Tourists on a fishing charter had an experience of a lifetime this month when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by scores of wild dolphins off West Bay.
The moments when the boat cut through the waves with dolphins all around it were captured on video and have now been posted on YouTube.
Captain Jonathan Arch of Slackem Charters took the group fishing on Sunday, 19 August, and was about four and half miles off West Bay in Grand Cayman when the dolphins showed up.
“There were two pods, it looked like. We see dolphins occasionally, but usually just six or eight. These pods had over 100,” he said. “I counted 16 cows and their calves,” he said.
He said the majority of the dolphins appeared to be spinner dolphins, but there were also some large bottlenose dolphins among them.
“They stayed with the boat for 15 minutes or so. They actually turned around. The dolphins were headed east and we were going west and they turned around and charged us like Hell’s Angels, jumping towards the boat,” Mr. Arch said. “Once they got to the boat, they turned around and stayed with us for a mile or more and then they turned around and went back east.”
“It was pretty awesome. I never get sick of seeing them,” the boat captain added.
Professional photographer Carl Silverstein, who was aboard the charter with his wife and three children, captured the dolphins on video. That video shows dolphins slicing the water beneath and alongside the boat and jumping through the waves in the distance.
For Mr. Silverstein, from Pennsylvania, the timing could not have been better. He had became a certified diver on his last trip to the Cayman Islands in November and had invested in some new underwater photography equipment, which he had on board the fishing boat when the dolphins made their appearance.
“Once the dolphins showed up, they transported us to a magical place somewhere between Earth and heaven,” he said.
“They were everywhere. In one still shot alone, you can see at least 40 dolphins just in that one picture. They just wanted to play,” Mr. Silverstein said.
A seasoned traveller, Mr. Silverstein is no stranger to wonderful natural sights, like wild horses, jaguars and spider monkeys he’s encountered in Central America, but he admitted that those did not begin to compare to his dolphin encounter in Cayman.
Using a GoPro Hero 2 camera and a long monopod, the photographer leaned over the front of the boat to capture the footage. “With the monopod, I was hanging over the front of the boat. It was going quite fast. I’d just spent a couple of hundred dollars on a new pair of Maui Jim sunglasses – now some dolphin is wearing them,” he said.
Marine researcher Oliver Dubock with the Marine Conservation International, after viewing the video, said the animals appeared to be Pan-tropical Spotted dolphins, or Stenella attenuata, as they’re known by their Latin name.
“Most dolphin species look very similar. In this case, the discerning feature would be the white lips, which are common only with Pan-tropical and Atlantic spotted dolphins in this region,” said Mr. Dubock after viewing the video footage.
This species of dolphin was among six found during research for a study into dolphins, sharks and stingrays in local waters recently and is one of the most common species found in this part of the world. These dolphins are known to travel in mixed species groups, often with bottlenose, spinner, Atlantic spotted dolphins and False Killer whales.
“The surface behaviour of these species is similar to that of the bottlenose, spinner and Atlantic spotted dolphins, they are acrobatic and playful, often leaping out of the water in aerial displays,” Mr. Dubock said.
He acknowledged that the fishing boat charter customers and crew had experienced something special. “Cayman is little more than a crossing for most species of whale and dolphin, and although we have likely more than half a dozen species around us, encountering these animals is a rare privilege,” he said.
Another dolphin has been making waves in Cayman recently, spending a lot of time in the North Sound and visiting the Sandbar. The lone male dolphin has prompted the Cayman Islands Department of Environment and Marine Police to issue a warning to swimmers to keep their distance from the animal, which is acting unpredictably and sexually aggressive.
Mr. Dubock said boat users who encounter dolphins in the wild should also act responsibly, for their own and the animals’ safety.
“General international understanding amongst responsible whale watchers is that you do not seek to interact in a close proximity with these animals, particularly by driving vessels directly toward them. However, more often than not, these species will approach and play with boats, this interaction is quite natural and acceptable, although we would advise strongly against entering the water with them,” he said.
The Department of Environment encourages anyone who spots large animals in local waters to e-mail details to [email protected] or to log the information on the Sharks & Cetaceans: the Cayman Islands Facebook page.