|The Dusky Dolphins of Kaikoura|
Within about a minute, your body has adjusted and you're breathing more or less normally again, so you start making noise, as instructed; since Michael Bublé's "Haven't Met You Yet" is the first thing that comes to mind, you sing it into your snorkel (or rather, you sing the notes and leave the words at "doo doo doo de da doo doo doo," since trying to sing the actual lyrics would be completely incomprehensible with a hollow piece of rubber and plastic in your mouth).
Less than sixty seconds later, a sleek arc in shades of grey bullets past and it's all you can do to keep your singing from turning into a squeal of excitement. You sing a bit louder and the grey bullet comes back. You follow it and suddenly you're swimming in a tight circle in the chilly South Pacific, trying to keep pace with a curious Dusky Dolphin who's come to investigate this unfamiliar squawking.
This is what a Dolphin Encounter with Encounter Kaikoura is all about and it is, in a word, amazing.
|Part of Kaikoura's coastline and a pair of dolphins.|
Since I was heading over toward Abel Tasman National Park the same day, I opted for the 5:30am tour, a summer-only option. It's a great time of day, Tracy told us, because the dolphins are heading back toward land after a night of hunting and like to get together and socialize, which means they're usually grouped into fairly large pods. We started seeing dolphins swimming and leaping within about 10 minutes of leaving Kaikoura's South Bay, all heading in the same direction. Roughly 10 minutes later, we were all lined up along the back of the boat, hoods, masks and snorkels in place, ready to slip into the water at Pete’s signal.
|Several of the dolphins swimming in front of the boat on the|
way back to shore.
After the first several minutes, I started to notice the dolphins’ individual markings and recognized one in particular that kept coming back – he or she had a starburst-shaped marking or scar just in front of his or her blowhole and seemed to like Sara Bareilles’ “King of Anything.” I repeated the same four or five songs throughout my time in the water and within a few lines of starting that one, I’d usually find myself swimming in human-paced circles with the dolphin with the starburst marking.
|One of the mother and calf pairs that came to see the humans.|
Several times, I found myself in the midst of half a dozen dolphins at once, swimming in a circle of flashing grey and silver as I did my best to keep singing, rather than break into delighted laughter. I even circled briefly with a mother and a calf no more than three months old, feeling vaguely like a zoo exhibit but ecstatic at the sight of the baby, not quite yet as graceful as its mother.
|The dolphins are incredibly playful and liked to leap alongside the boat.|