Hands and legs outstretched in the “Superman” position, I tried not to do a face-plant as I bobbed unsteadily on the surface of the water.
I was waiting for two dolphins to push me up out of the water in the famous “foot push.”
We were at Dolphin Discovery’s “dolphinarium” in a natural sea cove in the Puerto Los Cabos marina near San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico.
Dolphin Discovery is one of two programs where you can experience a dolphin swim in Cabo. (The other is Cabo Adventures – scroll down to the end for more on their program.) They are popular activities in Cabo.
Dolphin swim in Cabo
The dolphins didn’t disappoint as I followed in the wake of hundreds of other excited tourists before me.
Both dolphins in unison – each pushing on the arch of one foot – shot me along the water. Then I was up, up, up and completely out.
For a few thrilling moments, I felt like I was flying before splashing down.
Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos
Dolphin Discovery is the world’s largest “swim with dolphin” organization, with more than 20 dolphinariums in Mexico, the Caribbean and the U.S.
It’s certified by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, meaning it follows or exceeds U.S. standards of animal care.
1) The dolphins have to be obtained through humane means and not from conflict areas.
2) There’s a daily maximum number of hours of human-dolphin interaction.
3) The facility has a good reproduction program allowing babies to live with their mothers.
Most Dolphin Discovery facilities are in natural environments.
The Dolphin Discovery Cabo facility is tucked into an ocean cove, in a cordoned-off area measuring some 75,000 square feet – about the size of a football field.
It’s home to several playful bottlenose dolphins, including babies born to their moms here.
4 Swim with dolphin experiences
Four programs are offered at Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos.
1) Royal Swim Plus:
The Royal Swim Plus option, 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.
Time in the water: 60 minutes
2) Dolphin Swim and Ride:
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).
Time in the water: 50 minutes
3) Dolphin Encounter:
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.
Time in the water: 40 minutes
4) Royal Swim Plus Sea Lions:
This experience combines the Royal Swim Plus option above as well as a sea lion interaction, where you get a ticklish kiss and wet “hug” from a sea lion.
Time in the water: 60 minutes
During your dolphin swim in Cabo, trainers share educational information about dolphins.
For example, you may learn:
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 the minimum required to keep dolphins enriched.
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.
Would we go swimming with dolphins in Cabo now?
A few years have passed since I enjoyed my dolphin swim in Cabo with Dolphin Discovery.
And the more we’ve traveled and observed animals in the wild (like our “Big 5” safari in Africa), the more our views have changed about interacting with wild creatures.
In an ideal world, dolphins would live out their lives in freedom in their natural ocean environments.
If we wished, we could go to them and swim in their world. And they might even welcome us and say hello (like the wild dolphins in Mozambique that we swam with).
So, personally, we wouldn’t swim with dolphins in Los Cabos now. (And we know it’s easy for us to say this, having already enjoyed the experience.)
But the issue is complicated. And we understand the desire to rescue injured and orphaned dolphins and the need for better dolphin protection awareness and education.
The question is probably not whether to swim with dolphins (which stimulates them) but rather: Should dolphins be kept in captivity in the first place?
Best Cabo dolphin swim program
We mentioned there are two dolphin swim programs in Cabo.
You can also swim with dolphins in Cabo San Lucas through Cabo Adventures.
If you decide to do a dolphin swim in Cabo, we suggest you choose the Dolphin Discovery experience.
While Cabo Adventures offers many great activities in Cabo, we’re less keen on their dolphin swim program. At their facility, the dolphins live in a large tank or pool right in Cabo San Lucas (in town).
At Dolphin Discovery (near San Jose del Cabo), the dolphins swim in a natural-looking sea environment. It feels wilder and much less like an aquarium than Cabo Adventures’ Cabo San Lucas facility.
Swimming with dolphins, Los Cabos
Note the following for swimming with dolphins in Los Cabos at Dolphin Discovery:
Have you gone swimming with dolphins?
What do you think about dolphin swim programs? You can share your views in the Comments below (and read other people’s comments too).
Photo Credits: Dolphin Discovery Cabo, except 1 and 2