Swimming with the dolphins on the West Side of Oahu leaves BYU-Hawaii students in awe, but a lack of respect for the dolphins and their habitat could push them to leave, said Michelle Bennett, a marine biology alumna.
According to Bennett, who works with shark conservation group One Ocean Diving, the dolphins come to shore for good reason. “Dolphins are nocturnal hunters, and it’s believed they come into shallow, sandy bays to sleep. This reduces the risk of predation.
“Since dolphins need to be conscious in order to breathe, they are only able to rest half of their brain at a time to keep themselves from drowning. Continual rest during the whole day is vital to allowing these animals to sleep.”
For this reason, Bennett advised students to be respectful and unobtrusive to the dolphins. “The ocean is their home and you are just a visitor. Learn how to swim without splashing and kicking above the surface. If you dive down, do not dive down directly at the pod. It will disrupt their resting and swimming pattern. I’ve seen many cases of it happening.”
Erica Greer, president of the Scuba Diving Association and a junior studying exercise science from Washington D.C., said, “If you see a boat coming, that means the dolphins are there. These huge tourists groups come, and if you see a boat, that means they’ve seen the dolphins.”
From Greer’s experience, she noticed the best spot to swim with the dolphins is on the West Side of Oahu, just past Electric Beach. “There is parking all along both sides of the road. You’ll get out and the sand is right there. Just put on your snorkel gear and go out immediately into the water.”
Greer stated that she usually leaves Laie around 5 or 5:30 a.m. to catch the dolphins at the best time. “It is about an hour and a half drive. The dolphins come every morning between 7 and 8 a.m.”
When asked about how long the dolphins stay, Greer replied, “At around 8:30 or 9 a.m. they are going to leave. They do not stay too long.”
Sophie Acedo, a junior studying communications from Arizona, said she went to see the dolphins around 7 a.m. at Makaha Beach. “The dolphins stay between Makaha, where we were, and Electric Beach. They swim up and down the shore.”
Acedo added she was in awe when she saw the dolphins. “I saw two or three at first and they were beautiful animals and were so graceful but playful at the same time. I was seeing them in the wild doing their own thing.
“I am almost positive they knew we were there, but they did not care. They kept being playful with no restraints - totally free. They eventually swam away. Then another pod of 25 or 30 came and it was amazing.”
When preparing for a first-time swim with the dolphins, Greer and Acedo both advise bringing flippers and snorkeling gear. They also suggested weaker swimmers bring a boogie board too. Greer said not to bring too many items however, since the dolphins are constantly moving and people will need to keep up.
Bennett added if people want to continue having dolphins around these areas, not harassing the dolphins is a necessity. She said if people harass dolphins, she would not be surprised if they left and found a new spot to rest.
Acedo and Bennett both agreed people should not attempt to touch the dolphins or chase them in the wild. They said if the dolphins want to, they will come up to people.
Seeing them for the first time, Acedo said she was tempted to touch one but realized “they were in their element and touching them would ruin it.”
When Greer compared seeing dolphins in the wild to man-made aquatic attractions, she stated the following, “You can go to Sea Life Park and do it for $200 in a little aquatic tank, or you can go to one of the natural beaches for free and swim with them in nature.”
Acedo shared her feelings about being with the dolphins. “The dolphins weren’t told or trained to do anything they did in front of me that day. That was all them - total instinct. What I had seen in Sea World didn’t feel real after experiencing what I did here. My memory of swimming with these dolphins will be with me forever.”
NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Nov. 2017 print issue.