An Unforgettable Encounter

By Nancy J. Schaaf, RN BSN

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Nancy hugging Sebastian.

I made a friend that will live in my heart forever when I experienced the highlight of my cruise, a dolphin encounter. The programs at Blue Lagoon Island offered a unique way for me to interact with incredible bottlenose dolphins. I learned about the behaviour, communication and biology of these wonderful creatures from a resident dolphin trainer who guided the experience. And, I formed a connection that will last a lifetime.

Whether visitors are participating in one of the exciting and educational interactive animal programs or enjoying the pristine beach, a visit to this beautiful, secluded island is worth the trip. Surrounded by turquoise blue water, the unspoiled beach areas are shaded with thousands of native coconut palm trees and lush natural vegetation. This extraordinary private tropical island presents visitors with a glimpse of an untouched paradise and an opportunity to see native Bahamian animal life. It also provides the marine mammals, including dolphins and sea lions, with an all-natural ocean habitat.

The friendly and curious dolphins fascinate me and there are many facilities around the world to provide visitors with an unforgettable meeting with these amazing animals. Sessions can occur in the ocean with wild dolphins or in a more controlled aquarium or reserve environment. Reputable tour operators leave the human contact decisions up to the dolphins. These interactive encounters – with a focus on safety for both the human and the dolphin – are meant to foster respect for these creatures.

After booking a Caribbean cruise, I viewed the possible excursions for the port of Nassau, Bahamas, and spotted the Dolphin Encounter. The description of the shallow-water contact appealed to me, and I immediately reserved my spot.

Nassau was the first port for the ship and we arrived on a perfectly sunny and hot Bahamian day. I disembarked the ship and met the tour guide who escorted the group to a large, high-speed, double-decker catamaran for a scenic ride in Nassau’s Historic Harbour. This was an enjoyable journey offering views of Nassau, Paradise Island and other sites, including the homes of singer Beyoncé and golfer Tiger Woods.

After the catamaran was docked at the island, I proceeded to the area for the bottlenose dolphin encounter. I placed my shoes, coverup, towels and other belongings in the available lockers, entered the dolphin area and sat on the side of a pool area with my legs dangling in the water. Several dolphins were swimming around and, at times, brushed against my legs.

Two viewing stations were available and after approximately 30 people surrounded the shallow pool, the trainer began the session. She shared some educational information about the bottlenose dolphin and mentioned that professional photographs and video would be available for purchase.

There were three groups of 10 in my section. When it was my group’s turn, I waded into the waist-deep water and stood upon a platform. This setup enabled the dolphin to swim right up next to the people. The first encounter involved a dolphin kiss. I knelt, and the dolphin named Sebastian swam up and planted a kiss on my cheek while the photographer took a photo. It has become a treasured memento.

After each member of the group received a kiss, we stood, and the dolphin swam nearby each one of us who petted its back. On the second pass, we stroked the pink tummy, which felt soft. The trainer explained the reason for the silky texture: a dolphin totally sheds its skin cells often enough that the new skin feels silky. On the next pass, Sebastian opened his mouth (rostrum) and everyone touched the approximately 80 conically-shaped teeth. Apparently, dolphins do not chew their food, but use the teeth to grasp prey prior to swallowing it whole. Everyone had the opportunity to hold a small fish up in the air for Sebastian to eat.

After each interaction, Sebastian swam away and usually did a jump or flip and then returned for his well-deserved applause. Dolphins generally weighs 500 pounds, grow up to nine feet, and can swim up to 40 km/h. As Sebastian liked to “talk” to his audience, we heard his vocalizations, which consisted of clicks, whistles and buzzes.

My favourite interaction involved encircling my arms around Sebastian to hug him and then grasping his pectoral fins (flippers) to dance. Sebastian seemed to enjoy that, as well. Kissing the dolphin on his rostrum was a humorous image as many of the group had strange expressions on their faces for this experience!

Near the end of the encounter, Sebastian presented me with a special moment. On one of his returns, after flipping and diving, he swam up to me, opened his rostrum and showed a rock about the size of my fist. The trainer said, “He brought you a present.” I removed the rock and carried this special dolphin gift home as a keepsake. After the program, Sebastian swam around, lifted his tail into the air and waved goodbye to his new friends.

The trainer reminded us several times that Sebastian was free to interact or not. The choice was the dolphins to make. If they’re hovering nearby, perhaps they are satisfying their own curiosity. I believe the amiable dolphins are enjoying the visits as much as the humans. The acrobatic movements performed by the dolphins utilize their natural abilities. Sometimes, Sebastian swam around outside the water reserve area, but always returned for more contact with humans.

To interact with this magnificent creature and learn about the dolphins was thrilling. It was an unforgettable experience I will always treasure.

Nancy J. Schaaf taught English/Literature for 25 years and earned a RN license and worked as a school nurse and as a correctional nurse. She published two genealogy books on her family history and several articles have been published in various magazines. She enjoys writing, golf, travel, reading and skydiving.


There are several places where you can travel to encounter dolphins. A cruise to the Caribbean offers opportunities in several destinations to interact with these beautiful gentle creatures. But, if travelling a great distance is not feasible, Canada’s largest aquarium, the Vancouver Aquarium, connects visitors with the natural world. Here, the opportunity to join marine mammal trainers on the dolphin deck for a hands-on experience to learn about the Pacific white-sided dolphins is a fantastic educational experience. At the Aquarium, you can learn about conservation and research programs to better understand these marvelous creatures.

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