To swim with dolphins once in a lifetime. But not in a dolphinarium or an aquazoo. Actually, out in nature. In the sea. Since I was lucky enough to see a dolphin in the wild for the first time on a dive in Cozumel a few years ago, I wanted more. To learn more about these elegant, cheeky and playful marine mammals. And then an opportunity came along that I couldn’t pass up. In this blog post, I’m taking you to that very place that captivated and completely enchanted me. Ready?
The wild dolphins of Bimini
When I boarded the plane heading to North America a few months ago, I still couldn’t believe it. In a few days I should actually be swimming and snorkelling with wild dolphins. But as it is with nature – it is unpredictable. So it was only an attempt and the wish I wanted to fulfill to be with dolphins in the water and to be able to observe them. There is no guarantee that you will actually see the animals.
But would they really hide for five days straight, so that we wouldn’t see them at all on our expedition? After having snorkelled with orcas in the Arctic Circle last winter, there was just as little guarantee and then we saw them every day. So I was hoping for a continuation of my lucky streak.
But let me say this much in advance: It takes a bit of luck, or rather a pinch of luck, but not quite as much as I worried, to experience the wild dolphins on the Caribbean island of Bimini. It helps to know the right people, who know them well enough, have studied them for years and take care of them.
In the water with wild dolphins
We search the horizon intensely and focussed. Thousands of shades of blue make up the sea and the sky around us. No land is in sight, only water and a few scattered clouds in the sky. We stand on the upper deck of the expedition boat and try to make out movements between the gentle waves. Nothing seems to be happening. The waves continue to move rhythmically back and forth.
And then Kathleen Fisher points in one direction. She has lived on Bimini for many years and probably knows the local dolphins better than anyone else. She has spotted a dorsal fin somewhere. Thrilled and with pounding hearts, we try to spot it too.
And there it is again. Not just one. But several. A small school with five animals is not far away from us. Slowly we approach with the boat before the captain switches off the engine and we look spellbound into the water. The dolphins are curious and are not bothered by us. This is the best sign for us.
We’re sitting there. Ready with snorkelling gear and camera in hand. Waiting for a sign from Kathleen. She nods at us and we gently glide into the water. Being careful not to move our fins too much – that could drive the dolphins away.
The water is so warm and so clear. Turquoise in its brightest and best shades. I lie down as flat as I can in the water and search my surroundings – until I discover them. My heart is pounding so hard, I feel like everyone around me should be able to hear it.
Four dolphins pass calmly underneath me and are not bothered by us. They even seem to enjoy the attention. Again and again they approach as if they wanted to greet me and ask me to come along.
I accept this invitation, take two or three deep breaths and swim a few metres vertically into the depth. For a moment, everything around me stops and the dolphins dance playfully around me. They are not an arm’s length away from me. Together we float in the water and while the dolphins spin around their own axis, swim back and forth and let their curiosity run free, I notice that my lungs are empty and I have to return to the surface.
Deep breaths bring my oxygen levels back to normal. Tears of joy fill my goggles from the inside and then mix with the salty water of the ocean.
I lie flat in the water again and watch the dolphins play with a piece of seaweed a few metres below me as if it were a ball. The sea is their playground and at this moment I am allowed to be there.
Wild Dolphin Expedition with Dive Ninja Expeditions
But how did this little adventure even come to my attention? A few years ago, I was in California and then also in Baja California, Mexico. There I met the underwater photographer, diver and ocean advocate Jay Clue. He runs his own dive centre, Dive Ninjas, in Cabo San Lucas and organises unique dive trips and ocean adventures. He emphasises sustainability and a respectful approach to the sea and its inhabitants.
It was through him that I first came across the wild dolphins in Bimini – and then I wanted to experience this phenomenon for myself. Together with the local dive centre Neal Watson’s and two female researchers, he organises these unforgettable adventures in the Caribbean several times a year.
The Wild Dolphin Expedition usually takes place in the summer months. The dolphins are here all year round, but Bimini is best known for its hammerhead sharks in the winter months – and the boats are chartered for these activities. If enough people can be found, there are also individual tours with the dolphins at this time of year.
The Dive Ninjas expedition is 6 days and 5 nights and includes four afternoons with the dolphins and a snorkelling trip to the Sapona shipwreck and the reef sharks. The Wild Dolphin Expedition is not a liveaboard or scuba activity, as all the action takes place on the surface. Those who already have experience in freediving have an advantage here (but you’ll enjoy it without a course just as much).
There are also small presentations about the dolphins that live here and their behaviour. I’d recommend extending your stay by a few days and exploring the islands on your own or getting to know the local dive sites. More about this in a separate blog post coming soon.
If you don’t have that much time, you can also book half-day trips at Neal Watson’s Dive Centre to snorkel with the dolphins. On these short trips, the researchers are often not on the boat and the chances of seeing the animals or even going into the water with them are much smaller. Nevertheless, I would like to mention this here in case you can’t make it during the summer months.
What to bring with you
Particularly with a cool breeze on the boat or then in the water, you often don’t notice how treacherously the sun burns from the sky. For this reason, I was wearing leggings and an UV shirt from Craghoppers in the water. Also be sure to bring a hat, sunglasses and a reef-friendly sunscreen like Suns Care or Stream2Sea. A drybag should also be in your suitcase if your destination is Bimini.
Quick infos for Bimini
Bimini is also known as the gateway to the Bahamas. Because of its geographical proximity to Florida, many day visitors come here by ferry, boat or plane. I would argue that most of these people don’t even know what kind of special sea creatures live here.
Bimini consists of several islands; the main islands are North Bimini and South Bimini. There are two airports and a dock for the ferry from Florida.
There are a few ATMs on the island, but I’d recommend taking enough cash with you, as the machines don’t always work properly and you can’t pay with a card in many of the restaurants.
By the way, I’ll show you how you can spend a week in Bimini in one of my next blog articles. There is so much to discover and explore here.
I would like to thank the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Dive Ninja Expeditions for their support in making this dream come true.