3 Lessons Learned from Swimming With A Dolphin

The author’s son, William, and the dolphin, Tonali

Her name is Tonali and she’s a Pacific Bottlenosed Dolphin about seven years old. My family swam with her while we were on vacation in Puerto Vallarta. We agreed afterwards that it was the highlight of our entire week!
The experience taught me, or perhaps I should say reminded me, of a few things to which you may be able to relate . . . even if you have never gone swimming with a dolphin:


  • Watch out for those assumptions! I had no idea until standing in the water with Tonali in front of me and hearing her “talk” for the first time, that the noise dolphins make comes out of the blowhole on the tops of their heads. I had expected their “voices” to come out of their mouths like every other animal I had ever been around up close. What else is my frame of reference causing me to make false assumptions about?


  • Looks can be deceiving. A dolphin’s skin looks leathery and tough, but it actually feels very smooth and almost creamy. We found Tonali to be incredibly soft – both her back and her tummy. Plus she has an engaging personality! Those people/projects which look intimidating/overwhelming at first could turn out to be just as engaging and enjoyable as swimming with Tonali, given the opportunity.


  • People will surprise you. My two boys loved every minute of their experience with Tonali, but my daughter was terrified. We did not see that coming. My husband and I had no idea she would refuse to let Tonali kiss her, dance with her, or that she would not want to do the “belly swim” where you ride belly to belly around the tank with the dolphin. Where else should I expect the unexpected? Who else has unspoken fears which will disrupt plans underway?

One other tip I’ll share, in case your summer plans involve swimming with a dolphin as well: don’t wear sunscreen when in the water with them. While it protects our skin, it is NOT good for the dolphins’ skin. If you look at it from the dolphin’s point of view, that is a small price for us humans to pay.

I would love to hear about your lessons from summer vacation too. What did you experience that changed your perspective?

Betsy Winkler is a Partner at People Results. She can be reached on email at bwinkler@www.people-results.com or on Twitter at @BetsyWinkler1.