Are wild dolphins safe to swim with?
One of the questions we get asked a lot is this: “Are wild dolphins safe to swim with?”
We can of course only share from our own experiences here in Bimini, The Bahamas, with the wild dolphins that we swim with. We’ve been here in Bimini since 1999 and hence have quite some experience with these dolphins.
Three different species
There are three different species of dolphins that live in the ocean surrounding the island: The first is the Atlantic Spotted dolphins – these are the dolphins we originally came to Bimini for. They’re mostly known to be found in the tropical areas of the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf Stream. They’re highly social, both within their own communities and also with humans, coming very close and interacting with us when they are in the mood. You’ll see these dolphins in the photos and videos on our website, recognisable by their distinctive mottled grey and white spots – which they gain when they reach maturity.
Then there are the coastal bottlenose dolphins who we often see feeding off the west coast of Bimini. We do see them in the same areas as the Atlantic Spotted dolphins and sometimes they do hang out together. They do also mate across breed and get pregnant cross breed – a new species that we call the Spottlenose! The progeny tend to look more like the bottlenose and have spots across their bellies. These coastal bottlenose are larger than the spotted dolphins and in the past they tended to show less social interaction, among their own pods and with us humans. However over the years they have become a lot more social with us.
We also occasionally see the off-shore bottlenose as well, a much larger species of dolphin, which tend to live, as their name suggests, further away from land. We can see them on the western edge of the Great Bahamas Bank – and we do more recently also see them mixing with the coastal bottlenose and also occasionally with the spotted dolphins as well. The off-shore dolphins like to swim with the boat – leading us on – but if we slide in the water with them, which we have done on occasion, they tend to keep their distance – eying us curiously but staying away.
Code of Conduct
Now, getting back to the original question… firstly, it’s important to be aware that we can only speak about the wild dolphins here in Bimini with whom we’ve had experience. We like to view them as non-human persons, or ‘people of the sea’, and our equals. Every interaction is unique and different and even after 20 years of swimming with wild dolphins we continue to feel blessed when they invite us into their home, the ocean, to be with them.
Over the years we’ve compiled, with other veteran swimmers, as well as Kelly Sweeting of the Dolphin Communication Project who lives on the island, a code of conduct for how to swim with wild dolphins around Bimini, with the long term well-being of the dolphins in mind.
Once we find the dolphins (oftentimes they find us!) we spend some time seeing what is happening and connecting with them from the boat. Are they socialising, resting, feeding…?? When the time feels right we slip in the water – if they want to come and connect they do. We of course never reach out to try and touch them. We swim with our arms by our side or behind our back (so we are more dolphin-like!).
As a result, we’ve always had extremely positive experiences with these dolphins, and always feel safe with them, building up levels of trust over the years and they do come extremely close to connect.
We’re aware that there are instances around the world of people getting in the ocean with dolphins with little or no experience of how to be with them, and often times being disrespectful, chasing them or trying to grab them, in which case the dolphin may very well (understandably!) get aggravated and show aggression to protect itself or its young. In that way, we presume dolphins are very much like us, that they want to be treated with respect.
The experience of a lifetime
If you’d love to experience swimming with wild dolphins, we highly recommend choosing a guide or organisation that has experience in this area and ideally a code of conduct for being in the water with the dolphins. Most importantly, we advise that you treat the dolphins with respect, just as you would with another human.
Remember this is a wild animal in their own natural habitat, and we are entering into their space. We always say that we are guests in their home and we need to act accordingly – as you would act as a guest in anyone’s home. Never try and reach out to touch a dolphin (you would not like it!) and don’t chase or swim directly at a dolphin or the pod. Always let them come to you. And you will experience something far more magical than you could ever imagine.
And of course, we’d love to welcome you here to Bimini, The Bahamas, to share this beautiful and life changing experience with you.