The Dolphin Lady

By Lee Nessel

2000-04 The Dolphin Lady 2000-04 The Dolphin Lady Lee Nessel Just the mention of the name Nowdla intrigues people. Nowdla means “harp music” in the language of the Inuit Eskimos, her mother’s people. And just how did a woman of Eskimo descent end up in the Caribbean? Nowdla’s parents, despite being afraid of water, took their honeymoon to the warm, shallow seas of the Bahamas, thawed out, and decided to extend their stay—permanently.

Far from the frozen homeland of her parents, Nowdla was born and raised on Grand Bahama. But, unlike her parents she was strongly drawn to the sea.

As soon as she was able, Nowdla learned to scuba dive through her high school physical education class at UNEXSO. “Once I was underwater, that was it,” she said. “I was out every day after school. I’d finish and run right down there.”

At one point she actually went back to Canada for college. Not liking the weather, she quickly returned. “It was awful,” she said of the cold, and of being so far away from the water.

Nowdla sinks into shyness when asked about herself. She often demurs and starts talking about the business, perhaps failing to realize that she is the lifeblood of Bimini Undersea’s Wild Dolphin Excursion.

After hearing stories of pods of dolphins in the area, Nowdla went looking for them. Whether it was an innate sense or sheer luck, Nowdla and the dolphins found each other on the first try. Now, she runs a boat three times a week, fulfilling people’s dreams of swimming with dolphins. She is quick to clarify she has no special talent, no superhuman ability, when it comes to locating the pod in the waters north of Bimini. But Bill Keefe, her husband, does not hesitate to credit her perseverance and natural ability. “It took a special quality in her to follow through on it,” he said. “It happened at a time in her life when she was looking for something. She’s definitely the driving force.... There’s a lot of emotion [involved with the dolphin expeditions]. It’s more of a cerebral type of activity and she has what it takes to really [help] people get the most of the experience.”

For four years, two pods of about 50 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins have been coming to play with Nowdla and her guests. Two smaller pods of Atlantic Bottlenose are also known to meet up with the boat. “She just has a unique connection with [the dolphins], it’s spiritual,” said Krista Marzewski, one of Bimini Undersea’s staff members. “She’s like a little kid. She’s really fun, absolutely great to work for. Nowdla would give you the shirt off her back.”

In addition to managing her family and handling the popular dolphin excursion program, Nowdla exudes a new-found confidence. This is probably the result of a recent seminar she and her staff attended. But this was no ordinary seminar. By the end of the weekend, Nowdla had marched barefoot across 1,600°F coals, completing a confidence-building firewalking exercise. “She didn’t really believe that she would be able to do it,” said Bill. “It was extremely powerful for her.”

Nowdla and her dolphins attract people from around the world, and whether she acknowledges it or not, she is recognized her for her love of the sea, her ability to commune with its creatures and her willingness to share the experience.

Of her parents ultimate decision to begin life anew in the Bahamas, Nowdla is grateful. “I have a very nice lifestyle,” she said. “I’m the housewife and the snorkel person. I live a good life. I’m really lucky.”

Nowdla treats everyone she meets as part of her extended dolphin family. She said she can’t imagine doing anything else, anywhere else. Finding a pod of dolphins in thousands of miles of open ocean? No problem. Anything is possible. After all, she’s walked on fire.