A MORNING WITH THE DOLPHINS by Mary McIntosh

In April of 1993 I spent a month in Australia, a couple of weeks with friends on the east coast, and then I took the train from Adelaide to Perth to visit friends I’d met on my trip to Scandinavia in1985. The train ride was exciting, memorable, and long.

 

As the train slowed and entered the station at Perth, I looked out of my window. Standing on the platform early that morning were Jean and John, who had very graciously invited me to stay a few days with them.

 

The car I was on very conveniently stopped just a short distance from where they were standing so I quickly gathered my things together and stepped off the train.

 

“Hello” I smiled. “It’s good to see you again.”

“How was the train ride?” John asked. “We used to take it when we were younger, but it’s a bit too tiring now for us old folk. We really have no reason to go back east. We like it where we are.”

 

“Let’s get your luggage,” Jean chimed in. “We’ll go have a cup of tea and then we’ll show you our lovely city of Perth before we go home, and you’ll see for yourself why we’re very content to stay here.”

 

Driving around the city I had to agree with them. Situated on the Swan River, with beaches on the Indian Ocean close by, Perth, with its many parks filled with flowerbeds, ducks waddling in the ponds, and its estuaries with bobbing sailboats and cruisers, is a charming city. It is also the most remote English-speaking city in the world, and is closer to Singapore than to Sydney.

 

I was enjoying visiting with them, and pleased they showed me some of the sights such as the Cohumu Wildlife Reserve, where I saw many emus, kangaroos, wombats and flocks of wild pink and gray cockatoos, known locally as galahs. While a person never really gets close to the koalas, perched high up in a eucalyptus tree, its leaves their only food, by craning my neck I did get to see them here.

 

Besides enjoying my visit with Jean and John, I wanted to go north to Monkey Mia to see the dolphins. I’d booked a three-day trip with Australian Pacific Tours. I’m not one some might call an “animal lover” though I do enjoy seeing them especially in their native habitat, but I was fascinated when I first read about the wild dolphins at Monkey Mia, and their daily performance for humans. I began to realize this was not your normal everyday occurrence. When my friends invited me to stay with them, I knew I would now be able to see these dolphins, as Shark Bay was only 800 miles north of Perth.

 

The train ride across Australia, and my visit with the dolphins, turned out to be one of the most memorable of all the many trips I have taken.

 

Jean let me borrow a small bag for the short journey, and John drove me to where I would board the tour bus. We were a small group, just thirteen, having traveled here from South Africa, Canada, Japan, Italy, and England. I was the only American.

 

Soon after leaving Perth, we drove through miles of nothing-no towns, no villages, nothing but scrub trees and dirt. It looked like the miles of “nothingness” I’d seen from the train window. At Billabong we stopped for a tea break. The heat was so much more intense here than in Perth. Not only did Perth have an ocean breeze to help keep it cool, but we were now heading north toward the equator. I had to keep reminding myself that Australia was “upside down” to what I was used to, or perhaps we were “upside down” to them.

 

We arrived at the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort in time for supper. Right away I noticed the hotel’s slogan: “The only resort in the world where wild dolphins come to visit you.” After locating where I would be staying, Room No. 3, I joined the rest of the group for a typical Australian dinner of pumpkin soup with shrimp, snapper, potatoes, salad, and cheesecake.

 

The next morning, very early, before breakfast, we walked the few yards from our rooms down to the beach. Though still dark, the path to the ocean was well lit. We stood around, a mismatched group of young and old, men, women and children and, from the various dialects I heard, we’d come from many countries, all wondering when this event was going to happen.

 

Soon a park ranger joined us.

 

“Mates, can I have your attention. There are a few things I need to tell you before the dolphins arrive. They come just about every day, with only a couple of days a year when they are not seen. Let’s hope this isn’t one of those days.” The crowd tittered. “It’s okay for you to touch the dolphins. That’s what they swim into shore for, but be sure you pat only their sides and back, not their faces or blowholes.

 

“You will find the dolphins at Monkey Mia are unique in that they come together into shallow water for their human contact, and even bring their babies with them. None of these dolphins has ever been captured. You will often notice when I offer a small fish to a dolphin it will be taken, but soon dropped back into the ocean. Their purpose for swimming into shore is not food–there’s plenty of fish out yonder–but solely for human contact. Monkey Mia is the only place in the world where this phenomenon occurs.”

 

At first, standing in very shallow water, we were too far back, and the ranger suggested we walk into the ocean up to our knees. Together we looked like some kind of odd chorus line, all shapes and sizes, most in shorts or bathing suits, some with rolled-up pant legs. We stood there without speaking, watching for movement in the water. (Dolphin #1)

 

The dolphin sightings at Monkey Mia began in 1970 when a fisherman’s wife at Shark Bay threw some of her husband’s catch to a dolphin swimming off shore. The next day the dolphin came looking for more, and brought a friend with him. The locals began to notice the dolphins really weren’t interested in the fish, but seemed to enjoy the human contact more.
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“There they are. I can see them,” someone shouted.

 

“Where, where?”

 

swim with dolphinsI noticed movement in the water. At first the dolphins were too far away for me to reach them, but then they came closer and actually swam right in front of me. I reached out and with the back of my hand gently stroked. The body was much smoother than I had imagined. I expected it to be rough, like sandpaper, but it felt more like velvet. My dolphin swam away, then joined by another one, and together the two came up to me again and nudged my bare legs. I had never before been so close to such a large sea creature. (Dolphin #3)

 

After coming into shore the dolphins performed for us, just like they do at marine shows. They glided back and forth, often nosing in for a pat. Two of them swam side-by-side, leaping up and breaking water together, and one of them performed a half leap and reentered the water upside down. No human had taught them these tricks. There was no charge for our “water ballet show.”

 

I remember reading that dolphins are known to be the most highly intelligent mammals next to Man, and I wondered what they were thinking. They had certainly acted in an intelligent manner. Of the six dolphins that visited us that day, I’m sure the same one kept coming back to me almost as if he had singled me out as his very own. Perhaps others were thinking the same thing. (Dolphin #2)

 

As a youngster I always had cats as pets, and they became very special to me. I know this sounds strange, but as I look back on that experience, I am sure the one dolphin that nudged me and looked up at me had a smile on his face as he swam by.

 

“Wasn’t it wonderful? I actually touched one,” I said to a woman standing nearby. Whether or not she understood me I don’t know. It didn’t matter. Her grin was as big as mine.

 

As the sun now shone on our backs, forecasting another hot day, I climbed up the small sand hill toward my room to change. I hated to leave, but the dolphins had already returned to the open sea.

 

They would be back tomorrow morning to once again give pleasure to another group of wide-eyed onlookers.
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