‘That’s Dana’ said Andrew my diving buddy, pointing at the glorious streamlined body leaping fully out of the water to assembled gasps, ‘she’ll come over to say hello when we’re down there’. I truthfully had a moment, right there and then.
This is the Dolphin Reef in Eilat, Israel’s southernmost tropical resort on the Red Sea, just a stone’s throw from Taba in Egypt and Jordan’s Aqaba. The Reef provides an extraordinary opportunity for dolphins and humans to interact with each other through scuba or snorkelling encounters, or just standing on floating piers and watching them swim up close to play. Whichever you choose, you won’t fail to be moved by the whole experience.
There are eight bottle nosed dolphins living at the Reef, and their interaction is not coerced through feeding treats, just their own curiosity and willingness to play.
I took the scuba diving with dolphins option, which, by the way, is open to everyone over 8 years old regardless of qualification. For those of you not certified, it’s an excellent introduction to diving, with an instructor holding on to you throughout your 30 minute dive, and within the shallow waters, you will feel totally safe and secure. So, what a prospect. A personal dolphin encounter and a taste of scuba all wrapped up together.
After a briefing on using the diving equipment, (which is all provided) I donned my gear, got introduced to my personal instructor, and took the short walk to the Reef. Almost as soon as I was under, two dolphins glided over to have a quick peek, almost like a couple of bouncers outside a nightclub. Clearly satisfied that I checked out, and after little petting from Andrew, they let us swim off into the main section of the Reef. That moment alone was worth the admission, but there was more to come.
The Reef itself is a netted section of shoreline that has a maximum depth of 14 metres and is dotted with natural coral, and the odd sunken anchor or two. And there’s plenty of marine life down there to see, including turtles, moray eels and of course shoals of tropical fish. My particular favourite was the Cleaner Fish which does exactly that. It spends its days attaching itself to sea life performing all kinds of cleaning duties and is loved so much by sharks and dolphins they keep it off their menu!
But like all good performers, the stars of the show held back until near the end of my dive, just teasing me with a few glide by’s and little flicks, until finally, as if they knew I was reluctantly having to leave (or more probably my instructor Andrew leaving), three of them, including Dana, came over and treated us to a glorious display of dolphin antics in front of our very eyes. Chattering away and swimming upside down, they weaved in-between the two of us and I swear I saw a fin raised in a farewell wave.
Then it was over. My 30 minutes done in a trice, but with memories that will stay with me forever.