The dolphins went crazy. First they charged and then they veered away; their big, black eyes focused intently on me. The whale, on the other hand, just trudged along on the bottom, looming even larger than I had imagined.
The dolphins were surprisingly easy to tell apart. Their head shapes, eyes and the way that they moved made each an individual.
Bayou (7 feet long and 300 pounds), an 8-year-old male with a narrow head and a hooked jaw, was the John Travolta of the tank. The macho man. He had scratch marks on his sides and nose, battle scars from tiffs with the other dolphins.
Schooner (same size as Bayou), a 7-year-old female, had a pointed jaw and big, bright eyes. She was exuberant and curious, like a puppy.
Stormy (7 feet, only 250), a 7-year-old female, was slow-moving and laid-back, the one with the droopy, mellow eyes.
Shiloh (8 feet, 300), an 8-year-old female who ruled the roost, was the Mae West of MarineWorld.
And, of course, there was Koko. He was aloof, lackadaisical and always trying to outguess me.
Almost immediately, Bayou swam up, circled and spewed a dark, liquidy substance into the water in front of me. My head popped up. "What was that?" I asked the trainer.
"Either a mating dance," he said, "or he went to the bathroom." Swell.
The four dolphins came closer and gradually spent more time with me. I swam slowly, so as not to rile them. They must have sensed I was no threat, that I couldn't possibly live under the water without my air hose. I could hear them speaking in quiet squeaks and puckering sounds. A dolphin makes its sounds by passing air from one of its two vestibula sacs (nasal sacs located just below the blowhole) to the other. The vibrations range from high frequencies (a dolphin's whistle can make the hair on one's arms stand on end, even underwater, even under a wet suit) to very low, thumping frequencies (sort of like those heard from the woofers at a rock concert).