Dolphins jumping around

Most of you  visited at least once an Aquarium or an Oceanographic Museum and watched a dolphin show. I am sure you enjoyed it. For me, knowing that all those animals are kept captive inside a small basin and forced to jump and play in front of an audience is not something I am keen on seeing.

In the wild, things are completely different. Watching the dolphins coming – by their choice – in front of the vessel and playing with the bulb is one of the greatest pleasures of my life and I will never get bored of this show no matter how often I watch it. I have seen dolphins many times – in all three Oceans I crossed and in some of the smaller seas. During a four month voyage I may see thousands of them at a certain distance and few hundreds getting closer to the vessel. The most exciting moment by far is  when they choose our vessel as their playground and come from different directions to play with the huge steel giant.

At the beginning I thought that dolphins only play when the weather is nice and the water is very calm, but after a few years of watching and noticing, I came to realize that dolphins like to play no matter how the weather looks like and no matter how high the waves are. It is, for sure, a little more difficult for me to spot them on a wrinkled sea, but they will be there anyhow.

Regardless the weather, the most important element that can make this kind of show possible is the speed of the vessel. If the vessel is running faster than 16-17 knots it’s almost impossible for the dolphins to catch it and, if they are ‘in the neighborhood’ by any chance, they will try hard to keep up and have fun for a few seconds, but not more. The ideal speed is 14 and below. In this case, dolphins can spot the vessel even from a far distance and come forward from different directions. This thing can easily be noticed when the water is calm and you have a very good visibility over the vastness of the sea.



In South Atlantic Ocean (2)

In South Atlantic Ocean


I had the chance of witnessing dolphins playing in front of the vessel many times, but each time I experienced the same joy and excitement as if it were for the first time. The minute I notice them approaching from one side or the other, I start feeling a little agitated and over excited. I grab my camera, make the necessary settings, position myself in the best spot where I can have the best view and wait for the great encounter. I usually try to figure out which one of the dolphins is the real master of the school and I follow it approaching, doing its rituals of jumps and dives, surfing the waves until it reaches the vessel. The moment of great encounter usually takes me by surprise because most of the time the dolphin I consider to be the leader is somehow overtaken by another dolphin which pops out of the water and starts his part of the role a little earlier than the others.

Watching a group of dolphins doing their funny jumps in front of the bulb is always very interesting and excited, but I can not imagine how these intelligent creatures see the fun from their point of view. As I noticed (and also read about), dolphins find real pleasure in playing and what can be more fun than jumping in front of a vessel, riding the waves, swimming and diving?

Sometimes the school of dolphins playing with the vessel is made up of 2-3 individuals. In this case the whole show of jumps and dives is very clean and neat, each one taking its turn in the play, using the same amount of time for jumps and dives. They may jump out of the water together or separate, changing places, but always leave the playground together.


Atlantic Ocean





In some other cases, the scene can be too small to accommodate all the school of 35-40 dolphins and every one must do its role in a very organized manner, following some unknown tracks and schedules which allow them to play and have fun, but always be on the safe side. It is quite difficult for me to understand how they can manage to keep up with the show, jumping and diving, but always keeping a certain distance from one another and from the moving vessel. They take turns in jumping – single, in pair or in bigger groups – then swim through the water using the same speed, changing positions between them, coming on top of one another or just diving a little more and always coming on the surface to breath and jump at certain times. No matter how crowded the place can get, they never touch nor disturb one another as if they obey the unwritten rules of politeness. It is not a matter of politeness, but of safety and the results are always the same. Every time the show is perfectly mastered, the roles are impeccably played and the fun is always guaranteed.




The longest show I have ever witnessed lasted for more than 15 minutes and the shortest one only few seconds.

The most interesting shows I watched in the Atlantic Ocean when big schools of 40-50 dolphins were getting closer to our vessel, some of them being accompanied by small babies. It looked like the mothers were teaching their young ones the art of jumping in the bow of a moving ship and the youngsters were doing their part pretty well.

Dolphins approaching Miami (1)

Dolphins approaching Miami (2)

Dolphins featured image)




The best show is the one that includes no more than 10 dolphins because it offers you more time to study each individual and even to learn and anticipate every move. When the playground is big enough, the most adventurous and capable of them all will display even a wider range of jumps – higher, backwards, moving the tails in very funny ways – making you laugh out loud, cheer, shout and encourage them with applauses. I always like to make noise by shouting out loud because I know they can hear me and even enjoy the sound of human voice.


So, if you ever get the chance of spotting dolphins at a certain distance and the speed of your ship does not exceed 14 knots, prepare yourself to witness one of the most incredible moments of your voyage. Feel free to enjoy it – as much as the dolphins do – and always bring your camera along when walking on deck. You never know when the show begins and you’d rather be ready for it every hour of every day.



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