Being played with

This past weekend, we concluded my wife’s birthday month celebration with kayaking in New Smyrna. We put in at JB’s Fish Camp, my wife and youngest son in one boat and his brother and I in the other.

“We should go to Turtle Mound before heading to manatee cove,” my wife said as we paddled away from shore. “You wouldn’t believe the dolphins I saw there.”

My wife has a talent for attracting dolphins.

When I’m out kayaking with just the boys, we hardly ever see them – maybe one trip out of five. When she’s with us, though, it’s almost a certainty.

Even though a dolphin sighting is just “hey, look at that fin!”, it’s still really cool. When you’re kayaking, you’re very low to the water, and that closeness to nature amplifies all your animal encounters.

“There’s one!” my youngest shouted, almost as soon as we’d reached deep water.

I turned my head to look “Where?”

“And there!” his brother said.

I looked again, but there was nothing.

“Look!” my wife shouted, her hand extended toward what looked like empty water.

I sighed. Either they were playing a practical joke on me, or I was having amazingly bad luck.

“Cool,” I said.

“Dad, Dad, Dad!”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, paddling. There are only so many times you can spin your head around before you start to get a little grumpy.

Just then, 20 feet off our port bow, a dolphin leaped out of the water. He was close enough for me to see his smile, to make eye contact as he arched his back and dove back down.

“Wow,” I breathed.

We paddled after him, but the water had gone quiet.

“I saw his eye,” I whispered to my son. “I’ve never seen that in the wild before.”

“It was amazing,” he said.

Just then, another dolphin leapt up next to us. Both of us jumped, and the kayak rocked precipitously. The dolphin turned its body in the air and splashed down.

“There’s more than one!” I said.

We paddled quietly, trying to guess what direction they were going.

Some distance away, we saw two babies arch up out of the water and back down again, their bodies so close to each other it looked like their fins were touching.

“We should just drift,” I said quietly to my oldest son.

“C’mon Dad,” he answered. “Let’s get closer.”

That was a better idea.

We paddled after the dolphins, moving as fast as we could. There were four of them, it turned out. Once we’d reached them, they swam a wide circle around us and disappeared. We craned our heads around, searching, then spotted them over by my wife’s kayak.

Clearly, the dolphins wanted the two kayaks kept together. Happy to oblige, we paddled back.

“I think the parents are teaching their kids how to jump,” my wife said.

A dolphin jumped again, blowing out air as he came out of the water. This time, both our kayaks followed.

We spent about an hour out there, chasing and watching the dolphins. I have no idea if they playing with us or not, but it sure was fun.

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