Saturday, June 9, 2018

Oceanic Close Encounters

For most Americans, things don't get more patrician than standing on the lido deck of the Disney Magic cruise ship as it sails through Caribbean waters. There are far more elite cruise lines, some so expensive that the brochures do not list the prices for their little fifteen to twenty day jaunts around the south Pacific or leisurely Mediterranean voyages. The idea being that if you have to know the prices of such trips before hand, you certainly can't afford them.

Don't get me wrong, while my family and I have been on three Disney cruises, the price for those vacations were nearly beyond our means. Fully knowing my following statement will sound like a blatant advertisement for what largely amounts to a soulless corporation, but Disney cruises are worth every penny.

On each of our three trips, when my family and I finally retired to our cabin for the night it was because of exhaustion from the activities. Yes, there were days devoted to relaxing, and if that is your main purpose, a person can easily find secluded and quiet places on the ship to read a book or listen to music for the entire trip. When my wife and I finally do another Disney cruise, that is exactly my plan. By that time the kids will be mostly on their own, and we have no intention of bringing the crumb snatchers.

Back when the kids were younger they were the main reason for the trips to begin with. But each morning I made a point of getting up before my wife and them and grabbing a cup of coffee to enjoy some alone time. Strolling the decks right before sunrise you almost have the ship to yourself. Sure, there are others up and about like the fitness types and the odd late night strangler but you mostly see folks like myself just wanting a bit of solitude before the energetic hordes emerge.

It was on our last Disney cruise in January of 2011 that I had one of those special moments that I hope never to forget. It was the second or third day of the cruise, and as usual I sneaked out of the cabin leaving my wife and daughter still fast asleep. The sun had just begun to break the horizon as I walked on the lido deck heading towards the gigantic coffee pots situated close to the restaurant where the buffet breakfast would be served a couple of hours later.

After getting my cup of coffee, I found a nearby seat looking out over the ocean to enjoy the beginning of a new day. As the minutes ticked by the rising sun created an orange hue across the water. While the overall weather was calm and clear, the ocean seemed a bit choppy with countless small waves colliding together sending up small splashes of water that twinkled as they caught the sunlight going down. The scene by itself was one of those picturesque moments true photographers would have twisted themselves and their cameras into pretzels to catch ever visible nuance.

I did attempt to reach for my camera, which should have been in the right side cargo pocket of my shorts, only to realize that in my haste to leave the cabin as quickly and quietly as possible, I had left it behind. Going back for it would have been futile, by the time I returned to my spot the conditions would have changed so I just sat back and enjoyed the subtle play of light across the water. Hindsight always being more perceptive than the present, it wasn't ten minutes later that another circumstance appeared that caused me to wish I had gone after my camera.

The buffet-style restaurant and the adjoining beverage station were at the ship's stern. And the spot I was sitting allowed me a decent view of the latter half of the port side of the ship. Right before I was about to get my second cup of coffee, I noticed a section of the ocean that was far more choppy than the rest. It didn't take long for me to realize that it was a pod of dolphins on what amounted to an intercept course for the cruise ship.

Of course, I was enthralled watching the pod catch up with the ship and then swim alongside. That wasn't all, as the dolphin leaped through the air, I saw them tilting the side of their bodies facing the ship upward. Anthropomorphizing the behavior of animals is bad practice, but it appeared as if the pod as a whole was inspecting the ship.

No big deal, it's well recorded that cetaceans are curious animals who interact with humans on occasion while in the wild. So it was no stretch to think that this pod, being open ocean swimmers in well trafficked waters, had encountered human ships in the past. What I still wonder about though is were there any inter-dolphin communications going on between the members of that pod as they swam alongside the Disney Magic? Were there any dolphin discussions on what they thought the purpose of the Disney Magic, since I imagine people riding around on a big ship for pleasure is a completely alien concept to them.

While the scientific reports I have read strongly suggest dolphins are not sentient, they are still incredibly intelligent animals with sophisticated communications abilities among themselves. I'm the type of person who freaks out at the idea of understanding what other intelligent species, both terrestrial and the hypothetical extraterrestrial type, think of humans and their creations. Truthfully, I realize their opinions of us is probably quite low since humans tend to screw up things and destroy far more than we preserve and build.

For several minutes the dolphins kept pace with the ship, but just as suddenly as they appeared some group decision was made and they veered off almost perpendicular to the direction we were going. That's the thing that still causes me to wonder in amazement, did some pod leader suddenly announce to the group the side trip was over or was there the equivalent of a vote? Because while I have no evidence the pod had an ultimate destination they were trying to reach, the way the group just changed direction makes me think they had a particular place they wanted to be.

It wasn't long before the dolphin pod was gone from sight once again leaving me to my thoughts. While my encounter with them was tenuous at best, I count it as one of the best parts of that trip.


Pixel Peeper said...

Encountering a pod of dolphins would really excite me, too! Too bad you didn't have your camera with you.

I always wonder about pelicans, when they all dive headfirst for food at the exact same time. It's almost like one of them says, "One, two, three...NOW!"

sage said...

What a nice memory--and I'd been up with you, walking the deck in the light of dawn, a favorite time of day.

The Bug said...

How cool! I've never done a Disney cruise, but the couple of cruises I've taken with other cruise lines have been a lot of fun. We'd like to do it again someday - maybe we will for our 30th anniversary.

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