Swimming with Marquesian Dolphins… Or Were They Whales?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 – We were up at 6:30 preparing the boat for sea. Our next destination is an island about 24 hours away. We had a stop to make first, and we needed to make that stop as early as possible.

There is a particular spot on the southeast side of Nuka Hiva, just north of Tikapo Point, where melon headed dolphins (we’ve heard them called pygmy orcas, also. We’re not sure which is correct) congregate in the mornings by the hundreds. It is the only place where it happens and no one knows why. You can actually jump in the water and swim with them. They aren’t always there, but we had our fingers crossed. We cruised over to the spot and sure enough, right when we got there a half dozen dolphins came and played in the wake of our bow, and were soon joined by more. As we cruised around, there were always between half a dozen and two dozen dolphins at the bow. We could see tons more in the water. The water was teeming with them. Whether whale or dolphin, they look like dolphins but do not have the long nose. They are a light brown and a little smaller than dolphins we are used to seeing at home.

The seas were rough. Before getting to the spot, we had agreed that trying to swim with the dolphins was too dangerous. First of all, swimming in rough seas is dangerous enough. Secondly, it is difficult to get back on the boat. The only reason we never swam on our crossing was because we never had a calm enough day. We cruised up and down the area that they congregate in for a while, delighting in watching the dolphins play. They followed the boat around whichever way we turned, and when we sat still, they would wait below the surface for us to get going again. Sometimes they would poke their heads out and float vertical for a while. It was incredible.

Then we decided to throw caution to the wind and be reckless. Christi and Richard both classify themselves as strong swimmers and thought they could handle the rough waters. So, they quickly changed into swimwear, grabbed masks, snorkels and fins, and hopped in. Eric manned the boat. The swim was nothing short of amazing. Most of the dolphins pretty well kept their distance, but a few got within a few feet of Richard and Christi. The two got extremely good looks at the dolphins from very close up. The two watched the dolphins play in the water and chased them around some. Swimming with the melon head dolphins in the warm, tropical water was truly a once in a life time experience. Oddly enough, neither Richard nor Christi saw any other fish in the water at all. Maybe the dolphins scare everything else away?

After 20 minutes of swimming, they came in. There were no issues with getting back on board. The aft boarding ladder was quite stable. We turned the boat and headed out to sea. At first we had a swarm of dolphins following us away from land, but one by one they all dropped away until they were all gone.

The view has been incredible. The entire ride we have been able to see an island or two or three in the distance. We had a glorious sunset next to the island Ua Poa that surrounded the island in a red glow, almost like a halo. The moon is getting close to full and is so bright it lights up the whole ocean as if it were first light outside. Even in the dark, we can see the island we are passing. It is the brightest, clearest night we have ever had on the water.

The ride is another story altogether. This crossing is one of the roughest yet (even though this water is rougher, it is still a better overall ride than when we were in confused seas on our passage). We had some water over the bow a few times. We are going to the most southeastern island, called Fatu Hiva, so we are headed against the wind and current. Thank goodness it is a short trip. Originally, we were going to stay in the northern islands around Nuka Hiva, but a lot of people told us that Fatu Hva is so beautiful that the trip south would be worth it.  Let’s hope so!

4 thoughts on “Swimming with Marquesian Dolphins… Or Were They Whales?”

  1. Sounds a wonderful encounter with the dolphins. Whilst ive been lucky to swim with a few i never seen the numbers you describe, breathtaking im sure.
    Glad getting back onto Kosmos went well, i find a 10m bouyed line on the back of the boat comforting. You can grab the line and pull yourself towards the ladder.Good if theres any current.
    Hope you have an underwater camera for some pics of the dolphins?



    Ps. just returned Scapa flow water temperature there 6 degrees C burrrr!, think youre better off in the pacific!!

  2. I am incredibly jealous! That does indeed sound like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Amazing.

  3. Definitely jealous am I. Swimming with dolphins in the wild is a prett unique+amazing experience!

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