Place of refuge – for villagers and dolphins

13 Nov

First I hear the squeaking.  Surely my ears are playing tricks on me.  Maybe its my teeth rubbing the plastic of my snorkel.  But then I see a shadow move across the glints of sunlight filtering through the deep blue.  The shadows move closer.  The dolphins are surfacing.  Surfacing, playing, almost dancing, sometimes pooping – and all right around me.

Now imagine me in the center! Sadly no underwater camera for me - photo thanks to

I’m in the middle of a pod of spinner dolphins gallivanting between ocean floor and wavy surface.  And they couldn’t care less.  The first time they surface all around me I just freeze – ‘be still’, ‘be respectful’, ‘just float like kelp and stay out of the way’.  But they jump and dive on every side of me totally nonplussed by my intrusion.  I don’t think they’re unaware, a few look over at me, they are curious critters after all.  One mother-calf pair swim so close I could’ve reached out to touch them – almost inviting to come dive through the deep with them.

If only I could have captured such images! Photo thanks to

It’s a completely  surreal experience.  I feel as if I got sucked in to some beautifully filmed National Geographic documentary.  Dolphins on every side, up, down, all around – I try to count them – they’re too fast!  I try to count by threes and get up to at three dozen before too many dive or circle back to keep track of.


I’m snorkeling in the bay next to the Place of Refuge, “Pu’uhonua o Honaunau“.  The ground here is made sacred by the bones of Hawaii’s ruling chiefs.  On the peninsula jutting out on layers of lava rock, temples honor the spirits of kings and provide sanctuary for the young, the old, the outlaw. 

The water here provides a different sort of sanctuary – the calm bay with its ample coral and colorful fish is a resting area for pops of spinner dolphins as they traverse the Pacific off the shores of Hawaii.

Oh – but wait – there’s more on my fabulous Hawaii trip!  Since I got to the island for a conference – The Annual meeting of The Wildlife Society – I supposed I’d better learn something.  I’m excited about the new Googlemapping tools I picked up.  One day I’ll use them for science – but for now, tracking my vacation!


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