As usual it starts with that intense waiting where your eyes are small slits against the shimmering sun reflecting off the blue water, your whole body tensed and searching, waiting for that flash of dorsal fin or cloud of breath. The boat cutting up and down the deserted coastline, nothing but pristine coastal forests completely covering the tall sand dunes. Your mask in your hand, fins already on your feet, breathing deepening in preparation for deep dives. A sleek grey body leaps out the back of a crashing wave and a shout goes up ‘There! In the surf!’
Now we watch. It looks like they’re playing - which is good; we don’t get in the water with pods that are sleeping or mating. Following strict codes of conduct we ensure safe and sustainable interactions, it is their ocean after all. Then… It’s a go! Masks on, deep breath, and a stealthy slide off the boat. Looking below me the rippled sandy bottom is only four meters down, deep slow breaths, quietly suspended. Suddenly the water around us comes alive with the clicking and whistling of 20+ dolphins. We hear them before we see them as they scan us. ‘Who are you? What are your intentions? Want to play?’ I speak softly and happily to them - of course I want to play! Two young males leave the pod and start swimming around me, the much-coveted ‘circle-swim’, the dolphin equivalent of a hug and friendship. Keeping eye contact I swim faster and faster, they set the pace without seeming to move a flipper while my lungs start burning and my legs grow heavy. We fly along at the surface, stealing breaths and never breaking eye contact and suddenly the whole group is there, flying around and having a look. A mother with a small baby comes in close, perfectly formed miniature light grey body, still slightly uncoordinated, sticking close to her mothers side, always touching as they race alongside me. Is the mother showing me her young one, or is she showing me to the baby? Together we slow down and I gasp for a breath, echoed by the puffs of dolphins breathing around us.
We are kin. Cousins of a kind as they breathe and weave and play around us. Intelligent eyes following our every movement. I can’t count the times I have slipped off a boat to swim with dolphins, the moments of playful abandon as I join a different tribe, sleek and smart. Returning every year to Mozambique, I get to know them better, recognising individuals, watching as babies grow to juveniles to becoming mothers in time. Sharing in their joyful living, revelling in their freedom, doing whatever we can to ensure they remain both free and joyful.