2000-08 See Spot Swim (Cayman Islands)
On our first afternoon dive, Spot was there to greet us. We entered the water and Spot approached Jason, our divemaster, like a long-lost friend. Spot then went from person to person, gently brushing our sides. He waited to be caressed and rubbed by everyone. After visiting with each person, Spot returned to Jason’s side for a game of freediving.
Jason dove straight down, with Spot nipping at his fins all the way, and then turned to race Spot back to the surface. Their game continued for well over an hour until it was time to head for home. We were tired and needed to rest, but Spot was disappointed. He followed us to the boat and nudged Jason, as if to say, “Please stay and play a while longer.”
This type of intimate communion with a wild dolphin is extremely rare. Dolphins live in very complex societies, much like our own, and interaction with humans is not a normal part of their day.
Since Spot is wild, and no one is feeding him, he has to spend a good deal of his time finding food. Usually, dolphins will hunt as a pod, but Spot is forced to hunt alone. This has almost certainly been a big adjustment for Spot, but dolphins are great at adapting to new circumstances. It is also quite obvious from his size that Spot is not missing any meals.
A pod not only provides hunting companions, but also safety, companionship and a community that shares in the raising of its young. The nurturing of a young Bottlenose Dolphin is long and multifaceted. The mother is the principle caregiver, but the entire pod is involved in instructing the young dolphin in the ways of survival. Although Spot is quite young, he seems to have already graduated from this phase of his life.
When Spot first arrived at Grand Cayman after Hurricane Mitch, he
wasn’t alone. A single female dolphin was with him. However, shortly after their arrival, she was found dead, washed up on the beach. Spot lingered, clearly missing his companion. He stayed in Grand Cayman until July 1999. And then, for some unknown reason, he made Cayman Brac his home.
After our experience with Spot, it was quite clear that he was different from any other dolphin on the
planet. Even people who had never swam with wild dolphins knew something was special about this one. Never have we encountered a dolphin so approachable. As I caressed Spot’s sides, he seemed to go limp and close his eyes. In the wild, dolphins frequently touch one another as a sign of social unity.
The next afternoon we had several children on board who had never seen a wild dolphin and wanted to visit Spot. But, on this day, Spot remained at the buoy, alone. It was much too far for the children to swim, so Becky, our divemaster, volunteered to swim over to him and see if he would follow her back. It worked. As she returned to the boat, we saw that Spot was indeed with her. This time he had made up a new game. Becky was swimming, and Spot was her flotation device. If Becky stopped swimming or took her hands off of him, Spot would reposition himself to be pushed like a giant boat.
With the children in the water, we watched with curious anticipation as Spot approached. The children squealed with delight. Though there is not a strong scientific basis for this, our experience has been that dolphins have a fondness for children and pregnant women.
Soon it was time to drop the kids off and move on to our second dive on the Tibbits, a 330-foot Russian frigate that was sunk in September 1996. Although we had bid Spot farewell, the dolphin was not ready to leave us. He decided to join our wreck diving party.
Never had we heard of a wild dolphin completely undisturbed by scuba bubbles. Normally, the bubbles frighten dolphins away; when a dolphin exhales bubbles underwater, it is often a sign of aggression. Until this dive, our dolphin experiences had come while breath-hold diving or using rebreathers. But Spot stayed with our group for the entire 40-minute dive. It was almost like he was giving us a guided tour of the famous frigate.
That evening, as we gathered around picnic tables at the resort, our conversations centered around Spot. He is an enigma. Throughout the week, it had become difficult to remember that he is wild. He behaves differently from other wild dolphins. Normally, two to 10 minutes with a dolphin is considered a wonderful gift. Dolphins are always moving. They cavort through the water in endless games, socializing and hunting—never lingering. Only their curiosity causes them to briefly pause for a visit.
If a diver is truly lucky, he might be included in a fast game. The first thing a diver learns when diving with a wild dolphin is never touch. This is usually the fastest way to make a dolphin disappear. The second thing is that divers are snails in the water compared to dolphins.
Throughout the week, Spot chose to spend several dives with us, and he loved to be touched. As I studied this special animal, I looked for a sign of something that might explain his solitary nature. I could see no serious wound healing, and he had no deformity that the eye could detect. I gave Spot a farewell hug and he was as thick as a tree trunk. As far as we could tell, he is as healthy as he needs to be.
After we had bid our final farewell to Spot, we walked down the sandy beach in front of the resort for the last time and snorkeled with the grunts, needlefish and the resident two-foot barracuda under the gazebo. Donald was lounging in the pool, exhausted from the week’s play with Spot. I rested in a hammock and watched as a new dive group arrived. Their faces were full of anticipation. Somewhere off the beach, Spot was waiting patiently and thinking of new games to play.