Scott Olson has been swimming with the wild spinner dolphins for the past 21 years. He is a great supporter and spokesperson for keeping them wild, free and safe. I wanted to interview a person like him for quite some time and I was more than thrilled when he got in contact with me. Scott Olson also facilitates week long vacation retreats for people to have the opportunity to swim with the wild spinner dolphins off the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii that way giving them an opportunity to experience dolphins’ preciousness and uniqueness. In addition, he has written and published a book MESSAGES FROM THE DOLPHINS, which is available to read as a free eBook.
You swim with wild dolphins?!.
Since 1994 I have been swimming with wild spinner dolphins off the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. These dolphins are called spinners, because they like to leap out of the water and spin around. Hundreds of spinner dolphins live along the coastline of all the Hawaiian Islands. They live together in groups called “pods” and there can be anywhere from fifteen to over a hundred dolphins in a pod. These pods are composed of mothers, fathers, babies, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles of all ages living together. Their interaction with each other is similar to how humans relate. I have observed the mothers tenderly caring for their babies and the babies staying very close to their mother for protection and nurturing. Often there is another female with the mother and baby for support. The adult males swim alongside each other and interact with the females. The teenagers play chase twirling and zooming around each other.
During the day they spend their time resting, sleeping and playing in shallow bays. In the evening they swim 5-10 miles out from shore into the deeper water to feed on squid and small fish that come to the surface.
The dolphins come into the bays in the early morning. 7-10 am is the best time to swim with them as they are active and it is before they go into their sleep cycles. I wear a mask, snorkel, and fins. I swim a few hundred yards from shore where the water is from 30-100 feet deep and because the water is so clear I can always see the white sandy bottom. The dolphins will approach and swim within a few feet along side me. Sometimes they will be underneath and often I will dive down and they will join in a game of spin and twirl. They will usually interact for a few minutes and then move away for awhile to interact with other dolphins, then come back and initiate more interaction. This can go on for a few hours until I get tired and decide to return to shore or they move away and go into their sleep and resting cycle.
To be honest, I thought that dolphins do not sleep at all? I guess I’ve got the message wrong. Could you correct me please?
Dolphins do need to sleep, to rest and recharge, yet they do it differently than humans and other land based mammals. When we fall asleep our bodies automatically breathe. Dolphins have to be conscious of their breathing all the time, because they need to know when their blowhole is above water to take a breath. So they have developed a unique way of sleeping that was discovered by scientists that studied them in captivity. The February 5, 1998 Scientific American issue has an article that talks about this. The scientists attached rubber suction cups to the top of the dolphins heads, called the melon, where their brain is located. Electrodes monitored the brain EEG activity and they found that dolphins shut down one side of their brain while the other side continues to be alert. This makes it possible for them to breathe consciously while resting on the surface or swimming slowly under the water and surfacing for air when they need to take a breath. They also need to be alert all of the time to be aware of predators and maintain contact with their dolphin pod (group). They spend about 30 % of their time in a sleep state.
So those dolphins are wild. Aren’t they cautious of interacting with people?
The dolphins that I swim with in Hawaii are wild. I have been swimming with wild dolphins for 21 years and even since the first time I swam with them they approached me with interest and curiosity. From a distance they would slowly move towards me until they were a few feet away swimming beside me. I would interpret this as cautious behaviour, as they take their time to be near me probably observing whether my behaviour was friendly or aggressive. Now, the dolphins are used to people being in the water with them, and because we exhibit friendly behaviour, they actually initiate the interaction. I imagine that dolphins in other areas of the ocean, where they are being harmed, are much more cautious about approaching humans because their only interaction is to be captured or killed.
How did you come to this idea of swimming with the wild spinner dolphins? What event in life did influence you to take this significant step?
It wasn’t my idea as I did not consciously one day decided that I was going to swim with the wild dolphins. Rather they came to me and showed me that I had another “purpose” in life. It was on my birthday in 1989 that I had what I call a close encounter of the “Dolphin Kind.” I was living in Denver, Colorado working as a stockbroker. I wasn’t thinking about dolphins, although I have always felt they were a beautiful species. I was driving to get a haircut from my barber and turned on the radio to a talk show. The host was talking with people who had cancer that had just returned from swimming with captive dolphins at the Dolphin Research Centre located in the Florida Keys. They all said that they personally experienced feeling better physically, emotionally or mentally after swimming with the dolphins. This made sense as dolphins emanate enthusiastic aliveness that could easily evoke more aliveness and energy in people. I do not believe that dolphins should be held captive and know that people can benefit from being with them in the wild yet this is how my initial introduction into the world of the dolphins happened.
This event sparked my aliveness because at that time I was depressed about my job and the way humans were always fighting with each other and harming other species and the environment. I wanted to do more with my life to help others and our world. My intelligence told me that the dolphins could be mediators to helping humans get along better with each other and could be a good example as a species that takes care of their environment. It is very difficult for humans to resolve their differences, but putting them all together in the water with wild dolphins might just do the trick. When you swim with a dolphin you forget about your narcissistic self absorbed life and realize that there is another consciously aware species that seems to be enjoying life and exhibiting friendly and loving behaviour towards you and other dolphins.
And this is what I experienced because within a few weeks I went to Florida with a group of people to swim with the captive dolphins at the Dolphin Research Centre and the wild dolphins off Key West. After being with the dolphins I felt more alive. I physically had more energy, was mentally at peace and felt emotionally happy. Yet, I was conflicted about the dolphins being in captivity. They seemed to be happy as they playfully interacted, but it did not make sense for them to be captive as they are a wild species. That is when I heard about people swimming with wild dolphins in Hawaii and ever since then I have only swam and interacted with wild dolphins.
Scott, what is the difference between wild dolphins and dolphins in captivity?
A dolphin in captivity was originally a wild dolphin or was born in captivity. Humans started capturing dolphins from the wild in the 1960’s. The original reason was to film them in the American television show Flipper. Since then hundreds of many types of wild dolphins have been and are still being captured and placed in small cement enclosures at marine parks and swim with dolphin centres around the world for human entertainment. So the main difference is whether a dolphin is living in the wild or is held captive in a confined enclosure.
Now, there is a profound difference in how a wild dolphin lives and how a captive dolphin lives. Wild dolphins can live for 50-100 years whereas captive dolphins may live for 10-20 years. This is because a wild dolphin is just that…wild…free to roam the open ocean for food, to swim for miles for exercise and to socialize with other dolphins in a natural environment. They have evolved over millions of years in nature so they have developed natural rhythms of living. They know when to sleep and rest, when to be active and play with each other, when to feed, when to mate, when to give birth, how to interact with each other and how to raise their young.
Being captive, for a dolphin, and actually for all species is unnatural. They are not free to roam. They have to swim back and forth or in circles all day long in a very small enclosure. They are fed dead fish, often filled with antibiotics, on a human feeding schedule. Many are forced to perform tricks for human entertainment. The females usually are kept separate from the males, except to mate. They are not living the way nature intended them to live. Captured dolphins have a similar life to a human being living in a prison. One is confined often in solitary. Your movements are limited and controlled. You have to eat what is given to you and when it is given to you. You don’t have much of a social life. Rarely do you get to be with a mate. Because there are no natural life rhythms, this creates a great deal of physical, mental and emotional stress for both humans and dolphins.
Many people say that the dolphins look happy in captivity because of the exuberant way they perform during shows, but the truth is that beneath the dolphins natural smile they are very stressed. This is why their life span in captivity is much shorter than wild dolphins. I am actually amazed that dolphins do as well as they do in captivity. If you were to put a human in a small prison cell away from family and friends and force them to do tricks for dolphins I think within a week they would suffer physical, mental and emotional trauma. I know they certainly would not be smiling.
Wow! Your insights are so powerful and true. Thank you for that. So as I am aware you have created special vacation retreats, where you take people with you to swim with the wild spinner dolphins? Could you expand on this please?
I facilitate week long vacation retreats for people to have the opportunity to swim with the wild spinner dolphins off the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. I usually have a summer and winter retreat. My summer retreat is May 21-28, 2011. I am in the process of setting the dates for next year’s winter retreat. The retreats benefit both the people and the dolphins. Being with the dolphins is a life enhancing personal experience. And as people directly experience how special dolphins are, they become dolphin ambassadors in a sense, returning home and sharing their experiences and insights with other people about the dolphins’ preciousness.
We normally swim with the dolphins in the morning from around 7-10am as this is the best time to observe and interact with them. People wear a mask, snorkel, fins and a flotation device if needed. We swim from shore anywhere from a 100-500 meters and float on the surface. I have a staff of three other people that help oversee the swimmers for guidance and safety. Our swim follows the dolphins’ cycles. When they are resting, we rest and quietly observe them. When they are active and want to interact, we actively swim alongside them. We always wait for the dolphins to approach us to initiate the interaction.
The people in my groups have said swimming with the wild dolphins was one of the best life experiences that they have ever had. There is a sense of tremendous vitality and aliveness. There is a feeling of great joy and happiness. There is also a sweet tender fullness in one’s heart. Something special occurs for each person when swimming only a few feet away and eye contact happens. One feels deep appreciation and love for the dolphins and the dolphins seem to feel happy and loving towards the swimmers. This personal contact with the wild dolphins evokes tears of joy and big smiles. When back on shore we take a few hours to rest, relax, have lunch and share our experiences of the swim with each other.
Then in the afternoon we take sightseeing tours to various places on the island like Volcano National Park or go for a snorkel at one of the many beautiful reefs to see the tropical fish and turtles. We also have free time for personal reflection and rest. My staff members prepare excellent gourmet meals appropriate for people’s needs and taste, which we share together. After dinner we may get together for more sharing.
I rent an estate homestead that is right on the ocean next to one of the bays that the wild spinner dolphins swim in. It was built in the Balinese style with screened in open air rooms. There is a large main home with a living area, dining area, kitchen, yoga room and four bedrooms. There are seven separate sleeping cottages. The facility can accommodate sixteen people and four staff. Families, couples and singles have come as well as all age groups.
Most of us more or less are greatly concerned about our environment, especially when it comes to global warming, water and air pollution. What effect does it have on such creatures like dolphins?
I am very concerned about how the degradation of our environment is affecting dolphins worldwide. The wild dolphins around Hawaii appear to be in good health. I have observed them for many years now and they continue to follow their normal feeding, sleeping, resting and playing patterns. Their group size seems fairly constant and they exhibit lots of energy, which to me is a sign of good health, when playing with each other or the swimmers in my group. Hawaii is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so it may take more time for them to be affected by the global pollution.
In other parts of the world scientists have tested blubber tissue from dolphins. They found very high levels of mercury, heavy metals, various pesticides and known harmful pollutants that were the result of eating fish and other food sources. Common sense tells me that this increased toxicity must be having an overall negative effect on the dolphins’ physical health. Noise is another environmental pollution that appears to be harming dolphins. Warships and submarines are now using Low Frequency Active Sonar. They produce a very loud sound that is sent for hundreds of miles through the ocean to detect other ships and submarines. This noise has been scientifically proven to cause brain haemorrhaging in dolphins which were in the area resulting in them beaching themselves on shore to die.
My heart breaks just reading this. What is being done about this in order to protect our oceans, wild life and soulful dolphins?
At this time the United States Navy has been ordered by federal courts to use the sonar in specific areas, where it is believed there are fewer dolphins, yet because wild dolphins roam freely they can be anywhere in the ocean. There are no outside agencies monitoring when and where the sonar is used, so we really do not know if they are complying. Also, the United States Navy is adamant that they are going to deploy this type of sonar in 80% of the world’s oceans within the next decade. Even more troubling is that all of the other world superpowers are developing this type of sonar and there is no regulation about its use. There is a worldwide organization to address the need for a global approach to monitoring and limiting human generated noise. It is called the International Ocean Noise Coalition, a non governmental agency composed of over 150 members. Because it has only recently been formed, it will be many years before anything will be done to limit the worldwide military use of this harmful sonar. Meanwhile the dolphins continue to suffer.
Do you think talking about such kind of issues and making your voice heard brings the change?
Speaking out about the issues has raised human awareness about taking better care of dolphins, other species, and our earth yet the dolphins continue to suffer and the overall health of our earth and it’s species continues to decline. At this time not enough people are changing the way they live their lives, stopping polluting and harming species, to have an overall positive impact on our environment. I have been an ambassador for the dolphin species for twenty one years and many other people are speaking out on their behalf as well. Humans are gradually waking up to their preciousness and yet many people still believe that it is ok to keep them captive, to capture more wild dolphins and to kill them for food. Because of my love for the dolphins and the fact that this is my life “purpose”, I will continue to introduce people to their marvellous world as I know that it benefits both people and dolphins.
Have you noticed any positive change happening now in regards to looking after our oceans, wildlife, dolphins…?
It is very positive that more people, in their personal life and in business, are living sustainably, recycling, reducing pollution and taking better care of our oceans, wildlife and dolphins. They are good stewards. They are speaking out and educating others about the importance of taking care of our environment. Unfortunately, our world population is so large now that our environment continues to deteriorate. Developed countries continue to pollute and developing countries want all the modern conveniences that a modern society offers causing more pollution in an already toxic ocean. There aren’t many fish left in the ocean, wildlife populations on land are shrinking and dolphins are continuing to be harmed and getting sicker. Just today 24 pilot whales stranded themselves in New Zealand and died.
What message do you wish to spread and bring to people from your side?
I wish to spread the universal message that we all depend on one another – people, wildlife, dolphins, plants and oceans. It is an eternal message, one that the dolphins have known about for millions of years. If we take care of our environment, our environment will take care of us. We all want to be happy and to feel that we belong in a loving family. The dolphins and wildlife that live in our oceans and upon our lands are our extended family. They have the purest of energy non-polluted by human dysfunction. They know we belong to each other. They want humans to know this too because then we will stop causing harm. They have so much more to share with us than their blubber on a dinner table or a few tricks in an aquarium show. They want to share their love, joy, peace and wisdom. I published a book in 2002 called ‘Messages From The Dolphins’. It is a combination of my own understanding and what I think the dolphins would say to humans on five subjects: true nature, communication, raising children, our environment and war. It is still timely and available to read as a free eBook.
Do you think we humans have hope or perhaps we are too late..?
There is always hope. But at this time it would take a major worldwide agreement to stop all pollution, wars, harming wildlife and dolphins now to prevent the extinction of many species and the deterioration of the health of wildlife and dolphins. I don’t see an agreement on the horizon. It takes twenty years for what is done to the environment now to work its way through the Earth’s cleansing process. Corporate bylaws would have to be changed from maximizing profits at the expense of our environment to conducting their business with the health of the environment as their #1 priority. The majority of people would have to live sustainably and trade within their community. Warships and commercial ships would have to be taken out of the ocean, so it can become quiet again. Humans would need to stop harming all wild species and each other. I do not see this happening, so yes I do believe we are too late. Before the sun rises on the eastern horizon, it is the darkest before the light. Humanity is now in the darkest of nights. There may be very few people, wildlife and dolphins around to see the light of the sun rise once again.
Let’s have Hope and continue working for the good of all, even if just one step at the time. Let’s give Hope a chance. I always greatly believed that Hope always dies the last. Scott, where and how your eBook could be found and how could you be contacted if someone wanted to have a further conversation with you?
I agree, we need to have hope as this is such a beautiful world that we live in. Every day I am thankful to be alive. I believe people naturally want to be happy and want to take care of their environment, wildlife and dolphins because they love life. Some have just lost their sense of balance.
For your readers that would like more information on my dolphin vacation retreats or would be interested in reading my eBook or would like to talk with me personally, they can go to my websitewww.dolphinsmile.org or my Facebook site DOLPHINSMILE.
What would be the Message from the Dolphins to us – humans?
The message from the dolphins is that they love humans unconditionally. That is a miracle in itself. With all the harm that we have caused them and the polluting of their environment, they still love us. And they want us to wake up now because we have very little time left, if any, to restore the health of our environment. They can open our hearts to the value of all life and help us realize we are connected to all life through love. This will help heal our wounded lonely hearts. All dolphins are waiting for us to be with them – the fathers, the mothers, their children and their babies. Please, please wake up now and come for a swim with them into the marvellously illuminating realm of the dolphins.
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