Our Blue Planet

This is what it feels like to be a dolphin

Diving, jumping, letting off a deafening amount of clicks and sounds, it seemed as though if you were able to keep up with them, they would let you into their family.

One hundred nautical miles off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, rolling and pitching in the long open ocean swell, we had arrived.

As kids, we all fantasised about becoming our favourite animal. For many, the dolphin was our first choice. A whimsical dream back then of course. However, with today’s available technologies, we are now almost able to replicate the radical and playful behaviours that they display in the wild. Having recently had the chance to film a dolphin super pod off the coast of Costa Rica, and experience what I can only explain as the single greatest wildlife encounter of my life, it got me thinking about how important these interactions are with our smiling aquatic friends.

The week leading up to this day, I had been hired and brought onboard a 55m luxury motor yacht to film their cruising and SCUBA diving around the uninhabited Cocos Island. On route back to the mainland, we stopped to locate the dolphin superpod.

As with all wildlife encounters, sightings are very unpredictable. It felt like Christmas when I woke up, I had hopes, but really no idea what I was about to receive. I burst onto deck, the warm sun shining on the day, not a breath of wind, and water so crystal clear that if you looked down for too long you felt as though you could fall straight through it into the deep blue. We had arranged a local guide to find the dolphin super pod ahead of time. Amazingly, even with dolphins pod numbers pushing thousands strong, in the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean, it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Swimming gear on and camera gear loaded, we set off in the dingy to locate the pod.

With no land in sight, surround by a few thousand wild dolphins, in water depths exceeding 2000m, we were beyond excited… and a little nervous.

There are basically three ways to experience the dolphin superpod: The first, by simply driving the dingy ahead and jumping in to try and catch a glimpse, before they bullet past you. Fun but not very effective. The second, where you hold onto a line tied from the front of the dingy along the side of the boat and drive through the pod. Much better, but not quite right. And the third and ultimate means, using a submersible, battery powered piece of equipment called a Seabob. For those of you who are unfamiliar, imagine a small underwater hand held scooter out of a James Bond movie.

This is it. This is what it feels like to be a dolphin.

The moment you hold down the throttle, dolphins rush past you from every direction, almost pushing each other to get as close to you as possible. Curious is an understatement. Diving, jumping, letting off a deafening amount of clicks and sounds, it seemed as though if you were able to keep up with them, they would let you into their family.  I am convinced there was a moment where they actually started smiling.

This goes on for hours. They never get tired or bored, constantly surrounding you, swimming within inches of your arms, legs, and back. When you dive, they dive. When you break the surface, they break the surface.

As we watched the sun set over the vast Pacific Ocean, we silently said good-bye to our new friends and began to think.

These kinds of positive encounters are important for the oceans. They are a happy reminder of what so many scientists, organizations and volunteers around the world are trying to protect.

I hope to use film and photography to continue to portray this beauty, and inspire others to do the same, so that one day, my great-grandchildren, can still say “I want to be a dolphin”.

Shelton Du Preez is the founder of a unique company called Luxury Yacht Films that specialises in filmmaking and photography for the private yachting industry. He is also extremely passionate about wildlife and nature documentary style filming and hopes to pursue a career along those lines. Some of his work in the arctic archipelago of Svalbard “The Highest Latitude” won Best Amateur Film at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, Oct 2017 in New York City. Complementary to his ambitions in film and photography, Shelton has worked on luxury motor yachts for over 10 years, earning his superyacht captains license - MCA Masters 3000 GT.

By Shelton Du Preez