The Healing Power of Swimming with Dolphins

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Have you ever seen a dolphin? Don’t they look happy with that gentle smile permanently etched onto their faces? Have you noticed that this feeling is contagious? It makes us feel lighter, happier and more in sync with ourselves and the world around us.

What’s It’s Like To Swim With Wild Dolphins?

Just eight hours from Johannesburg lies the sleepy little village of Ponta D’Ouro in Southern Mozambique. It is here that one can experience swimming with wild dolphins in the open ocean on their own terms. Here there are no gimmicks or entertainment parks. This is the true essence of what it means to experience a wild dolphin in it’s natural environment. 

We do not feed, herd or chase the dolphins. There are no pools or trainers with whistles to distract you. No loud music or hoops to swim through. This is the real deal! We launch the inflatable boat out of Ponta D’Ouro bay and travel along the backline, which is where we hope to spot the dolphins surfing the waves. Everyone has their eyes peeled, looking in all directions as waves take on the appearance of dorsal fins. And then the cry goes out… “Dolphins!”

The boat slows and seemingly out of nowhere dark shapes break the surface and the distinctive “phooo” blow sound of dolphins breathing reaches us on the boat. Excited humans begin putting on fins and masks as the researchers first follow a strict Code of Conduct. They monitor the dolphins behaviour, noting location, pod size and fin identifications. Once the dolphins’ behaviour has been assessed, small groups of people are allowed into the water. By doing it this way the dolphins are never overwhelmed by too many people.

Silently slipping into the water, the first thing you notice is the sound. Cheeps, clicks and whistles penetrate the water and mingle with the sound of your own breathing through your snorkel. Grey shapes appear in the watery distance and slowly form into dolphins swimming towards you. Turning slightly onto your side you swim alongside them as they gently scan you with their echolocation. It feels so natural to be with them. Your arms are behind you, we never touch the dolphins out of respect for the bond they have with each other. Dolphin society is based on touch and we never interfere with that.

Time vanishes and you have no sense of where anyone else is or how far you are from the boat, it’s just you and the dolphins. You are totally focused on the here and now, everything else is just not important. It feels surreal when they come to you like that, for no other reason other than that they can. A few of the dolphins continue on by and two stay behind, they come in close and begin swimming in a circle with you, around and around you go. Two deep chocolate brown eyes look at you, into you and a feeling of total acceptance fills you up. This amazing acceptance of us in their environment is something that still stuns me to this day. The total lack of judgment and acknowledgement by such incredible beings is something we as humans are not use to. For most people this is the first time they have experienced true acceptance from anyone, for being just who they are. It’s overwhelming for many.

And then, all too soon, the dolphins have moved off and you begin to become aware of the boat and other people in the water with you.  It feels like you are surfacing from a delicious dream. You’ve been in the water for just under 20 minutes and it felt like hours and a few seconds all at the same time. Getting back on the boat you are greeted by delighted people who have just been transported to another place and time.

Why Is Swimming With Wild Dolphins So Healing?

Dr Horace Dobbs is a British researcher who has been studying the effects of swimming with wild dolphins on humans since the mid 1970’s. He started a long-term study named Operation Sunshine, which aims at studying the therapeutic affects dolphins have on challenged individuals. He has already made many remarkable findings and continues to do so. Scientists are fascinated by mans’ need to physically interact with dolphins. Why do we feel so drawn to them?

For many of us, we are drawn to them because like us, dolphins are social beings and form complex bonds and relationships within their pods or family units. We too form bonds within our social groups. Often we feel that we don’t fit in or are different, which can lead to us feeling isolated. Many people who have swum with wild dolphins have found a tremendous lifting of this feeling after their swim. One of the theories as to why they felt this way could be that the dolphins made no demands on them. The dolphins appear genuinely interested in us and accept us freely in their environment, swimming gently alongside us as if this was the most natural thing in the world. By receiving this type of attention, perhaps for the first time ever, a persons’ perception of themselves changes. This can result in incredible healing of life long emotional issues.

It is in this way that dolphins facilitate our healing. Through their compassion and acceptance of us they allow us to see ourselves the way they do. As beautiful, intelligent beings who deserve so much more than we allow ourselves to have, or experience. They show us a possibility of ourselves and then allow us to live in that authentic truth. It is through this acceptance of self that we finally release the emotions that we may have carried, perhaps for decades, and see ourselves in a new light.

People have various emotional reactions to having swum with wild dolphins. Some cry, others go very quiet, while others become totally energised. For each person the effect is different, yet for every person the result is the same. We feel whole and healed in a way that we haven’t been able to achieve through conventional therapy and medications. This can lead to a reduction of medication and less therapy in certain individuals. The person is simply able to cope and function better. For many, the effects of various therapies and medications are short lived. However the long term effects of swimming with dolphins – even though still in study – is profound and can stay with the person for many years after the experience. The reason for this is still unknown, however I believe that the dolphins gently affect a person’s energy field or energy body. We all have an energy field, one that can be measured using Kirlian photography. Everything, even a large boulder has an energy field, and it is this field that can be damaged due to illness, substance abuse, negativity and poor self-image.

Using their incredibly sensitive sonar, dolphins can see within our bodies, identifying tumours, diseases and even pregnancies. They can also “see” our emotional bodies and sense our well being by using their sophisticated 6th sense or echolocation. They can see what is happening in our energy fields or energy bodies and instinctively they know what we need to help us to heal ourselves. For some people it’s a slow gentle swim, for others an up-close encounter. Some may experience a fast, invigorating swim while others may dive deep within the ocean with a dolphin alongside, going deep within, only to return to the surface as someone new. A different person altogether!

The Effect On The Body and Brain

The influence the dolphins have over our emotions has long been explored and observed. There is definitely a link between how we feel emotionally and physically. This is partially due to our brain, which sends messages to our body to secrete various hormones and chemicals, dependant on how we feel at any given moment.

When we experience joy or happiness, our brains secrete endorphins, making us feel euphoric. Encountering dolphins in the wild, swimming with them and being accepted into their world allows us to drop our natural defences and negative self-concept. We go beyond the “little voice inside our head”. We sense a certain freedom and in that space we can experience love, compassion, acceptance, harmony and joy. It is this state of altered consciousness that allows natural and unexplained healing to occur. Resulting in a dramatic improvement in mood, energy levels, focus and happiness for many people. 

Many studies have shown that a dolphin’s brain waves equate with Beta and Theta waves in humans who are in a deep meditative or relaxed state. In human EEG studies, the term Theta refers to frequency components in the 4–7 Hz range. Cortical Theta is observed frequently in young children. In older children and adults, it tends to appear only during drowsy, meditative or sleeping states, but not during the deepest stages of sleep. It has been suggested that the dolphins silently pulse ultrasonic frequencies that attune the human brain waves to the Theta state, or to a deep meditative state. In this state, time has no meaning, as we are only aware of the presence of the dolphins.

The Captive Versus Wild Experience

Encountering dolphins in captivity does not have this effect on people. They usually find the experience fun or educational. But, when a dolphin comes to you, in the wild and on it’s own terms, it feels like a miracle. An amazing gift and it is this experience, the purity of it, the lack of strings attached that can literally change your life in an instant. The captive parks and showmanship of dolphinariums cannot even begin to compare to meeting such awesome grace and beauty that is a free, wild dolphin, joining you in the water just because it wants to.

The Ocean’s Role

The environment in which we swim with the dolphins also has a deep healing effect on the human body. Water is a powerful conductor of energy. The dolphins use this conduit to communicate with one another over vast distances. In this way they can use the water we swim in and the water that makes up 80% of our bodies to influence and facilitate our healing process. Before we were born we spent 9 months in utero. In this space we felt safe and nurtured as we grew and developed. We were nourished and supported in this environment and until we took our first breath, this was the only environment we knew. Swimming with wild dolphins can take us back to this time, to reconnect us with our original selves and with the sense of safety we once knew.

This is a time before pain and separation, before self-doubt and searching. The dolphins allow us to touch that part of ourselves again, to remind us that life is not all about pain and suffering, separation and isolation. They teach us that it is OK to love and to let down our defences. For many reasons, this being only one of them, is why floatation therapy and hydrotherapy has become so popular. This type of therapy usually incorporates music or dolphin sounds playing in the background. Floatation therapies mimic the effects on the body and emotions that occur naturally in the ocean with the dolphins. So why is it then that people are still seeking that physical contact with real, wild dolphins and not heading for the nearest flotation tank? 

It could be that as humans we crave the intensity of a physical encounter before we can allow ourselves to relax and let the healing begin. In this state, our fragile inner child reacts to the dolphins with wonder and joy. We slowly awaken the inner child to the possibility of play and games once more. The option of having fun, just because we can, just like the dolphins do, becomes a reality for us. I have noticed after many swims that people become like children again. Their faces shine with excitement, their cheeks flush, their eyes sparkle with curiosity and the joy of pure freedom.

Who to Do This With and Why

Over the years it has become quite the fad to go swimming with the dolphins. New operators have sprung up, who are not qualified to run these kinds of trips. The end result is unhappy clients and damage to the environment plus unnecessary stress for the dolphins Always investigate the operators and use your discernment to decide who is doing it the best way and use that company. Choose a professional organisation that supports and protects the dolphins and marine life. Look up their mission statements beforehand and find out what they offer, and what work they do to promote the protection of the dolphins and marine wildlife. The dolphins must come first! Harassed dolphins will not offer a person any acceptance or healing. The most the person will get is brief glance and the dolphins will simply swim away.  

Michelle’s Personal Experience:

For the past 14 years, Hashimotos disease and a Mitral Valve Prolapse have affected me profoundly. I am often quite fatigued, but no matter how ill I have been at times, I always manage to go and swim with the dolphins. I always feel so much better, stronger and able to cope with what comes my way afterwards. The dolphins have definitely assisted me over the past 14 years with my own personal journey towards wellness of body and mind and most importantly to live my authentic life. I have learnt the importance of play and downtime. I have realised how necessary it is to let those important to you know how you feel, to speak up when I am not happy about a situation and to praise heartily where I can. By doing this and having regular holistic treatments, I feel healed in ways that conventional treatments and medications have just not accomplished.

By taking people to meet the dolphins on our holistic retreats, my greatest hope is that they will too feel healed, whole and able to live the greatest possibility of themselves. My great joy is seeing the looks of absolute delight on everyone’s faces after that first swim and then hearing the exhilarated accounts of what it was like for THAT person to come face to face with a wild dolphin. It’s unique for everyone, each person has their own story to tell and memories that last a lifetime. Most are changed forever! You cannot explain the changes that occur after a swim, but they are there, they are subtle yet powerful at the same time.

It’s something you should experience for yourself to truly understand the power and majesty of the dolphins and what it is that they do for us. We want to be better people, to do more for our planet and I believe that is their greatest lesson. To teach us what is precious and rare and make us want to preserve it. So, if you get the chance take the plunge and swim with wild dolphins in a responsible way with professionals. It will be the best gift you could ever give to yourself.

Author - Michelle Sachs

Published - 2013-03-11