Dolphin Swim-Main

Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2007 issue.

Symbols of freedom, grace and serenity, dolphins have a universal appeal. Admired for centuries, these sea mammals were once seen as saviors of the seas, reputed to rescue drowning sailors. Today we celebrate their intelligence and extraordinary qualities, and those fortunate enough to swim or play with these intriguing creatures find it a fascinating experience. Vallarta offers visitors the opportunity to have an exhilarating encounter with bottlenose dolphins in two different settings: swim with free dolphins in the bay and watch them gambol in their natural home or enjoy a one-on-one hands-on dip in a special dolphin pool. Either way, it’s a marvelous event. Better yet, try both!

Dolphins in the Bay

The Wildlife Connection team is on a first-name basis with many of the more than 300 bottlenose dolphins living in Bahía de Banderas. And you can meet these charming creatures eye to eye in their natural environment – even take part in a research project that helps understand dolphins in Vallarta – if you take the Dolphin Tour with this group.

The day starts at 8:45 am, when participants enjoy coffee and pastries while viewing videos of dolphins frolicking in the open sea. A biologist then leads an interactive discussion of the evolution and habits of these fascinating mammals and gives the audience a chance to ask questions.

Everyone climbs aboard a comfortable panga, where lifejackets are distributed and safety regulations explained. Wildlife Connection makes it clear that the dolphins are, after all, wild animals and there is no guarantee they can be found or that conditions will be amenable to swimming with them. But gliding in the morning light through the marina, past enormous cruise ships and luxury hotels into the bay, is a treat in itself. Under the direction of the experienced leader, the boat heads unerringly to one of three dolphin playgrounds that have been identified by these scientists. Suddenly everyone is shouting, “Over there!” and “Look, over here!” and “There’s a baby!”

Wildlife photographer Eduardo Lugo, featured in National Geographic Magazine and Animal Planet, grabs his digital camera with its impressive telephoto lens that the Mexican government has provided to help with dolphin study. By the way, Lugo is happy to provide tips for photographing the dolphins, which, naturally, tend not to stand still and pose. Eduardo explains that part of the research project focuses on the indispensable individual identification of the dolphins by taking photos of dorsal fins, which can be used as an individual animal’s fingerprint due to their shape and unique marks. Indeed, the crew has named many of the dolphins, and Eduardo points them out and talks about their characters and family relationships. Meanwhile, an onboard biologist is logging information onto charts, which she will happily explain.

Next, the crew begins making whistling and clicking sounds, calling the dolphins. Investigators believe that dolphins name themselves using distinctive whistles. Then, there is the signal to don the snorkels and fins to join the dolphins. Soon the air is filled with whistles, splashes and laughter – both human and dolphin. Swimmers clamber back aboard, surprised that the air is colder than the water, and enjoy juice, soft drinks and granola bars before heading back across the bay.

On the return trip Eduardo points out that, in addition to their educational purpose, these tours represent a source of funds for research and conservation programs. Wildlife Connection believes that, although much of the information gathered studying dolphins in captivity is invaluable, there are many aspects of dolphin life, such as the effect on the animals of development around the bay, which can be studied only by observing animals in their natural habitat. Wildlife Connection hopes visitors to Vallarta will join them in their quest to help the dolphins and enjoy a great day!

Dolphins in the Park

Get up close and personal with the dolphins at Dolphin Adventure. At its complex of pools in Nuevo Vallarta you have the chance to swim and play with Pacific bottlenose dolphins under the watchful and protective eyes of caring trainers.

The 90-minute experience, which is presented several times each day, begins with an educational audio presentation that provides fascinating information on dolphin history, physiology, environment and communication techniques. Then it’s into a shower, on with life jackets, and into the very deep saltwater dolphin pool.

Small groups work with individual animals and an experienced trainer, so you’ll have the chance to pet, hug, stroke, feed and swim with your dolphins. There’s even a good chance of getting kissed by these lovable creatures. Near the end of the program, dolphins show off their speed and agility in a swimming and twirling display that makes you cheer and clap your hands. The whole encounter is an emotional adventure, and many people establish a unique link of friendship and confidence with these awesome animals through this experience.

After drying off and downing some cool water, there’s an opportunity to watch mothers and baby dolphins in a special tank, or wander off to view the sea lions, or buy a snack and re-live the adventure by watching yourself on a video that’s available for purchase along with beautiful photos.

Dolphin Adventure works to educate participants about marine animals and their intricate underwater world. It reminds visitors that its programs are about education and interaction, not entertainment and amusement, although the experience is certainly a lot of fun! To help accomplish this goal, it has established several programs in addition to swimming with dolphins. It’s possible to introduce children as young as four to dolphins through the “Dolphin Kids” program, which features baby dolphins and their mothers interacting with children, while “Trainer for a Day” is a special seven-hour program of working with experienced trainers and the dolphins. Another course, designed for people of all ages who prefer not to be in the deep pool, allows interaction with the dolphins while standing on submerged platforms. And special dolphin-assisted therapy programs offer people with special needs an opportunity to interact with dolphins in a relaxed and beneficial manner. There’s even a limited program where pregnant women can go through labor while in water with dolphins.

Dolphin Adventure is especially proud of the care it provides for its animals: dolphins are examined and tested daily for any illnesses in an onsite laboratory, and a highly successful breeding program has been developed. The medical data collected from these tests help with various research projects. Indeed, research is very important at Dolphin Adventure, and projects have included working with the United States Navy to test dolphins’ hearing capabilities. Trainers are thrilled to talk about the different research and educational ventures being developed, such as the open release program, which trains inexperienced dolphins to swim in the open sea.

If you’ve ever dreamed about swimming with dolphins, Dolphin Adventure may be the place to enter the wonderful world of dolphins.