To celebrate my birthday this year, I asked a few friends to join me on a dolphin trip to the Little Bahama Bank aboard a 85′ converted shrimp boat named the Dolphin Dream. We spent a glorious week celebrating and frolicking with dolphins in calm seas under sunny skies. Bank aboard a 85′ converted shrimp boat named the Dolphin Dream. We spent a glorious week celebrating and frolicking with dolphins in calm seas under sunny skies.
The Grand Bahama Bank lies sixty miles east of Florida and is the second largest bank or underwater platform in the world. This massive, shallow plateau is comprised of a 14,000 ft thick bed of limestone, and is separated from Florida by the Gulf Stream.
The Little Bahama Bank is the northernmost portion of the Bank, and has an average depth of 20ft. The sun reflecting on the shallow, white, sandy bottom transforms the water into stunning shades of turquoise which contrast sharply with the dark blue water around the edges of the bank, as the depth plunges dramatically to meet the sea floor.
The Bahama Banks are populated by resident pods of Atlantic Spotted and Bottlenose Dolphins. The spotted dolphins have been interacting with humans for over 30 years through in-water snorkeling activities pioneered by Wayne ‘Scott’ Smith, the captain of our boat.
The week before our trip, Tropical Storm Debby marched her way across Florida, wreaking havoc on both land and sea. Jackie (who helped organize the trip), and I dedicated our yoga & meditation practices that week to envisioning calm seas and clear skies for our group… but mostly we were trying to calm ourselves!
Fortunately, the storm cleared in perfect timing for a spectacular week with the dolphins. Our crossing from West Palm Beach to the Bahamas was smooth and the sun was shining when we woke up to clear customs before heading out to the Little Bank.
We began the adventure with a scuba dive on the Sugar Wreck, which is the most photographed wreck in the Bahamas. This 4-masted steel sailing vessel went down during a hurricane in the late 19th century while carrying a cargo of molasses. She lies at an average depth of 18ft, and is home to schools of snappers, grunts, wrasses, and barracuda.
After that… and for the rest of the week, we laughed, sang, danced, celebrated, and enjoyed numerous encounters with spotted and bottlenose dolphins in warm, crystal clear water. We did one additional shallow dive with lemon sharks, but the trip was primarily dedicated to dolphins and the unlimited joy of free, fluid motion.
The highlights of the trip for me were the moonlit swims with dolphins while drifting in the deep water off of the edge of the Little Bank. Under the full moon and a canopy of stars, Captain Scotty motored us into deeper water, where he flipped the switch on 2 powerful underwater lights at the stern. The bright lights attracted plankton and other small marine creatures, which attracted flying fish… which happen to be a dolphin-delicacy.
We were able to swim with hunting dolphins on two memorable nights for the longest in-water encounters of the trip (2+ hours/pm). Dolphins would circle and mingle with the snorkelers, then dive deep into the inky depths after their prey. The water was so warm and the dolphins so engaging that the crew had to insist that we get out of the water well past midnight.
My favorite night-time dolphin-dreamtime experience was ‘baby-sitting’ two baby dolphins while their mommas hunted in the deep water. The moon was so bright that I could swim to the bow of our boat– out of range of the underwater lights, and was still able to see the dolphins under the water.
Another special moment on the trip was the private 4th of July fireworks show performed by the crew. We watched and cheered from the top deck of the Dolphin Dream as bursts of brilliant colors, sparkles, and shapes decorated the sky over the sea.
We had sunny skies and calm wind for most of the trip, however we were treated to two sudden and magnificent squalls which rapidly swept through to drench us with huge, warm and unrelenting rain-drops. The first storm was at night, and gave one of my friends the opportunity to do a video re-enactment of the Lieutenant Dan hurricane scene from Forrest Gump. The second storm occurred just after lunch one day. The sun was high in the sky, there were a few scattered clouds, and there was no wind. Within an hour the sea and sky turned to slate-grey as a sheet of liquid silver fell from the sky to splatter on the surface of the ocean. Ninety minutes later, the sun was shining again and the water was turquoise.
The grand finale of the trip will live in our memories forever. We had sparse sightings of dolphins all morning, with a lone bottlenose briefly riding the bow. Our captain motored to another part of the Bank to see if we’d have better luck, without success. The clock was winding down, and soon we would have to begin the crossing (of the Gulf Stream) home. Our group asked to go for one last swim… just to luxuriate in the bath-like water and express gratitude for a fantastic week.
As our group lounged, floated and played in the sea, we kept hearing distinctive clicking noises but there were no dolphins in sight to substantiate the sounds. Aurelie and I decided to play a little trick on our friend Sonya… and I dove down to the bottom to perform the surprise. Just as I got to the bottom I looked directly under the boat to see a ‘flight formation’ of nine bottlenose dolphins swimming directly at me. I erupted in a burst of laugh-bubbles and turned to join the pod as we swam up and under Sonya & the other snorkelers.
The bottlenose pod, and four dolphins in particular swam with us for about 45 minutes, saturating us with dolphin love and leaving us with an abundance of joy in our hearts. We concluded the swim with a floating-human-circle of gratitude, as two sea birds circled in the sky above our group. Captain Scotty graciously delayed our trip home (and diverted our customs stop) so that we could enjoy this last magical experience with the dolphins.
We cruised across the Gulf Stream overnight to arrive in Palm Beach the next morning. This was the most fun and joy-filled week of my life, and I’m grateful to my friends Aurelie, Angie, Dionna, Carolina, Sonya, and Jackie… and of course to Captain Scotty and his wonderful crew for making the trip so incredibly beautiful. I’m also blessed to have made new friends whom I’ll be seeing again on future dolphin and whale adventures.
For me the trip felt like a homecoming after a decade-long hiatus from visiting the Atlantic spotted dolphins, who are the most friendly and interactive species of wild dolphin. It was like seeing and reconnecting with loving family members.
The most notable difference I observed was in the behavior, friendliness, and familiarity of the bottlenose dolphins. When I first began frequenting the Bahamas Banks sixteen years ago, the bottlenose dolphins were extremely ‘stand-offish’ and would either ignore or swim away from free-divers. Now, like their Atlantic spotted cousins, they actually initiate contact. While they are still more reserved in their interactions with humans, they now seem to find us at least somewhat interesting!
I plan to make a yearly trek to visit the Bahamas to continue connecting with these beautiful members of my extended cetacean family.