The Day Of The Dolphin

Those of you with a penchant for obscure films from the 70’s – I hesitate to call it sic-fi – might remember the above title. Basically, it was about an experiment to train a dolphin to communicate with human beings, using speech. Of course, the experiment became perverted by the Military for Its Own Ends and the dolphin had to be set free into the wild. The final sequence featured this rather creepy bit (I think it was meant to be moving but I found it just creepy), where the animal says ‘goodbye’ or something like that (at least it wasn’t ‘So long and thanks for all the fish’) to its human trainers before leaping to freedom. It was a weird effort – not quite futuristic sci fi and bordering on the slightly horrible, certainly so if you had read H.P. Lovecraft’s story ‘The Deep Ones’ beforehand, with its tale of sinister ulterior motivations and human-dolphin err….relationships. Shuddersome stuff in the best weird traditions.

Anyway, this was all rattling around in my head as we went off to Discovery Cove and our one-on-one dolphin interactions. Discovery Cove is a sort of sister park to Busch Gardens and Sea World, and as such takes its conservation role very seriously. Basically, all three are zoos (in, I think, the best possible sense of the term) which then mutated into theme parks. Discovery Cove is the most artificial of the three, in a very literal sense. It is an entirely man-made series of sandy beaches, lagoons, reefs and rivers, alongside habitats for monkeys, otters, birds and all sorts of other flora and fauna. Entry is carefully controlled so it is never too crowded. And basically, you get to do all sorts of things, like snorkelling over the reef and sharing your swim space with rays, fish and other sea dwellers; getting very close and personal with a bunch of sharks (thick glass intervening); watching otters and other wildlife; swimming and just lazing around on the sandy beaches…..and swimming with dolphins. The last is an optional extra, which we had paid for some months ago. Some members of the party had declined the option – my wife on the grounds that the dolphins were almost certainly sedated, which I think is an overly cynical and inaccurate view – which left 4 of us traipsing down in wetsuits to the edge of the dolphin lagoon alongside the trainer and another family, strangely also from Bristol England.

I won’t go into exhaustive detail. The whole interaction took around 30-45 minutes and was pretty amazing. I have nothing to show in terms of images – the whole experience was filmed and photographed and we bought the lot, but I won’t have chance to download any of it till we get home. All I can say was that it was a wonderful experience, and one which we all enjoyed massively. We got a very generous allocation of time with two dolphins – Thelma and Rascal – and got lots of chances to touch and interact with both animals in a way which was neither demeaning nor, I believe, exploitative. Regular readers from this trip will have got fed up with me banging on about conservation messages. After all,  although I work for the Environment Agency I am here first as a tourist and a consumer and secondly (very much so) as a concerned individual. But all through the dolphin interaction, as elsewhere in the park, the concern was to make us understand and empathise with and appreciate the wonder of this natural phenomenon. Yes –  the dolphins do tricks. Yes –  they are providing an entertainment for which we had all paid a fair bit of dosh. But no – at no stage did I feel that this was an exploitative thing, nor that they were being mistreated in any way. All of the trainers and workers obviously feel very strongly about the value of the natural world and that their work does contribute towards its protection. And once again, I cannot see how anyone can go away from this experience without feeling a little bit more interested in and protective towards, the natural environment and species within it. Which can only be a good thing, however much it is wrapped up as a holiday experience.

By the way, this was also the first time I had done any snorkelling, particularly in the presence of a large number of rays, albeit in an artificial environment. I would very much recommend it as one of the funnest things I have yet done – unsettling and quite scary, despite the fact that all the rays are harmless and very much used to people. And a wetsuit makes all the difference, although for anyone with more than 1% body fat, not quite the most flattering look.

We are now within one day of the end of the holiday. Today, Liz and I went off on our own to look at Epcot, the least glamorous (in terms of rides) of the parks. Nonetheless we had a nice day, although the experience of eating ‘Fish n’Chips’ from the Yorkshire County Fish n’Chip shop in a sort of conglomerate version of England which mixed the architecture of The Queen Vic with Hampton Court, was a mite surreal. Quiet fun and I wish in some ways we had done more of this.

Tomorrow we go back to Disney Hollywood Studios for last hurrahs on Aerosmith and Tower of Terror as well as anything else we can find. It’s unlikely I will be able to post anything more from here unless there is wi fi at the airport – we’ll probably go out tomorrow night for a last meal. But I will wrap up this blog sometime over the weekend when we are back in Clevedon and reality. Not something I’m looking forward to at the moment, but there we are. It’s been different again, and very much fun but now it’s time to go home.



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