Hands and legs outstretched in the “Superman” position, I try not to do a face-plant as I bob unsteadily on the surface of the water. I’m waiting for two dolphins to push me up out of the water in the famous “foot push.” We’re at Dolphin Discovery’s new dolphinarium in a natural sea cove at San Jose Del Cabo in Los Cabos, Mexico. Hubby and travel writing partner George is cheering me on from the sidelines.
The dolphins don’t disappoint as I follow in the wake of hundreds of other happy tourists before me.
Both dolphins in unison – each pushing on the arch of one foot – shoot me along the water.
Then I’m up, up, up and completely out. For a few thrilling moments, I feel like I’m flying before splashing down.
About Dolphin Discovery
Dolphin Discovery is the world’s largest “swim with dolphin” organization, with 13 dolphinariums in Mexico and the Caribbean. It’s certified by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, meaning it follows or exceeds U.S. standards of animal care. For example:
- The dolphins have to be obtained through humane means and not from conflict areas.
- There’s a daily maximum number of hours of human-dolphin interaction.
- The facility has a good reproduction program allowing babies to live with their mothers.
Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos
Most Dolphin Discovery facilities are in natural environments.
The Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos facility is tucked into an ocean cove, in a cordoned-off area measuring 7,000 square meters – about the size of a football field. Opened two years ago, it’s home to eight playful bottlenose dolphins, including two babies born to their moms here.
Swim with dolphin experiences
Three programs are offered at Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos.
The Royal Swim Plus, which I experienced, is the “cadillac” program, where the highlight is the “foot push.” It also includes the “dorsal tow,” where you hold on to the dorsal fins of two dolphins as they swim fast and pull you along.
What was incredible to feel first-hand was how strong dolphins are!
I had to hang on tight if I didn’t want to fall off.
The Swim and Ride includes the “belly ride” (holding on to the dolphin’s fins as he or she swims on its back) and the “boogie push” (lying on top of a boogie board while the dolphin pushes you across the water).
In the Dolphin Encounter, you stand on a submerged platform in the water, and kiss, hug and pet a dolphin as you learn a little about dolphin behavior.
Should you swim with dolphins in captivity?
We’ve swum with whale sharks in the wild at La Paz (a 2-hour drive north of San Jose del Cabo) – and it’s one thing to be with creatures roaming wild. So to be honest, we were a little concerned about the ethics of interacting with captive dolphins.
But it was obvious at this facility that the dolphins were well cared for.
They seemed “happy” (if it’s possible for us to say that) – they responded well to their trainer, who treated them respectfully (and fed them lots of fish!).
And we saw the hula hoops and balls which they play with when they socialize with each other at the end of each day. This is necessary to keep dolphins stimulated, according to a 2010 Report on Captive Dolphins in Mexico and Dominican Republic written for the World Society of the Protection of Animals.
Of course, the animal rights organization, People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), is opposed to all swim-with-dolphin programs (along with all marine parks and aquariums).
On the other hand, people who swim with dolphins in dolphin interaction programs ultimately learn more about them and become more interested in helping to protect dolphins and conserving the marine environment. Also, dolphins in the wild live from 30 to 35 years. But at Dolphin Discovery facilities (where they face no predators and are treated to good vet care), the dolphins live to about 50 years.
Cool facts about dolphins
- Dolphins don’t drink water – they get what they need from eating fish.
- Killer whales are actually part of the dolphin family.
- Dolphins never totally sleep – half their brain needs to be awake to breathe.
- Adult bottlenose dolphins are known to teach young dolphins how to wrap sponges around their bottle noses to protect against abrasions when foraging for fish buried in the sandy sea floor.
- Dolphins live in pods of up to 12 dolphins; young dolphins swim with their mothers for up to 6 years.
- A mom-to-be bottlenose dolphin is pregnant for about 12 months.
- Dolphins use “echolocation” to move around and find food – they send out clicks that bounce off (like an echo) from other objects under water (e.g., rocks, food, other dolphins).
- Wetsuits, towels, lockers and hot showers afterward are provided.
- Life vests are worn in the water.
- You don’t have to know how to swim to experience the Dolphin Encounter.
- Reserved dolphin experiences are at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3:30pm.
- Each experience includes a 15-minute orientation, where the trainer demonstrates with a stuffed dolphin how the dolphins will interact with you and the hand signals you use, followed by 40 minutes in the water.
- Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos reservations: 624-105-2964; 1-866-393-5158
Have you swum with dolphins? What do you think about dolphin interaction programs?
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We’re Janice and George Mucalov, professional award-winning travel writers, sharing tales of luxury travel with a twist of adventure.