I flash back to my favorite TV show when I was ten. Nothing could get me home before dark, except Mom calling out the front door: “Sharon, Flipper is on TV.” I never missed a show for 5 years, and always fantasized that someday Flipper would save me from drowning in a ten-story tsunami.
So here I am, years later, swimming with dolphins in the Miami Seaquarium’s Flipper Lagoon, where the TV show was filmed in the 1960’s. Is this a dream come true or what?
It’s a quiet Sunday morning in Florida and I’m waist deep in a part of the Miami Seaquarium called Flipper Lagoon. With me, standing on the underwater platform, is the world’s most amorous couple. Mercedes and Alex Bowwet gaze tenderly into each other’s eyes. Mercedes has waist length auburn hair that trails romantically in the water; her movie star beauty mesmerizes Alex. The three of us stare across the lagoon as six dorsal fins glide gracefully through the water.
Suddenly the fins cut towards us and begin to speed across the lagoon like a scene from Jaws. This, I assure you, is not my typical Sunday morning.
Mercedes shrieks with delight as six bottle-nosed dolphins arrive for our morning swim. One of their trainers, Angela Boucher, tosses each a fish. “Ok, people,” Angela shouts to us, “Ripley, Sundance, Samantha, Noel, Joley, and Panama are here to give you a dolphin kiss, so pucker up.”
Now, I’ve kissed my share of frogs, hoping each would change into Prince Charming, but why kiss a frog when a dolphin is so much cuter? However, these are old-fashioned dolphins, so playtime comes before anything as serious as a kiss. Suddenly they dart off, zooming around the lagoon, leaping in and out of the water like exuberant kids.
“Dolphins navigate using echolocation,” Angela tells us. “It utilizes their exceptional sense of hearing, rather than sight. They send out clicking sounds that bounce off objects in the water. In seconds, they’ll know your size and where you are in relation to them. It’s amazing how well this biosonar enables them to navigate their surroundings.”
Samantha swims over to Mercedes, Alex, and me, squeaking and grinning—she’s such a flirt. Wrapping my arms around her, I discover she feels like a huge, slippery rubber balloon. “Their favorite things are food, toys and hugs,” Angela says, “so she’s as thrilled as you are.”
Mercedes swims into the water, as planned, grabbing hold of Samantha’s dorsal fin and off they go, surfing the lagoon like a lovely Mermaid riding her pet dolphin. Sundance begs Alex for a fish and a hug; soon they’re off for a second dolphin ride.
Mercedes and Alex laugh hysterically, thrilled by their close encounter. Samantha and Sundance drop them back at our platform. Angela gives all six dolphins a hand signal and they arch out of the water, dancing backwards on their tails. I am reminded of Michael Jackson’s dancing routine in the Thriller video and suspect he learned the technique here.
“Dolphins are very social,” Angela explains. “They’re playful, creative, inquisitive, and very emotional. You’ve probably heard about dolphins saving humans who get into trouble at sea. It’s true, they’ve actually saved people from drowning.”
Mercedes gets lucky too. Samantha swims over to her and presents her with a plastic water bottle, which Mercedes opens. Peering inside, she screams. Alex slips the treasure in a bottle — a two-carat diamond engagement ring — onto her finger. Tears run down her face, then his, they hug, and we applaud. Samantha leaps out of the water like an Olympic athlete going for gold. The other dolphins mimic her, spinning and chortling like circus clowns.
Then it’s my turn. Ripley arrives to take me for a ride. Hanging on to his dorsal fin, we speed through the waves, me wishing I could speak with this magnificent beast. But words are unnecessary. Ripley and I are members of the Mutual Admiration Society. He swims with me back to the platform, where the newly engaged Mercedes and Alex are locked in a lover’s embrace. Ripley gets the idea. He points his nose up to my face and he and I exchange a most romantic kiss.
Where to Kiss a Dolphin
4400 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami Florida 33149-1095.
Tel: 305-365-2525. Web: www.miamiseaquarium.com
Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau,
701 Brickell Avenue, Suite 2700, Miami, Florida 33131.
Tel: 800-955-3646. Web: www.TropicoolMiami.com
By Sharon Lloyd Spence
Sharon Lloyd Spence is the author of Adventure Guide to Southeast Florida and 7 other travel books.