, and wait for them to come to you. If the dolphins appear to be more awake and are playing with each other, jumping, and spinning around I still recommend minimal diving. If you do feel like it is ok to dive swim to the side of the pod. Give them plenty of space where if they want to come interact they can but they aren’t forced to.
DON’T: Dive on sleeping dolphins! Resting dolphins are in a vulnerable state. They can be easily spooked by divers swimming down towards them in the water column. If you feel the dolphins are awake and more active and you want to dive DON’T dive into the middle of the pod or directly at the dolphins. That is very threatening! Always dive away from them and off to the side with plenty of space but only if they are awake.
Sleeping dolphins (left) vs Active dolphins (right). Notice the difference in swimming formation and how the sleeping dolphins are staying close together and moving in unison while the more active dolphins are spread farther apart and moving on their own.
I will probably never forget this day in the water. Partially because of the the incredible moments I personally shared with the dolphins but also because of the disappointment I felt towards the other people in the water. We all got out with a sort of bitter sweet feeling about how good and bad the experience was. I can’t expect everyone to understand how you should or shouldn’t interact with specific wildlife if no one has ever taught them. However, hopefully people in the future can become a little more educated prior to getting in the water. I appreciate every moment in the water I get with the dolphins. I can only hope that I get to experience something like this dive again.
If you want to see footage of this dolphin encounter watch this video. There is a better explanation of how to read dolphin behavior while in the water.