I have swum with these dolphins hundreds of times before. I’ve been coming here for more than twenty years. I recognise many of them and many know me too. Slipping off the boat into the crystal blue Indian Ocean to be met by clicks and whistles and friendly faces would usually be nothing new. But today is different to any other day with my bottlenose friends. Today, they get to see what nobody has seen before. Nestled deep inside of me is my small daughter, seven months old and swimming in her own small ocean. The sounds of my heart rate, pulsing blood flow and the muffled sounds of the outside world have been her only soundtrack for as long as she has existed. But today, she gets to hear something I had always hoped for when I dreamt of what I would like to share with my future baby: the meeting between dolphin friends and an unborn child.
Dolphins have a highly evolved ability to see through sound, called echolocation. On the front of their head, where our forehead would be is their so-called melon, a fatty liquid organ that serves as the lens for their underwater third eye. Sound waves are focused through the melon, directed at what they are investigating (a fish hiding under the sand, a small human huddled in a womb) and then bounced back, like an echo, to be absorbed by the lower jaw, travelling to the inner ear and on to the nerves connected directly to the brain. Here in their very large and complex brain, these sounds are translated into an image. Seeing with sound, one of the many fascinating special talents of these highly intelligent beings.
Back to sitting on the boat in the middle of a sparkling blue Indian Ocean with a small swimmer inside me waiting to meet her friends. The dolphins jumping and playing in the pounding shore break, leaping high out the water behind the waves as they show off their surfing skills. Speeding towards us I slow my breathing and pull on my mask and fins, deep breaths into my belly, I feel my lungs expand above the bump. I gently rub my belly, hoping my small swimmer is ready for this moment. I am shivering with excitement, struggling to keep my heart rate down as the dolphins start circling the boat. Dad-to-be Peter gets in first, quick check what’s down there and how the waves and currents are before I slip in.
Sleek grey bodies are zooming about all around me and below me. Speckled bellies, wide eyes, rippling sunshine on perfectly streamlined shapes. I slowly feel gravity mercifully disappear as the ocean holds me and the extra watery world I carry. A mother and calf approach and start circling me, the calf coming so close I could reach out and touch her. Intense eye contact as they start circling me, the calf darting in and out between me and its mother, transfixed by something only they can see.