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Swim With The Dolphins: What You Should Know.

Swimming with the dolphins is as fun as it looks.

Still there is some controversy about this popular vacation activity.

However, no controversy for us and our travel mates at the Dolphin Academy in Willemstad, the capital of Curacao.

These animals clearly have a higher level of social behavior that makes them so endearing.

“It was so healing,” Teri, John’s wife, said.

Another travel mate, Hank Miller, said, “Absolutely hands down one of the most fun things that I have ever done on a vacation that was not on any bucket list.”

Here’s a quick video segment on both of our experiences:

In a previous post on Curacao, we explain how swimming with the dolphins is something you can do even if Curacao is a one-day stop on a cruise. The Dolphin Academy is near the cruise ship docks.

The Dolphin Academy provides a fabulous visitor experience.

You’re given lengthy instructions on how to interact with the dolphins. Also it is a great workout. You tread water for 30 minutes wearing fins they provide.

Staff snaps photos of you -- like the ones you see here -- that you can choose and buy. You only pay for the ones you want.

You also learn a lot about the dolphins and how they rely on a clean and safe ocean environment.

During our time at the Dolphin Academy we did not see or encounter any problems with the dolphins either in their appearance or behavior.

Hank’s take: “They (The Dolphin Academy) are extremely sensitive to the environment and the dolphins’ safety so it is a learning experience as well.”

Still, there is plenty of controversy surrounding the swim with the dolphin industry.

A number of animal activists say if you love dolphins you won’t swim with them. Others say dolphins should be out in the wild – not penned up.

The Dolphin Academy, through its Director of Dolphins and Programs, George Kieffer, answered some questions and concerns.

First, about the environment for the dolphins, he says:

“The total amount of facility space presently available to the dolphins contains in excess of 40,000 cubic meters of fresh seawater. This is far more space than the minimum requirements of any national government and far exceeds recommendations from both the international Alliance of Maine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) and the European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM). All lagoons simulate the natural environment of the dolphins – allowing a constant flow of fresh seawater and accommodating numerous prey species of fish.”

He continues:

“Unobstructed water flow is achieved through breakwaters and chain-link fencing. Bottom topography consists of sand, rock, and patch coral. All pools are separated by fence line with working gates allowing the dolphins access in and out of these areas. Public access to the basins is strictly regulated, and scheduling allows that the dolphins have periods of quiet time throughout each day.”

As far as letting the dolphins be dolphins, George says:

“Our animal care staff carefully schedules and regulates the public programs – avoiding routine and repetition in order to ensure the dolphins are not burdened by their activities. The dolphins’ enthusiastic and energetic response to these programs is indicative of their level of interest. The lagoons are spacious and allow the dolphins themselves reserve the right to refuse or halt any program by simply leaving an area inhabited by visitors. As the dolphins accompany trainers on daily excursions to the open ocean, they are free to leave or choose to return ‘home’ with us."

When it comes to medical care for the dolphins, George says the Dolphin Academy veterinarian is Dr. Thomas Reidarson with 29 years of experience with marine mammals -- including being past president of the International Association of Aquatic Animal Medicine (IAAM) and is a contributing author of the CRC Handbook of Marine Mammal Medicine.

We’ll let you decide where to stand on the issue.

There are some alternative programs where you can swim with the dolphins in the wild. However, it requires you to snorkel or scuba dive. The Dolphin Academy has a swim in the wild program as well.

Here’s a good article on how to go about it. wherever you travel.

Let us know your experiences swimming with the dolphins.

And tell us what you think about the issue either here or on Facebook or Twitter.

We will have a full segment on our experiences in Curacao including the day at The Dolphin Academy in one of our upcoming shows in Season 3. Check out how to see all them here.

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