What Swimming With Dolphins Taught Me.

Often when we travel we choose activities or adventures without considering the negative impact.

I wish I had better insight or maybe empathy in my younger years when I traveled extensively abroad – I chose pleasure over someone else’s pain all in the name of fun. With the advent of social media and the movement of many social causes, I am now aware more than ever of the impact I impart when I roam through cities, villages, islands, jungles and the open seas. It is not always easy and I still make plenty of errors, but questioning before participating has stopped me from making the same mistakes twice. In this case, a third time.


On the Island of Roatan there is a dolphin enclosure one hundred feet from a quiet, secluded beach. One morning I sat on the beach as the dolphins paraded themselves in front of the tourists who paid good money to swim with them. When I returned to the hostel a few travelers mentioned that I could swim to the nets and they would come and play. How cool is that? A free dolphin swim! Thankfully, I quickly snapped out of it when I realized the absurdity – they aren’t some shiny toy or freak show for me to enjoy, they are wild animals and should be left alone. I wish I had this insight when I decided to not once, but twice swim with the dolphins in The Grand Caymans and New Zealand.


Eleven years ago I enjoyed a care-free life in New Zealand – worked retail, partied late into the night and explored the country with wide-eyed wonderment. I never hesitated when an activity presented itself – zorbing, jet boating, snowboarding, and kayaking. So when my father, who was visiting, offered to pay for me to swim with the dolphins, I leaped at the opportunity.

We left Christchurch for the 80km drive to Akaroa Harbor where I swam with the dolphins while my father and his girlfriend boarded a leisurely boat cruise. At the dock, I suited up in my wetsuit and boarded the small boat for a twenty-five-minute ride to where Akaroa Harbor meets the entrance of the sea. As I have written in posts before, I am not a fan of open murky waters. But I delved in with my noodle flotation device, my bright yellow goggles and fluttered around waiting for the dolphins to swim by. 

Within moments, a school of Hector dolphins swam towards us, meandering through, curious about who we were. I slightly freaked as I had never experienced anything like this. I had only seen these beautiful creatures behind plexiglass and now I was feeling their rubbery, smooth skin as they swim through. It was an incredible moment and one I couldn’t wait to share with my family. At the dock, I rambled endlessly and thanked my dad for this awesome experience.

Back then it truly was awesome, however having watched the documentary Blackfish about whales in captivity, having greater access to news and better awareness about animals, I have widened my views on how we treat dolphins. 


Some might argue that it was acceptable for me to swim with dolphins in their natural habitat rather than an enclosure. Others would counter that this is their home and we shouldn’t barge in. I don’t know what the answer is. They seemed happy to see us and even wanted to play, but does that make it alright? I just don’t know. 

But what I do know is that I have become more aware and sympathetic to our world and to question things when it may not align with my values. Hopefully, I will choose activities and take part in experiences where I don’t infringe, offend or impose. Travel is about learning and every new exposure strengthens and enlightens our understanding so we make more appropriate choices.

*Can you relate? Are there any activities you have questioned on your travels? Let’s start a discussion. Comment below.*