Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kayaking with Dolphins

Yes,  that happened.

Whenever you go on vacation to a touristy spot (like Hilton Head) there are a multitude of tours you can pay out of the nose for which promise 100 lb fish, dolphins, and even a tour on a pirate sailboat where you get to shoot water guns at other tour boats.  My family loves to kayak so we decided to wake up early and spend two hours on the water.  Now, for the four of us to rent kayaks for 2 hours, it was around $80.  If we took a dolphin/low country kayak tour, it would have been about $80 apiece.  Yikes.  That was not going to happen.

We each got our own kayak and got launched off of the dock.  The man told us to go to the left and the right and to follow the shoreline.   My dad, of course, went left and then left again.  We were pretty close to another tour group, and the man said he knew where to find dolphins and headed to the right, so my mom and I decided to follow him in search for dolphins.  We were subsequently warned not to try to get a free tour, but even without the guide we saw the first one crest on the other side of the inlet within 10 minutes.  We paddled over, and before we knew it we were spotting dolphins every 15 minutes.  There was a baby dolphin with her mother, there were dolphins coming up under my dad's kayak, and there were dolphins jumping out of the water (my brother saw one, unfortunately I missed it).  I had images of dolphins coming up under my kayak, flipping it, and laughing at me, because that's what a dolphin would do.  Anyone who has seen the movie Flipper has the image of a dolphin as being whimsical and jovial, where in actuality they can be huge jerks.  They're incredibly intelligent, meaning that they'll mess with you for fun, and I've heard second-hand horror stories from someone who worked with dolphins.  I really wanted a dolphin to come up to my boat, but I think I'd probably freak out and tip my kayak over myself.  One did come close to me, about 10 feet away, and I felt like a 5-year-old girl meeting Cinderella at Disney World.  I also got to see lots of pelicans, and one even dove for a fish in front of me and I could see the fish flapping around in its throat pouch before the pelican swallowed it whole.  I was even able to identify a White Ibis.  It's times like these that I miss working at the zoo.  I miss the close contact I had with fascinating animals, but I know the path I have chosen is the right one.  I love being able to teach people about animals and nature, which I think was one of the things that helped me in my transition from working with animals to being a teacher.  I still get to enjoy animals at times like this and I do hope that in the future my knowledge of animals that I gained from working at the zoo will come in handy.

When we were coming back in from our trip I saw a huge pelican sitting on the dock.  I never realized how huge these birds are until I was about 2 feet from it.  It was looking at me with this fight or flight response in its eyes and I've been attacked by enough birds to be justly terrified of them, especially this monster of a bird.  The bird took off and I screamed and ducked, dropping my paddle instead of using it as a weapon.  The bird joined its friend on another dock, and I slunk down into my kayak as all of the people on the dock stared at me.  The focus was taken off of me soon enough, though, when my mom almost fell through the dock trying to get out of her kayak.

We stayed out on the water for about 2 hours.  Kayaking is an amazing upper-body workout - I wish I could put this into my cross-training every week.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is going to be on the water this summer.   For $20 each, we got to kayak with dolphins and pelicans and travel through marshes and around oyster beds.  It was pretty amazing, no tour guide required.

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