As a child, my father took my siblings and me to Dolphin Bay in Atlantis to swim with the dolphins. The bay was designed like a fake beach. It gradually faded from sand color to a deeper blue, where the dolphin would be brought out. Each of us would take turns touching the dolphin, and for a little extra money, even get a kiss on the cheek. When it became my turn, I approached cautiously. The trainer held the animal at bay as I slowly reached out my hand. As soon as I made contact I drew my hand back quickly and started to giggle. In that moment I genuinely felt that I had experienced true adventure.
Over time, however, I became disillusioned. I came to realize that the dolphin represented not the wildness and escapade I thought it did. It had been tamed and programmed and was, in fact, the epitome of captivity. Ultimately, the very idea of a dolphin in my mind became a trite cliché. I thought of them as something seen in Hollywood movies and fake vacation pictures, not truly wild experiences. It was not the embodiment of a free spirit, but merely the product of human confinement. My perception of these animals would not come to change for many years.
I did not again see a dolphin for quite a while – a year ago to be exact. I was on a boat with my family getting ready to snorkel at Buck Island, a small and uninhabited place just of the coast of St. Croix. I was casually gazing into the distance when suddenly a fin sliced through the water and quickly disappeared below the surface. I jolted up in my seat.
“…A dolphin” I gasped.
“What? A dolphin?!” My father exclaimed.
All of a sudden the entire boat erupted.
“Dolphin! Dolphin!” Everyone screamed as they aimlessly pointed at the water.
While everyone seemed to be engaged in this chaos, I remained stunned, still staring into the ocean. Suddenly, without thinking, I got up and jumped off the side of the boat. As I plunged into the water, everyone’s screams from above became mute. I was in complete stillness. I silently drifted with the current, seeing nothing but the calm ocean floor. Running out of breath, I almost decided to return to the surface when suddenly from behind me I heard a faint click. I turned around and out of the blurry distance an entire school of dolphins came rushing towards me. Frozen, I stared in awe at their bodies effortlessly gliding through the water. Before I could react they circled around me, grazing my limbs. Then as if they were never there at all, they vanished into the distance.
When I surfaced, completely drained of breath, a wild grin came across my face. In that brief moment with the dolphins, that same feeling of pure adventure I had felt as a child returned. However, this time, I knew it was real. As badly as I wanted to stay with the dolphins, when they disappeared into the vastness of the ocean, I knew that was where they were meant to be. I realized that a dolphin, at heart, was truly the free spirit I once thought it was.
Today, I will return to St Croix, and I hope to again swim with the dolphins.