Monday, July 11, 2011

Seeing dolphins at Vico

Yesterday evening I saw dolphins swimming wild in Dublin Bay. It felt like a gift. Standing with a close friend on White Rock beach off Vico Road just after dusk, the sky still lit from the set sun with a three quarters moon hanging overhead, we were looking out to sea when the dark fin and arched back of a dolphin appeared in the water directly in front of us. A momentary shape cut through the ripples, coming from right to left, its fin beautifully outlined. Quickly another one broke the water, again just a little of its back and its fin out of the water. It was such a calm night that there were barely any waves. We saw it happen six or seven times in all, and there were definitely two and possibly three dolphins, judging from the speed and the places where they appeared. Wonderful doesn't begin to describe it. And it created a strong feeling of calm.

I love going to the beach at Vico Road at any time of the year, and am often there, huddled alone against the cold as the waves crash in February, or sitting in the sun with crowds of pale bodies while children splash in the waves in June. Yesterday evening we'd been talking about the possibility of seeing dolphins, which I'd been hoping for since a friend was lucky enough to kayak with them in Dublin Bay in September and November last year. He took incredible photos.

As for photos yesterday, unwilling to take my eyes off the water after seeing the first dolphin, I held my camera up to my chest, pointed it in vaguely the right direction, and snapped a photo without looking the next time one broke the water. Given the low light it wasn't surprising that the photo turned out like this:


That dark ripple in the middle, a little left of centre is in fact a dolphin.
I've been lucky enough to see dolphins swimming wild before, in the rather more tropical locale of Vilanculos in Mozambique. No photos of that either, or at least none identifiably dolphin.

As well as friends having seen them, the presence of the dolphins reached national consciousness about a month ago. Video footage on the RTE news and articles like this in The Irish Times reported that a pod of three dolphins seems to have taken up residence in this area between Dalkey Island and Killiney.

Last night was not at all about taking photos, and we didn't go to the beach to try and spot them, only for the pleasure of being at Vico, with its dramatic drop to the sea, sweeping views, clear water and many memories. It was simply a lucky bonus seeing the dolphins. It was tempting to strip off and run into the sea, as one day I would love to swim with dolphins, but my impression is that it's neither possible nor safe to try and swim with these ones. This morning I reported the sighting using the online surveillance system at the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, which provides searchable maps of dolphin, whale and porpoise sightings countrywide, as well as ample information about cetaceans in Ireland. It's also where I learned that the bottlenose dolphin bears the delightful name of Deilf bolgshrónach in Irish.

The group advises against swimming with these dolphins, and extra care needs to be taken if kayaking or boating near them, as is the case generally while at sea, including in rubber dinghies. I'll admit now that I have taken to the sea on occasion, if only very close to shore, as proud co-captain of a "cheap inflatable dinghy" of the kind mentioned disparagingly in this article. And sure we only attracted the attention of the coast guard once.

Perhaps somewhere else I'll get to swim with or just come closer to these or other dolphins, when we know more about these wild animals. I know I'll be back to Vico Road soon, hoping to catch another glimpse.


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