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Dolphin Encounter

Tori from Wild Side Speciality Tours describes an encounter with Hawaiian spinner dolphins on a filming trip for the Discovery Channel
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For further details of private sailing, kayak, and whalewatch charters in Hawaii visit the Wild Side Speciality Tours web site.

Calm, serene, gliding through the water. In a semi-resting state, the dolphins drift lazily to either side of the sailboat crossing the front of the bow. Len is lying across the front of the boat, Janice laying over his legs, as he leans precariously over the side supporting an amphibian camera inches away from the water line. The dolphins seem to know that they are the stars of this show and have cooperated wonderfully.

The boat was boarded shortly after dawn to have the best chance of sighting the Hawaiian spinner dolphins as they returned from foraging in the open ocean. Armin and Tori, crew and owners of 30 ft. sailboat "Kaija," had briefed the Canadian cast and film crew on the behaviors and biology of the dolphins to assure the well-being of these intelligent marine mammals. The fact that we were entering their critical habitat and essentially the dolphins "bedroom" was one that insisted on the utmost respect. It was agreed that the dolphins were welcome to approach the vessel, and that we would not pursue them.

Shortly after leaving the harbor, a lone dolphin leaps from the water in a signature spin. Armin, piloting the boat, triggers the film crew into action with the words, "Dolphin! Off the bow!" It is noticed that there is actually a small pod of four or five dolphins, as they approach the bow of the boat for a free ride. Sevren Cullis Suzuki, star of "Suzuki's Nature Quest" is up on the bow, looking down in delight at the dolphins antics, before Wes can even get a mike on her. She exclaims "Holy Cow!" mixed in with other cries of wonder repeatedly. Sevren's enthusiasm is shared, and deters for a small time from getting some filming done. Luckily, the pod stays with the boat for almost an hour and a half, belly flashing, spinning, and porposing, before losing interest.

The dolphins have led us close to Kahe Point, an area well known for its phenomenal coral growth and abundant reef fish. Wendy, mom to Wes and Janice, and producer of children's and nature documentaries, decides that this is an opportunity to get some underwater footage. As Sevren and Len gear up, green sea turtles, usually aloof, pop their heads out of the water for sideways glances at the boat and its unusual occupants. Once in the water, we see three of the turtles resting on the sandy bottom. They take periodic turns rising to the top and back again in liquid motion.

After savoring this experience, we progress on to the reef and again are not disappointed. We pass through a vertical curtain of schooling tropical fish to view outcroppings of brain, finger, and rice corals. Butterfly fish are busily defending their territories while, christmas wrasses, parrot fish, moorish idols, yellow tangs, and a host of others bring a brilliance of color into this aquamarine world. Tori swims off to a large sandy area nearby to look for manta rays. Later, we all return to the boat, shower off and reapply sunscreen. It is later in the afternoon by now and our chances of seeing more dolphins are slim, so we head back into the harbor.

The next morning we head directly to a bay that Armin has told us the dolphins frequent. It has a sandy bottom, conducive to the dolphins being able to spot approachingsharks, their predators, . The wind is strengthening and gusting as the sail progresses, we are thankful not only for the advanced skills of the captain and his crew, but also for the strength and stability of Kaija, their 1964 ketch. Wendy, a world traveler and the daughter of a sailor, comments it's the nicest boat she's been on, an aesthetic blend of beauty, grace, and power.

Unfortunately, the bay is too blown out to spot the dolphins, although we do talk to some kayakers also seeking a dolphin encounter. We head south. Outside of Makaha, Tori spots a spinning dolphin within another small pod. We progress parallel to them, but they seem uninterested, so we leave them to their private activities. Sevren and Janice get just as excited when a school of flying fish launch unexpectedly from the water on a 50 foot flight.

Near Pokai Bay, another group is spotted. "Holy Cow!" from Sevren, "there must be a hundred of them!" "Awesome!" We have found an active group. There must be at least 30 dolphins on top of the water at any given time. We know that this is about one third of the total pod, so Sevren's guess is pretty accurate. The dolphins have split into subgroups, some approaching us and some finding other interests. In one of the groups cavorting by our boat, we spot a baby with its mother. The baby mimics its mothers actions, leaping out of the water and darting about. Another dolphin seems to do a water head stand as it slaps it's tail over and over in a dolphin percussion. Perhaps he is signaling his subgroup to reform. On the boat, confusion is imminent, with so much action surrounding us. "Look over there!" "Here comes the baby again!" "Port side, head slapping!" "Formation swimming, starboard side!" "Porposing aft!" "Len, did you get that on film?" "Wes, did you get that audio?"

It almost seemed the dolphins, and other marine life we encountered, wanted to capture this chance to raise peoples awareness of them. The filming was for a soon to be released episode of "Suzuki's Nature Quest," a 13 episode series about nature's interconnections to be shown on the Discovery Channel, and Canada's "Y" channel.The stars of the series are ecologist Dr. David Suzuki, his daughter Sevren, and nature's treasures.

Kaija was chartered through Wild Side Specialty Tours in Hawaii.

For further details of private sailing, kayak, and whalewatch charters in Hawaii visit the Wild Side Speciality Tours web site.

Contact Wild Side Specialty Tours:
PO Box 2220
Makaha, HI 96792
TEL (808) 255-5812
FAX (808) 696-0103
email: WildSide@SailHawaii.com

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