By Jennifer Chapman, Field Scientist, Belize
Here in Belize we are lucky enough to see dolphins fairly frequently from our boat and the jetty at dive camp. Last year, sightings consisted of mostly bottlenose dolphins throughout the seasons, with occasional Atlantic spotted dolphins seen up to May. Upon arrival in Belize, I quite quickly learnt of others having underwater encounters with bottlenose dolphins last year, something I was incredibly jealous of and would never have imagined I’d have the pleasure to see dolphins whilst diving myself – what a privilege!
How wrong I was! This expedition has been marine mammal heaven for me. A volunteer and I were diving at one of my favourite dive sites – Canyons, as Roger was taking his in-water fish test in preparation for the imminent surveys. At almost 30m underwater, I heard a squeaking and clicking but I didn’t dare think the origin of the noise would be what I hoped. Of course I had to double check and was rewarded by a fleeting glimpse of a large Atlantic spotted dolphin! UnBELIZEable!
I grabbed Roger, frantically pointing towards where I had seen the beautiful creature. We were again rewarded, as three smaller Atlantic spotted dolphins cruised past us. We changed course, fish test long forgotten, in the hope of another look… and yes, all four of them returned, swimming back towards us clicking and squeaking, with the largest dolphin coming within five meters of us to have a good look at us, the two strange looking creatures staring and smiling manically.
I was extremely happy with what I thought was my once-in-a-lifetime encounter, however mother nature had a lot more in store for me that week! Whilst boat marshalling a couple of days later, Samos, our boat captain, noticed two manatees on the outskirts of the reef the divers were on. I quickly popped on my mask and snorkel and jumped in to take a closer look at them. They were munching on the seagrass bed surrounding the reef, though didn’t stick around for long once they realised they were being watched.
Luck must surely be up by now, right? Wrong – whilst surveying a site in the south of the marine reserve, Jon, the expedition manager, spotted two bottlenose dolphins; a mother and calf, watching us as we laid out our tapes. Again, as soon as they realised they had been spotted they swam off, but I was extremely happy with the sighting.
Encounters such as these are so rare, and whoever is lucky enough to experience them I can assure you will never forget. These frequent sightings of the rarer animals within the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve are extremely encouraging, and some dolphins are known to be resident within the reserve. One large bottlenose is easily recognisable, due to a distinctive notch on its dorsal fin.
P.S. Roger even managed to pass his fish test with 100% on the dolphin dive!