Diving with dolphins will always have a special place in my heart and in my scuba logbook.
Many divers, especially locals who can be choosy about when they dive, avoid the ocean in the “winter” months of South Florida. It’s understandable on the one hand: we have 86 degree water in the summer (sometimes warmer), and, summer brings turtle nesting season, and sure, I have shivered on 50 degree mornings this winter, I get it. The winter months can bring rougher seas too, but, not every day—it was flat and calm today. The water today was 75 degrees. Divers can always wear a thicker wetsuit (we have 5mm and 7mm at our shop!) or add a hood, vest, gloves, etc. (also, all available at our shop). Colder water is doable!! Bring a boat coat for the surface interval, put a warm hat on, and you’re good to go! Here’s the point: you never know what you’re going to see when you go diving, and the more you’re out there, the higher chances you’ll have a wildlife encounter so magical that you just can’t go to sleep until you write a blog about it! (That’s clearly what happened to me today, if you didn’t pick up on that).
Today, I had two open water students with me, they were doing dives 3 and 4, the final two dives to get their certification cards. We had gone to the Blue Heron Bridge the day before for dives 1 and 2 (which they loved), and, today we were on Captain Walker’s boat The Wetter the Better. Their dad came along to watch the new scuba divers get certified. Everyone was excited for their boat dives!
The crew briefed us that our first dive site is called Ron’s Rock, they mentioned that we might see moray eels, hawksbill turtles, lemon sharks, massive schools of fish, etc. We gear up and, when Captain said, “dive, dive, dive,” we all shuffled down and stepped into the water. Upon descent, I thought to myself, well, it’s not the “greatest” visibility, it was about 50’, but, I was happy to be in the water. I hoped we might see something cool, but, I was just more focused on my students than the sights. After about 15 minutes, the dive guide in the water, Joanne, pointed out a massive green moray eel. It was a monster!! My students and I were all excited to see that, we high fived each other and then kept going. The current was very calm, and we were just drifting along when, all of the sudden, I see a large animal swim right by Joanne who was about 10-15 feet away from us. I thought it was a shark at first, and, I was happy because, it’s definitely a treat and not a given that you’ll be lucky enough to see a shark when diving! My students had mentioned that they thought it would be really cool to see a shark, so, I was thrilled. But, then, the creature came back, and, I saw it was not a shark, but, a bottle nose dolphin! And, then, the pod revealed itself—there were about 10 dolphins right there with us!! We were no more than 15 feet away, sometimes closer, while these dolphins were chasing fish, chasing each other, playing all around, swimming close enough that all of us felt like the dolphins looked us in the eye, kinda like they were saying hello while checking us out, wondering what kind of animals we were.
When all this was happening, I remember, I had my arms raised like I was cheering, but, I didn’t move for fear of scaring the dolphins away. I looked to each of my students and their dad to make sure they weren’t missing the show, then, I went back to completely freaking out inside while staying as still as possible as I watched a pod of dolphins swim around me right here in Palm Beach, Florida. It’s hard to put into words the joy I was feeling, and the joy that I still feel while sharing with you, but, I’m trying—it was magical, it was special, it was rare, it was a delight, it was a gift, it was momentous, and really, I could just keep going on, and no matter how I end up describing it, I don’t think I could ever actually do the encounter justice with words. I have seen dolphins swimming next to the boats a handful of times, and, to me that’s a rare treat. I had seen a couple dolphins swim by one other time, but, they were so far away, I really barely saw them before they were gone, but, even then I was totally wowed by that encounter. I had always wanted to scuba dive with dolphins. I had always wanted what happened today to happen for me. I’ve been diving for more than 10 years, I’ve been diving here in Palm Beach County for 3 years now, and, this was my first and my most remarkable wildlife encounter with dolphins. That pod of dolphins was right there with us! For several minutes! They were above us, they were below us, they were all around us!
As soon as they swam away, we all looked at each other, stunned, and then we all started cheering and high fiving. It was all we could talk about on the boat. Diving together is a great bonding experience, especially when you get to witness rare wild life encounters together. These are moments that you’ll all reminisce on forever. This is what it’s all about.
You never know what Mother Nature and Poseidon might send your way, it’s best to keep an open mind and just get out there and enjoy your dives. Once in a while, you WILL have a dive for the history books (or at least for your logbooks). Bundle up, the Florida “winter” dives are worth it. You don’t have to travel far and wide to see the ocean’s most exciting and fun creatures, they are right here! We have lemon shark aggregation going on right now, we have goliath groupers in the fall, we have turtles in the summer, and on occasion, we have bottle nose dolphins!!