Wild Dolphins of Socorro

March 2006

Underwater encounters with wild dolphins are extremely rare in most parts of the diving world. These magnificent animals, masters of the underwater world, show little interest in divers in most places except for an occasional "swim by".

Not so in the Socorro Islands. At Socorro Island and Roca Partida, wild dolphins are curious and will come in to investigate divers.

Particularly in the months of April and May of each year. We've been approached by groups of up to 20 dolphins, and these encounters have been extraordinary. The dolphins are usually proceeded by the "clicking" noises dolphins use to communicate and navigate the underwater world. Not only will you hear them, but you may even "feel" them as a gentle tingling sensation on the back of your neck! Pretty incredible, and when that happens, you know the dolphins are close.

Then they appear, nearly always from the ocean side of whatever you're diving on, and more frequently than not out in the blue. In fact, we've had more luck "out in the blue" than close to the underwater walls of the Socorros Islands.

And these dolphins swim close, sometimes near enough to touch. We have seen them "stand" on their tails, do slow spiral dances in front of use, and also pose "upside down" in front of divers. Particularly late in the spring Socorro Season.

Nearly all of these behaviors mimic the pre-mating rituals of oceanic cetaceans, including the Humpback Whales. While dolphins are known to mate all year long, it's also a strong guess that this activity is also concentrated at certain times of the year. And for Socorro, we'd have to guess it's in April and May, judging from our dive logs.

A few tips for wild dolphin encounters:

  1. Like all big animal encounters, it's always good practice to let the animals themselves dictate the interaction. If you're relatively motionless, and show no aggression, they will approach or not. On the subject of aggression, while you might mean absolutely no harm in charging a dolphin and sticking a strobe in front of it, imagine what this looks like from the other side! So movements should be slow and non threatening.
  2. When the dolphins "pose" in front of you, these are usually male dolphins that are "showing off" for the females. They are also probably inviting a comparison with the divers to show the females they are obviously more suitable mates than the bubble-blowing clumsy humans.

There's a good chance these wild dolphin encounters take place regularly in Socorro because the dolphins are patrolling their "territory" and just checking the divers out to make sure no other group of dolphins are coming in for a meal or trying to take a bit of underwater real estate. We suspect that if we were diving each area, every day, the dolphins would soon tire of the experience. But since there are only a limited number of trips to Socorro each year, and the diving is spread throughout three of the islands (Socorro, Roca Partida, and San Benedicto), our arrival there is new enough, each time, to warrant some investigation.

It is our sincere hope they enjoy meeting us as much as we do meeting them!


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