is working on an eco-tour boat on the West side of Oahu, Hawaii.
Just kidding! It’s seriously the best job I’ve ever had. When I stated in my last post that I lead an extraordinary life, it wasn’t bragging. It was an acknowledgement to myself of the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the blessings that I have. This experience working on an eco-tour charter boat certainly been a contribution to this life that I love.
Being on a boat, basking in the sun, inhaling the salty ocean air, swimming with pods of wild spinner dolphins, and meeting people from all over the world sure was a welcome change compared to spring of last year when I was working in a windowless 200 square foot lab with 5 others, working 12 hour days testing water samples with the viability of sea urchins. Long days spent without seeing the sunlight, staring through a microscope counting fertilized sea urchin eggs by the thousands.
What I love most about the boats that I work on is the genuine love and respect for the ocean that all crew members and captains have. Owned by a marine biologist and the founder of The Wild Dolphin Foundation, the crew is a team of naturalists and conservationists. When we’re sailing up the gorgeous west side of Oahu with its sweeping view of valleys and mountains lining the coast, if we see debris in the water the captain slows for the crew member to reach out with a hook and grab it, or in some cases, jump in and fetch it. I can attest for the latter. I’ve done it! In 1,400 ft deep blue water, to haul aboard a baseball diamond.
Some tour boats carry 20-40 and even more on these tours along the west side of our island, but our boats carry 6-10. Having so few on board makes it an intimate experience for our guests and also less invasive for the marine life that we observe.
Key word: observe. As naturalists, we observe the marine life, and don’t interact with it. We don’t toss food into the water to cause a feeding frenzy of fish around our guests while they are in the water (as one boat does which will remain unnamed), we don’t dive down under the surface with the dolphins as some people do, usually those who hitch a ride with friends on private boats. Why is this important?
Regardless of the outfit you choose, most tours are in the morning, the best time to see the spinner dolphins. In the late afternoon and through the night, the dolphins head far offshore to a shelf that drops off several thousand feet. There they feed. Small pods coming together as larger pods, spinning bait balls for feeding. In the early morning they make their way back to the sandy bottoms closer to shore where they can go into a state of rest until it’s time to repeat the feeding process. When you dive down into a pod, you’re essentially jumping into the bed of someone who is sleeping. You wouldn’t like a stranger jumping into your bed, right? I’ve been in the water and watched as people dove down into the faces of incoming pods to get that “perfect photo” only to see the dolphins rapidly split around the person and dart off into the blue. Again, usually these are people who kick out from shore on boogie boards, or hitch rides with friends who have boats. Many people think of the ocean as their personal playground, setting the rules for themselves as though everything else in it is there for their amusement. We are guests of the ocean and all that call it home. It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves about swimming in it with wild animals, for the conservation of its inhabitants as well as for the safety of ourselves. There’s a much larger picture, than the one that many are literally dying (drownings, falls from hikes, being swept off the edge of lava shelves from rogue waves, etc) to get for their social media sites.
As naturalists we observe. We and our guests float on the surface and watch as the pods swim towards us and as they gently dive below us. No matter how close they get to us, we resist the temptation to reach out and touch them. For more information on spinner dolphins of Hawaii, give this page a read wilddolphin.org. It’s a great read with a wealth of information!
After doing a few drops with the dolphins, watching them ride our bow, and the babies putting on a spectacular show with jumping high out of the water and spinning in the air (hence the name Spinner dolphins), we head over to the turtle cleaning station at Makaha. Here, at about 20-25 foot depth, the Hawaiian green sea turtles, come to a head of large coral to get their shells cleaned by awaiting fish. It’s literally like a spa day for them. They come and wait in order for their turn. The fish nibble at their shells and their bodies, removing algae from the turtle. Sometimes the turtles go limp, their heads up, eyes closed, flippers relaxed… if they could speak, you’d hear sighs of “ahhhhhh”.
We never know what we’ll see aside from the turtles. Sometimes we get to watch graceful spotted eagle rays glide across the ocean floor.
Other times we see large moray eels shooting from one hole into another. And the fish…oh the fish. Milletseed butterfly fish, Moorish idols, yellow tangs, wrasses of wide variety, trigger fish, Hawaiian sergeants, and more.
During the winter months, we have our special visitors…the Humpback whales. They are here from October to May each year. What special memories I’ll have of being on the deck of our catamaran and being startled by a loud “poooooooooof” only to turn around and see the flume of mist shoot 20 feet or higher in the air from a whale’s blowhole. I’ll do more on whales in a future post as that is a fun topic in itself!
It’s always a great day at the end of a tour. My skin looks coated in diamond dust, when it’s dried salt from air-drying after being in the ocean. My hair is a wild mane of beach curls and waves. As we head back to dock after 4 hours, I replay the sound of the dolphins singing as they blessed us with their presence that morning. I have a smile that stays imprinted upon my face until well after I close my eyes that night. It’s a rewarding job: sharing the knowledge of our ocean life, educating people about ocean conservation, being a part of many people’s “once in a lifetime” experience while on vacation. Every time I get into the open ocean with our marine life I’m amazed at how complex and vast the world beneath the surface of the waves is.
Sometimes I see the unexpected on land once we return to dock. On this particular day, world renown surfer, Jamie O’Brien and his squad were gearing up to head to Makaha for some winter wave action as we were coming back into our slip. There were at least 4 jet skis put in, as Jamie and crew loaded all the boards, supsquatch, and more onto them as they headed out. Boys and their toys! Hahaha !
And then there are other surprises that can await for you back at the pier… like this particular day when just after our guests had safely made it back across, the state-owned pier just collapsed into the water. It led for interesting attempts for us to leave the boat in our slip to get ourselves back to the parking lot!
I hope where ever you are that this post has added a little magic to your day, provided inspiration for your bucket list, or maybe brought back fond memories of your own experience sharing the ocean with wild spinner dolphins.
Have you ever been on an eco-tour on the water and in the water with marine life? Sharks, dolphins, turtles, dives, snorkeling? I’d love to hear about your adventures! Comment and share! Or if you have any questions and are planning a trip to do so, I’d be more than happy to answer them. Once again, thank you sooo much for stopping in to my little blog. I couldn’t do it without you!
With Aloha and Mahalo Nui!