On a frequent basis the dolphin have been a part of my charter days in the backcountry. I would say "I am a wilderness guide" when asked what kind of charter I was. I have retained that descriptor as in later years, "eco-tour guide" has become used by so many and so loosely. I think of the wildlife refuges as the tropical wilderness which are the islands you can't drive a car to. I also think the dolphin have gifted me our close relationship because I am not taking folks to be just with them at their playgrounds. I honor all of the wilderness out there and I think they like that and have given their seal of approval.
I had started chartering March 17th, Saint Patrick's Day, in 1976 so this was only 2 years later that they swam with me. It had been my intention right from the beginning to specialize in children and families who wanted their children to learn marine science while on vacation. I was born in Key West and was privileged to have my childhood years here as well and have been home since 1973 when I bought my big sister's old boat right away. Being out in the back country on the islands exploring and being with the bird life while I was getting my marine science degree was routine. The dolphin were in their feeding grounds, which I now call their "food court", and here I would come again and again. No one else was around except the spongers poling their boats or flats guides poling theirs, it was very quiet back then.
When one of the female dolphin had a new baby, she would bring the little one to be introduced to me. I remember one chilly day in February that was not my idea of fun to be going in the cold (by Key West standards) water, but she was rather insistent. I stood on the dive platform and said "no I am not coming in the water you will have to do it from here". As she chattered at me, I relented and went down the ladder to my waist. She chattered louder and the baby was right beside her and the nannies or aunties were close by too. This was in the 80's and I had 2 ladies on the charter encouraging me down the ladder to put my heart in so the dolphin could sonar it. I went down the ladder to my shoulders and then capitulated and said, "okay, I am all yours", and dove to the bottom rolled over and laid there. The dolphin mom brought her baby right over my head and did her buzzing sound that is the best way I can describe it. "ZZRRRR ZZRRR", she said as her head was going up and down my body. I went back into to total recall of the first time this happened. I was showing deep trust and vulnerability by exposing my belly and laying as still as I could with small movements, called sculling in water ballet, to keep from rising. The baby now knew that I was to be trusted, which was what I got out of it.
Climbing out of the water I said to the ladies "I should be shivering and I am feeling a glowing warmth coming from my belly, this is crazy". The dolphin didn't leave and I just stood there not even reaching for a towel. My heart was radiating love for them, it was a repeat of what I felt on the bottom on that fateful day so long ago. No words were needed just the eye contact and astonishing feeling of love. I was so happy that I trusted my intuition and didn't wait for stuff like a mask, fins, weights or even a wet suit. I just got in and swam and danced with the dolphin with sheer abandon! When opportunity knocks, or ZZRRRRs, in life you just have to dive on in!