Sharks and dolphins

Trip Start Sep 07, 2009
Trip End Nov 17, 2009

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Where I stayed
Azul Key West

Flag of United States  , Florida
Monday, October 5, 2009

04/10/2009 - Last night Jim went down to the pier to meet Fred for some late night fishing. I popped down about 11pm and Jim was all on his own desperate to catch something. Fred had already given up hope and gone out for pizza instead. It was really spooky on the pier at night, pitch black with the only light coming from the moon. The tide was in and the water was deep and choppy. After half an hour or so, Jim was just about to give up when he suddenly got a bite. He soon realised whatever was on the end of the line was big. It started to pull the line off the reel and make its way out to sea. Jim tried desperately to counter the pull, but the line was zig-zagging all over the place. I've never seen Jim so excited! After 10 minutes he realised he was going to have trouble landing the 'fish', so he sent me off to look for Fred, but unfortunately he was still out having pizza. Jim battled for a further 20 minutes to pull the 'fish' in, but suddenly....the line snapped....we were soooo gutted. We never to got find out what it was on the end of the line, but speaking to Fred the next morning, he reckoned it was probably a barracuda or maybe a black-tip shark (!) as they are known to come in to shore at night.

05/10/2009 - I had been looking forward to this day for a while! About 20 miles south of Islamorada on Grassy Key, there is a Dolphin Research Centre, where you can swim with dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico sea. Jim had booked a session for me as an early Christmas present and I was so excited. Swimming with dolphins was something which I had always dreamed of doing. We packed up and sadly left our oasis in Islamorada and set off to the centre (en route to Key West where we would be spending two nights).

We arrived at the centre and booked in. Before you go and swim with the dolphins, you take part in a workshop and learn about the history of the place and the work that they do. The centre was originally founded in 1956 by a Sardinian fisherman, Milton Santini, who lived in the Keys. Whilst fishing one day an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin got caught up in his nets and he decided to rescue it. The dolphin, Mitzi, later went on to become the original 'Flipper'. Over the next few decades the centre changed hands a number of times, until finally becoming the DRC, a non-profit organisation, in 1983. There are 19 dolphins in total at the centre, some that have been rescued and some that were born there.

After the workshop, we made our way over to the lagoons where the dolphins were. Whilst waiting for the trainer, we spent some time watching the dolphins playing in the water. They were very curious of us and continuously swam by to check us out.

The trainer told us we would be swimming with a dolphin called Talon. I couldn't wait to get in the water and meet him. Jim was able to watch the whole time on a jetty, although he got a bit burnt standing in the 90 plus degree heat. Once in the water the trainer introduced us to the dolphin by letting us stroke his back as he swam past us. His skin felt like a cross between suede and rubber. Next we got to swim with him, by holding on to his dorsal fin as he pulled us through the water - great fun. I also got to have a kiss from Talon. He swam up to me and I had to put my hand out and gently pull his nose forward to my cheek and then gently guide him away again. We were also taught that the dolphins will mimic you, so I chose to splash at Talon and he splashed me right back (see video). He seemed to have great fun getting me soaked! The whole experience was amazing. It felt like such a privilege to be able to interact with a dolphin. One of the best things I have ever done.

We left the centre and drove on to Key West, the most southern island of the Keys, whilst listening to american country music on the radio (a favourite song is one called 'God is good, beer is great!'. The drive was thrilling and we passed over the famous 7-mile bridge. We checked into our hotel and went out for dinner and a walk around the harbour. We had been warned that Key West was a party down and we certainly met a few characters. At the end of October there is a big festival there called 'Fantasy Fest' (Fred has been 6 times!). It's apparently very risque and anything goes, a bit like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We were looking forward to seeing more of Key West the next day.
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