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My First Encounter

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Celine van Weelden, WCA Intern

24/09/2016: My First Encounter

 

My alarm went off at 5:00am, it was still partly dark outside and freezing cold. Wrapped tightly in a raincoat over multiple layers of swimwear, I trudged down the sand track to Angie’s house where everyone was busy preparing the boat. As it was my first launch I had to go to the office to get kitted out with flippers and a mask and listen to the twenty-minute briefing introducing the project and everything involved.

 

Dolphin Encountours Research Centre was founded by Angie Gullan following her first in water encounter with the dolphins of Ponta in 1994. years later, despite the terrible devastation of a fire which burned down all the original facilities, Angie is still here. Through the use of photo identification of the dolphins (their dorsal fins) and detailed recording of their behaviour she has now catalogued about 300 of the local individuals. Her invaluable research is funded by taking small groups of people out on the ocean to share this unique experience.

 

A short ride on the back of a bukkie, brought the group which consisted of a Dutch couple and six other south Africans, myself and the rest of the crew to the beach. The boat lay on its side in the sand and it took everyone’s combined effort, under the clear instructions of Mitch the skipper, to turn her around and push her out into the waves.

 

Once everyone was aboard and secure with lifejackets, Mitch floored the accelerator and we raced forward clearing the sandbank that protects the bay from the incoming surf.

 

It must have taken around half an hour of searching up and down the coast before a couple of bottlenose dolphins were spotted; surfing the waves close to the shore. Bottlenose dolphins are said to be the most intelligent of all the cetacean family and are one of the two species that it is legal to swim with in Mozambique due to their inquisitive and sociable nature.

 

Following the ‘go ahead’ from the skipper indicating that the dolphins were in the mood for us to join them, we donned our gear and slipped into the azure water. (‘Slipped’ being an ideal and somewhat ambitious description for such an action while encumbered by a mask and flippers!)

 

As I floated on the surface, it was shallow enough to see the white sand shifting across the sea bed below; in a small underwater sandstorm. Ahead of me I could make out the distinct silhouettes of two dolphins swimming in circles around Angie. The water resonated with a symphony of clicks and whistles as these creatures explored their newfound play mates using echolocation. Suddenly, three more glided just underneath me, their smooth grey skin almost brushing my hand. They are much larger close up compared to when you see them from a boat and I watched as their lithe bodies cut easily through the water to join their old friend Angie.

 

Then as quickly as it had begun, they slipped away, powerful tails and streams of bubbles fading into the blue.

 

As I pulled myself back onto the boat (which is no mean feat in open water!) I was overwhelmed by a feeling of utter calm. The whole journey back, despite the biting wind, all I could think about was this deep sense of peace that I had never encountered before and how content I was just existing in that moment.
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