One of the greatest life lessons I have learned from wildlife is to be ready for anything that comes along. Wild creatures have their agendas, and you have to be alert and available to witness their splendor. This is why we had an incredible dance with wild dolphins.
Honaunau Bay, Big Island of Hawaii
On the Kona Coast of Hawaii is Honaunau Bay, or The Place of Refuge. We like to snorkel here because it is peaceful and magnificent. We’ve been to this site many times in the past two decades, a favorite vacation spot. It’s called “Two Step” because there are only two steps where you can safely enter the water; and it’s not so much steps as it is a rock shelf. Waves surge up against the rocks and can knock you around if you’re not fast enough.
It’s definitely different. There isn’t a beach here, it’s hard-as-rock black lava. It isn’t smooth or cool to the bare feet, it’s searing hot and dangerously uneven. A mile away across from the “beach” is a sacred park, a National Historical Site that once brought peace to troubled criminals. The sacredness and peace still exist.
Colorful coral reef hugs the coastline, and in the center of the Bay is deeper water, 50 or so feet deep. There in the deep section are few people, no coral reef or fish, and only sand at the sea bottom. One day while swimming through the deep part, I heard something underwater. It was squeaking. “Eeee, Eeee” in piercingly high shrieks. I am aware that I hear differently than many other adults. I wish I could say I’m a superhero, but apparently I just have very narrow ear canals that tune me in to high-pitched sounds.
Underwater with snorkel mask, I looked around, trying to find the source, but all I saw was cloudy water. I was certain it was a mammal (and not a human) as I’ve heard whales underwater before. I swam to my partner and said there were mammals somewhere nearby, and they were getting closer. “Let’s wait, they’ll be here soon.” While we tread water, I frequently dipped under, listening. Then it happened.
A pod of dolphins came blasting through, blew around us as if we were little specks of seaweed. We submerged and saw there were 15 or 20 of them. They were coming up from the depths. A few of them shot out of the water and spun high into the air, then slapped back down again. They continued swimming on their path, then they were gone.
We popped up, exhilarated with our sighting, sputtering and laughing, giving each other high-fives. There were no humans near us; and looking around, we could tell no one else had seen a thing.
We are wildlife lovers, and know only too well how delicate creatures can be, and we knew to keep a safe distance and be respectful. We swam in the direction they had sped off to and saw them two or three more times, each time as delightful as the next. They were so animated with acrobatics, noisy squeaking, clicking, and then slapping back into the water after twirling through the air.
We realized they were swimming along the sea floor in search of food. After a few minutes they would race to the surface to get air, to breathe. Both of us had our faces under the water, watching, when we saw the ultimate: two dolphins mating! The ol’ boink-boink as they swam right in front of us…and in front of their young ones too!
The next day we came back, but they never showed. This is how it is with wildlife. This is what I love. You are forced to embrace the moment, fully knowing that it may only last a few seconds and never happen again. That second day we had the pleasure of watching hundreds of brilliantly-colored fish instead: butterfly fish, tangs, and parrot fish feeding amidst the coral. We also snorkeled among several sea turtles.
The third day, our final on the island, we decided to go back to the Bay for one last try at the dolphins. There were plenty of other things we had originally planned to do, but nothing was more inviting or purely delightful as those energetic dolphins. While heading for the entry shelf this time we saw a sign that said spinner dolphins were sleeping in the area. “So that’s what they are” we murmured as we donned our snorkels, fins and masks.
These long-nosed dolphins inhabit tropical waters feeding on small fish and shrimp especially in coastal waters. Though we had never experienced them here before, in the past few years they have become more popular in this part of the Big Island where they forage at night and sleep during the day. They were definitely not sleeping when we saw them, but our exposure to them was less than a half hour.
As we snorkeled through these sparkling waters, I continuously kept a look-out for the spinners. We asked other snorkelers but no one had seen them. Soon enough I could hear them advancing. We returned to the deep part, positioned ourselves and waited. Then into our space they burst again: spinning, undulating, shooting through the water.
What a blast of refreshing energy flying by us, above and below the water, surrounding us. A flash and a splash and soon they were gone again. A nearby woman and her small son saw it too, and we four reveled in it after the dolphins had moved on. The utter joy of a dolphin party.