Dolphins in Harderwijk Dolfinarium, Netherlands, which hosts Europe’s largest dolphin show. Dolphins appear to establish social bonds with each other and can recognize  a “friend” after periods of separation, with mother-calf bonds being particularly long-lasting.
Cuba – Been There

The animal kingdom at its most beautiful

Photo by Ton Koene

Cuba – Been There The animal kingdom at its most beautiful

I have little faith as we enter the water in an attempt to swim with dolphins, struggling against the high waves.

Daphne Huineman
Daphne Huineman Travel Writer

I’m at a dolphinarium in Cuba, where tourists are encouraged, for a fee, to interact with the playful creatures. The bay is enormous; the water ice-cold, deep and dark. Why would Flipper and friends want to swim in this exact spot?

I dive like an inelegant mermaid to the bottom, pirouetting beneath the waves and end up swigging a liter of water through my snorkel. I keep my head underwater and give out high-pitched dolphin squeals; liter number two gurgles down my nose and throat. Nothing.The captain is probably on deck laughing to himself about how these silly tourists always fall for his joke.

Long, glacial minutes and still nothing. “Who wants to play with us?” I wonder. They have better things to do. It is summer, so the females need to eat extra fish to make enough milk for their young. And since their babies will eventually be raised by a foster mum, the mothers will have time after the hunt for their favorite pastime: sex. Just like people, dolphins have sex outside the mating season, an unusual habit in the animal world. And dolphin females never have a headache and never bother with foreplay. Done and dusted within a few seconds, they often go for a second round with the nearest neighbor.

I attempt another dive. It is very quiet. Then, suddenly, two white things flash by. Did I imagine it? No – there it is again! Then I see a sardonic smile. Catch me if you can! I try, but they are already out of sight. Then dozens of dolphins shoot from all sides, mostly beneath me. I remember the instructions and tumble, dive and try to catch their attention. One dolphin takes a chance, and we play together for a few minutes. Doing my best, I take a deep breath as he dives deeper and deeper.

Eventually I have to let him go and swim to the surface, gasping for air. Then he is back, smart enough to understand that he must be careful with this strange figure. He also knows he is the boss here and turns provocatively in a slow circle around but then speeds off, spinning like a windmill and laughing as I awkwardly dive after him. He comes back and we play together again.

We swim to the top to get some air and for a second my new friend stops to look at me. Then it is over and he dashes off on dolphin business. My love has abandoned me. I am exhausted but euphoric. You can’t get much wilder than this. It is the animal kingdom at its most beautiful. Back on the boat, I feel low and forlorn after my first intense high. It was all over too quickly – I want more!

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