with dolphins by
on photos for more images of Trinidad
All photos courtesy of the Curacao Sea Aquarium
moment after we had been properly introduced, Teresa,
a svelte Caribbean beauty, leaned over and kissed me
on the cheek. Her lips were wet, rubbery, protruding
in a way that made her seem different from other girls
I've smooched. The hard, elongated lips weren't
entirely unexpected. After all, Teresa is a dolphin.
gorgeous gray female is one of three bottle-nosed dolphins
with whom I swam at the Curaçao Sea
on the Netherlands Antilles island of Curaçao,
some fifty miles off the coast of Venezuela, the Sea
Aquarium complex consists of four
main areas: the Aquarium Hall, where more than
400 different local reef inhabitants can be seen in
natural habitat; the Animal Encounters lagoon,
where guests hand-feed sharks, sea turtles, and stingrays;
the Woerden Canal, home to Chichi, the resident
lion; and the Dolphin Lagoon, domain of seven bottle-nosed
beauties including Teresa, Bonnie, and the six-month-old
dolphin activities are arranged through the Sea Aquarium's
addition to the popular dolphin training demonstrations
held three times each day in the lagoon, the
Dolphin Academy allows guests to scuba dive, snorkel,
with the merry mammals. The dolphin "encounter"
gets children and non-swimmers into the act in shallow
If that's not enough, unique in-depth courses
mix classroom sessions with training demonstrations,
echolocation experiments, behavioral field
studies, and dolphin dives to create the ultimate interactive
settled for a basic dolphin swim.
meeting Teresa, Bonnie, and Papito, the swimmers in
my group were briefed by Aimee Brown, a
trainer for more than ten years. "Swim slowly, and
the dolphins will swim alongside you," she said. "There's
no need to chase them. They will come back
to you. But please avoid touching their heads."
ingested these morsels of wisdom, I leapt
into the Dolphin Lagoon with four equally excited guests.
dolphins have been trained to interact
with humans in a variety of ways. First up: the kiss.
As I treaded
water in the center of the lagoon,
Aimee made a hand gesture. Teresa disappeared beneath
surface. A moment later she emerged,
treading water beside me. She turned, as if to say
hello, then leaned
forward and placed the tip of her snout
against my cheek. If ever there was a Kodak moment,
this was it.
all five of us had been kissed by
either Teresa or Bonnie, we took turns swimming alongside
pair, touching their smooth, rubbery
skins, marveling at the ease with which they moved
powerful tail moves in an up-and-down
motion, allowing for bursts of speed up to 25 mph.
Like torpedoes fired
from a submarine, Teresa and Bonnie
blasted through the lagoon. Papito kept his distance
(the young dolphin
is still somewhat shy around humans),
while his 12- and 18-year-old elders swam circles around
they rushed over to receive a treat from Aimee.
dolphins dine on imported, restaurant-quality
fish to insure a healthy diet. Because adults consume
to one-third their weight in
fish each day, it's
easy to understand why a dolphin
interaction costs up to $179 per person.
munching on mackerel, Teresa and Bonnie dazzled us
with a variety of patented moves.
Following our commands, they
spun around in the water, grinning for the flashing
cameras. They waved with
their flippers, splashed with
their tails. With one slight movement of my hand, I
got Bonnie to speak in
a series of whistles and clicks.
clicking noises issued
at around 300 sounds per second are a form of
sonar, allowing dolphins to navigate within a pod and
detect schools of fish. The whistles express emotions
such as alarm and excitement.
me, the most exhilarating phase of the swim was the
dolphin dorsal ride. While
treading water near one
edge of the lagoon, I was instructed to spread my arms
wide and slap the water with my open
palms. Teresa and Bonnie
swam toward me. They circled behind, moving side by
side, their dorsal fins slicing
through the water.
I turned my palms backward, Teresa's
dorsal fin made contact
with my outstretched left hand. At precisely the same
instant, Bonnie's dorsal
made contact with my
right. I held on to both fins, while the dolphins dragged
me, grinning, between them.
of merely swimming with dolphins as I had imagined,
Teresa and Bonnie had
allowed me to perform along with them.