by Pam Hobbs

During the 20 minute catamaran ride from Nassau to Blue Lagoon Island I explain to Kelly Meister, whose family owns the popular Dolphin Encounters Limited, that we are to be observers. Michael will be taking photographs; I'll be watching the interaction between dolphins and my fellow passengers. We will not be getting wet. It is 8.30 in the morning and we have a full day ahead, so no, I didn't bring a swimsuit with me. "This is a working trip" I tell her primly.

Blue Lagoon Island is home to 16 Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, including three who starred as Flipper in the l996 movie featuring Elijah Wood and Paul Hogan. Since it opened in l989 some 2.5 million people have come to swim or interact with these intelligent creatures - to learn about their likes and dislikes and how they are cared for here in their rocky enclosures. Movie stars, European royals and leading politicians love this place. We can tell from their beaming faces in pictures on the photo studio walls.

Actually, celebrities came here long before the dolphins. Between l916 and '79 the Chicago Tribune's chief foreign correspondent, John T. McCutcheon, owned the island. Visits then were by invitation only, and guests seldom refused in spite of primitive accommodations. No telephones of course. So when President Nixon needed to contact his Secretary of State, Caspar Weinberger, he had to leave a message for him at the Nassau Marina and wait for a call back! Now only the dolphins live on Blue Lagoon, and visitors come for three hour stays, four times a day.

Upon arrival we are led into an orientation centre to learn something about dolphins, and how to act when up close and personal with them. We're told that Princess, now 39 years old, started it all when she and her partner were rescued from a defunct hotel aquarium in Nassau and relocated in the out-island of Abaco. A few years later, along with six playmates, they were moved to Blue Lagoon Island which underwent a multi-million dollar expansion to house them in the best possible conditions. Eight dolphins in the current programme were born here.

All training is accomplished with praise and fishy rewards. Each dolphin is fed approximately 20 kilos of fish a day, and they're also free to eat the countless fish and crabs inhabiting their natural domain. Two interactive programs are offered: "Close Encounter," puts visitors waist-high or on their knees in a pool, as a dolphin comes to them to be petted. "Swim With the Dolphins" is a little more boisterous. "Observers" can do this trip for $20, and stay dry. With everyone around us wearing swimsuits, it would appear that Michael and I are the only observers.

Youngsters in the audience make no attempt to hide their excitement. The one beside me has done his homework. "Where do we not touch ?" asks our instructor, Erene, having listed blow holes, eyes and belly-buttons as parts of the dolphin's anatomy out-of-bounds to poking fingers. "His privates" yells Reggie. "Well, yes - er I like that expression - yes those too" Says petite Erene. We continue our lesson in Dolphin Anatomy l0l.

At the Encounter pool Kelly introduces me to a cheeky dolphin called Stormy, son of Princess. I smile. He smiles back. Kelly offers me a wet suit. A wet suit ? Moi ? That's a laugh. I'm more likely to get into a space suit and be rocketed off to the moon. Time to confess that I am the original Chicken of the Sea. I can't swim - don't know how - never could bring myself to put my head under water. I even hate showers. Over the years my children, and their children, have cajoled, jeered, and encouraged me to put my head under water but it's a no go. Can't be done.

We move closer to the Encounter enclosure. Now Stormy's giving me the glad eye, while Kelly tells me how much little children from the Wish Foundation enjoy this experience... even people in wheelchairs. All I have to do is kneel. Right. But what if I get splashed or take a tumble ? And kneeling may sound good to a young thing like Kelly, but I'd probably have to go on all fours when it's time to stand up. Not a pretty sight....

"You know, it would be a much better story" Kelly comments. "You'd be able to tell your readers, 'if I can do it, so can you.'" Stormy's bobbing around making clicking sounds. Now he's jerking his head back, in a beckoning motion. Lord luv 'em, they've got me.....

I ask Michael to take a picture of me in my wet suit, just so's our grandkids can see I'm not quite the Lame Duck they sometimes believe me to be. As a memento too, should I not survive my dolphin encounter. Gingerly I leave the bottom step to join half a dozen other participants in the waist high water, by which time Stormy is dutifully hopping along to give each of us a kiss for the benefit of the company photographer. At every smackeroo the audience lets out a collective "aahh". Stormy loves it. The louder the applause the more he hams it up, splashing with his flippers, sashaying from side to side, making dolphin sounds.

It's time. I brace myself, but he knows a chicken when he sees one and as he presses his cheek to mine he hardly disturbs the water. Uncertainties vanish. I put my arms around him. He's soft and slippery and adorable, and comes back for a hug. I'm ecstatic. Now he's wiggling seductively, inviting me to dance. I hold his flippers, gently as instructed, stroking him carefully without going below his chest. He shows me his 80 or so teeth. All too soon it's over. I can't believe I did this. I hug Kelly and make her all wet.

We walk over to the Swim programme, just as a young girl is being propelled across the pond on the nose of her new best friend. I think of my 12 year old grandson, the future biologist, and decide we must come back together to share this experience. I'll learn to swim. He can join a two week camp. We'll become volunteers. Maybe trainers even. Suddenly the possibilities are endless.....

For more information on Dolphin Encounters Ltd., telephone (242)363-1003, e mail: Or click onto the website at