Monday, April 17, 2000
Dolphins relish play
IMAGINE that several times each day you and several
dog-loving friends spend an hour or so playing with your remarkably bright
dogs. This play would include all of the dogs' favorite activities, such
as fetch, having their heads and bellies rubbed, learning new tricks and
eating doggy treats.
For both dog lovers and dogs, such scheduled, personal
time together would be pure pleasure. And that's exactly what it looks
like for the dolphins, trainers and guests of Hawaii's Dolphin Quest
Dolphin Quest is the 1980s brainchild of two mainland
veterinarians who worked with dolphins in marine parks. After seeing how
much people loved watching dolphin shows, the doctors wanted to educate
people in a more personal way. And so, the hands-on Dolphin Quest program
In Dolphin Quest, people with no experience can pet,
feed and play with tame dolphins. I recently watched this interaction at
Hawaii's two Dolphin Quest sites -- one at the Big Island's Hilton
Waikoloa Village and the other at Oahu's Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel --
and left both places feeling good. This was inevitable because everyone in
the program seemed to be having a wonderful time. All the smiles,
including those of the dolphins, looked genuine.
The Dolphin Quest program at the Waikoloa is 11 years
old; the program in Kahala was launched just a few weeks ago. Both sites
feature only dolphins born at the Waikoloa or Oahu's Sea Life Park.
Together, these three facilities are working on a breeding program
designed to mix the dolphins' genes as much as possible.
ALL of the Dolphin Quest animals are bottlenose
dolphins, a species that adapts to captivity so easily scientists view
them as the white rats of marine mammal research. Much of what we know
about dolphin biology and behavior comes from studying these friendly,
And it's not just park dolphins that are friendly. In
the wild, bottlenose dolphins bodysurf big waves, hitch rides on the bow
waves of boats and sometimes, as in the case of Australia's Monkey Mia
beach, swim into knee-deep water specifically to visit humans.
There is no doubt Hawaii's Dolphin Quest animals love
to play with people. Early one morning, I watched the Waikoloa dolphins
snoozing in their pool, barely moving. Then the trainers stepped onto the
beach and instantly the quiet time was over. The dolphins frolicked
gleefully with trainers and guests for as long as the people were there.
During the day, each dolphin gets several rest periods
in pools adjacent to the big one used by trainers, guests and other
dolphins. But just like toddlers, the animals don't want to nap. I watched
two "resting" dolphins repeatedly stick their snouts in the
underwater gate of their pool and lift in efforts to open the door. When
that didn't work, they impatiently bobbed up to see what was going on.
Some animal advocates have expressed concern about
keeping these dolphins in captivity and forcing them to play with people.
But force is not only impossible, it's unnecessary. Like our pet dogs,
which also have wild ancestors, these domesticated dolphins want to play
with people. As such, these tame marine mammals make excellent ambassadors
for their wild counterparts.
A close encounter with these smart, sociable animals is
an experience of a lifetime.
For information about Dolphin Quest call 739-8918 on
Oahu and 808-886-2875 on the Big Isle. You don't have to be a hotel guest
to participate in Dolphin Quest; the staffs are friendly and helpful to