Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Swimming" with the Dolphins

One of the things I was excited to do while in Tauranga, was go swimming with the dophins. I've always wanted to swim with them in the wild. Though I loved the Miami Seaquarium summer camp, the animals were all in captivity and they'd been trained. So swimming with them doesn't have the same impact as out in the open.
I was soooooo excited! According to this company, Dolphin Seafaris, there is a 98% chance of seeing dolphins and a 89% chance of swimming with them. So I paid my $140 and set off to the marina. The owner, who was also the skipper, was very informative, telling us all kinds of stuff about the harbor and the history of the Maori people in the area. At times he was a bit too informative (silence would have been nice at times), but in all, it was nice to get so much information from him.
Dolphin Seafaris' boat
As we went along the water, we saw two cruise ships, one of them all the way from the Netherlands! What a trip! I love the picture below because it shows the contrast between the cruise ship and the small "tugboat"
Big mamma, versus little baby
So we set out from the marina and we headed out towards Mount Maunganui to pick up some other customers. On our way we saw a freighter and were told that the harbor here is the busiest harbor in the North Island and that container ships such as these would often carry lumber from New Zealand to China. In China, they would cut them down and make them into planks and then ship them back to New Zealand!
I know about this whole free trade thing, but it seems so silly to send your raw material somewhere else only to have it returned to you, altered. It's great for the Chinese, but not so good for the Kiwis who are out of work and could have used those jobs. Anyway, won't get involved in the politics of business...
Container ship bound for China

As we were leaving the Mount and heading for open waters, we passed by the mountain itself and were informed of a few interesting things. I think I mentioned most of the Maori history in the Mount entry, so I'll not repeat it. But at the exit/entrance of the harbor, there is a statue of a Maori warrior there, I guess as a reminder for the history coming from the Mount.

Statue of Maori Warrior with the Mount at the left of the photo

There is another interesting historical story that the skipper anounced to us. (I welcome any corrections from Shani if this is inaccurate somehow). As the South Pacific people were coming to Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud) they encountered really rough seas. They traveled in wakas (canoes) seating about 100 people. As they were struggling to survive on the rough seas, they thought they should make a sacrifice to the ocean to appease the roiling seas. They chose an old woman who had lived a good life and threw her overboard.

Today, the rocks you see in the picture below, is called the grandmother rocks, in memory of the sacrifices made to land on the shores of New Zealand. The skipper then asked people to throw ginger snaps at the rocks as a type of sacrifice that would allow us to have a good dolphin watching/swimming day.

Grandmother rocks on the far left (the three rocks)

The Mount shown from the sea

We headed out to the open ocean and I stayed outside the whole time, my eyes peeled and my camera at the ready. And guess what? We saw zero dolphins! I was the 2%. It was really disappointing, but we did see the following:

A sunfish. They can grow to about 1000kgs. There is not much information about them, but they are called sunfish because they like to float along the surface of the ocean, absorbing the suns rays. They kind of look like sharks and they let you get really close before diving down. Below, a video of a sunfish.

Multi-colored jellyfish. Isn't it beautiful? They come in pinks and purples and the more muted browns. These are bigger than dinner plates.

I finally saw some real life gannets! I didn't get to see them at Cape Kidnappers, but I got to see them that day! There is something to say about that!
You see how the water seems to be foaming there? It's called a boil-up. This means that a school of fish have been pushed close to the surface of the water by predators and their movement along the surface create this "boiling" effect. We tried going up to see them, but they quickly dispersed.
So we went home that day, a bit saddened by the lack of dolphins. We did see lots of different type of birds, including the JC bird, or Jesus Christ bird. Guess why they call them that? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

We also saw flying fish. It was such an awesome thing! They have real, dragonfly-style wings and they swam a few inches from the water for a distance of about 5 meters. Apparently they can fly much further than that. Dolphins really like to eat these fish because they are relatively small (dolphins like to eat fish whole) and they are fun to play with (according to the skipper).

I got a voucher to come back another day. This is why I ended up spending two rather than one week in Tauranga.

I went back out on a Wednesday, 4 days later, and that time we saw dolphins! Here's a video of them swimming along the boat.

They were amazing! It was a small pod of about 12, but they hung around for about 30 minutes. Of course, we had to keep up with them, but we did and that was cool. The skipper mentioned that they would be close to a larger pod and that our chances of swimming with them would be better if the pod was about 40-50. We navigated around islands and such for several more hours, but didn't see any more dolphins. So, as a result, I didn't get to swim with them. These are the risks of trying to interact with wild animals. You can never predict the outcome. Lots of people were disappointed, but I was happy that I got to see them at all.

The skipper told us a story of how intelligent dolphins really are. Here it goes... A few years ago, a group of men were out fishing and they accidentally hooked a dolphin by its dorsal fin. Instead of swimming away and causing more damage to its fin (as most animals would do), it swam up to the stern and waited as the fishermen took out the hook from its fin. The dolphin then swam around and leapt up in the air as a sort of salute to the fishermen for taking the hook out and then proceeded to play with them for another half hour or so before swimming away. Pretty cool story, huh?

We also got to see a few blue penguins. I didn't get any pictures of them the first time we went out, but the second time, there was a lone one chilling on the surface of the water and it let us get really close by and I managed to record it. Enjoy!


Amjad said...

So JC walks on water? Wanna see that!

L said... such smart man, you are. Glad to see you making some comments. This bird doesn't actually walk on water, but it flies so close to the water that the feet look like they're skimming the surface and therefore "walking". It's kinda cool.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm a little late with the comment..though I have been keeping up with all the entries as they come, I have yet to sit down and express my amazement with all that you are experiencing! Each spot seems to have it's own pulse and unique beauty...and I particularly enjoy the short video clipets. Loved seeing you in the latest beach one... would love to see don't want me forgetting how beautiful you

ps can't remember my userid so I'm gonna try and leave this through the anonymous option.

L said...

glad to see you back, my sister. I've missed you here. It is an amazing country, New Zealand, and I'm learning more every day. Just wait until the next entries. They'll be even more entertaining.

Love you!