Joy Magazine

Swimming With Dolphins in Cancun

Swimming with dolphins in Cancun.

I have never been drawn to places I think of as cheesy tourist hangouts, and until quite recently, that's what I thought of Cancun, Mexico. But with the opening of the first dolphinarium (dolphin aquarium), I experienced a change of heart.

Arriving at Dreams Cancun Resort, an all-inclusive facility, I was greeted with a glass of champagne and a scented towel to refresh myself during check-in. When I got to my room, I was surprised to find a chilled bottle of champagne in an ice bucket and a large platter of tropical fruit. My private balcony had a view of the dolphin lagoon and beyond that, the Caribbean Sea. I could see the playful dolphins leaping and diving in the lagoon, three floors below my room. Later, I would have a much closer and more exciting experience with them.

When you go

The Delphinus Dreams Cancun experience includes an hour-long dolphin experience — 15 minutes of training and 45 minutes swimming with the dolphins.

• Minimum height is 3 feet 6 inches to swim alone with the dolphins. Children under this height may participate, but they need to be with an adult at all times.

• Cost is $149 U.S. dollars per person, regardless of age and is subject to change without notice.

• There are four programs per day (9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon, and 1:30 p.m.).

• Goggles and towels are provided

Most resorts, hotels and condominiums in Cancun are located in the Hotel Zone, which lies on an island between a lagoon and the sea. On the west side of the island there is a lagoon with numerous marinas, waterfront restaurants, shopping malls and a couple of golf courses. For those who prefer a different kind of stimulation, the Party Zone throbs with nightclubs, bars, restaurants and shopping.

After we viewed a short, informative video, groups of six met with a guide/trainer who told us a bit about dolphin psychology, physiology and culture.

The Bottlenose Dolphin is gray, with a white or pinkish belly. The elongated jaws give the animal the name bottlenose, but the real nose is the blowhole on top of the head. Their jaws are locked in a perpetual smile, which seems appropriate to their friendly character.

Adult dolphins average 8 feet long and weigh from 440 to 660 pounds, but can be as large as 13 feet and 1,430 pounds. They need to surface every five to eight minutes to breathe through blowholes and they don't sleep the way we do. Scientists believe the two hemispheres of dolphin brains take turns waking and sleeping.

Our guide told us dolphins are the only species other than humans who mate for fun, not just reproduction. The friendly creatures seem to possess a sense of humor, are curious about humans, and have earned the reputation as "man's best friend in the sea." They have rescued injured divers by raising them to the surface — a practice they use within their own species. In 2004, a shark approached three New Zealand lifeguards and, sensing danger, a group of Bottlenose Dolphins surrounded the swimmers for 40 minutes, protecting them from attack.

Female Bottlenose Dolphins live for about 40 years, but males rarely live to be older than 30. They communicate through squeaks, clicks and whistles. Each has a unique signature whistle. They also communicate through body language, leaping out of the water, snapping jaws, slapping tails on the surface of the water and butting heads.

Our guide introduced us to a dolphin named Beauty and taught us the hand to which she responds.

As we treaded water, Beauty moved between us, allowing each of us to stroke her back and belly. She seemed to like that and also allowed us to hug her. Then we each in turn gave the signal to leap high out of the water and dive deep. She responded to further signals by lifting her upper body out of the water and flapping her fins as though applauding us. She "kissed" each of us on the mouth and "sang" for us — emitting clicking and whistling sounds. After about 45 minutes, Beauty demonstrated her power, foot-pushing us at high speed through the water until we were nearly standing and then dumping us.

You can purchase stills and video for an extra fee, but I asked a bystander to record the events with my own digital camera.

For me, the highlight of our visit to Cancun was the dolphin swim. Direct interaction with dolphins is used in the therapy of severely handicapped children and adults, and would probably benefit any average stressed-out human. The experience was joyful, absolutely exhilarating and unforgettable.

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