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  • For fifty years my family have holidayed at a quite beach on the shore of a basin that is fed by an inlet to the sea. It is a place of great contrasts; still and reflective in the mornings and evenings, wild and relentless when the wind blows directly at us. I learned to swim in this water: have water skied, sailed, fished and paddled all of my life. With only a small inlet we rarely see any large marine life- in my 46 years I have seen two dolphins who came for a few days and swam back to sea and one seal pup who did the same.

    In July last year my father called me- a dolphin had made it's home in the basin. More than this, it could be seen swimming up and down in a relatively small area around our beach. A young dolphin, small and very shy, but curious about the boats and kayakers using the waterway. Dad would call me or text me every few days to give me the "dolphin update" - and I thanked the dolphin for helping to keep open the lines of communication between us.

    Over the next few months the dolphin grew bigger and more bold. It started to swim in closer to people in kayaks and rode the bow wave of the fishing boats. Many happy hours were spent by visitors and locals alike as we watched this new behaviour and felt so close to such a magnificent creature. My niece named him/her "Billie" and would paddle around with the dolphin following her after school each summer afternoon.

    There is quite a bit of quality research on the phenomena of the "solitary dolphin" and the residents of our beach shared research papers and links to learn more. "Our" dolphin was actively seeking contact. The literature we were reading indicated this is a natural progression in the behaviour of solitary dolphins. Sometimes it ends in tears when idiots hurt or intimidate the dolphin. Sometimes the dolphin will get a bit amorous with people and accidentally hurt them – they are big, powerful animals – and sometimes the experience is just magic for all involved.

    The Christmas holidays brought an influx of holiday makers to the basin and stories of the dolphin spread. Local authorities and conservationists came to observe and, despite them being the "experts", we were able to fill in the gaps of their knowledge. They spoke to all the locals, asking us to keep away from the dolphin so it wouldn’t be acclimatised to humans. We had to explain that it had already been here for almost five months, that it was seeking attention and company, and we had been and would continue to be very respectful. The experts were concerned about the holiday makers who might not understand how to behave so they patrolled the water; educating people and keeping an eye on things.

    I deliberately didn’t swim out in the deep near the dolphin out of respect, and because I wanted to make sure we were setting a good example for others. All of our beach friends had swam with the dolphin in the weeks leading up to Christmas and one, a marine biologist, was saying not only how wonderful the experience was but that in moderation we would not be doing the dolphin any harm. She also believed that this was a once in a life time experience and one that offered each of us a chance to develop a sense of awe and understanding for conservation and environmental protection.

    So, after the holiday makers had all packed up and gone home and everything was quite and still again, I joined a few locals in the kayaks and the dolphin swam around us for about 45 minutes, showing off, putting it’s head up out of the water and jumping joyfully around us as we paddled. It was trully a magic moment.

    I live in the city but my spiritual home is here by this magic body of water. On the last day before I was to leave, "Billie" was back and my niece and a few friends were swimming with it. It dawned on me that this might be the only opportunity I would have to be so near to something so beautiful. I put on some flippers and joined them.

    Oh. My. God. It was magnificent. To be that close to such a powerful, sleek and intelligent animal was such a blessing. It was also a bit unnerving – a dolphin is all muscle and we were all aware that an accidental flip of the tail or a brush with it’s teeth could cause injury.

    "Billie" circled us, swam under us and surprised us as we didn’t know where it would surface or jump up next. It brushed against us and rolled over to be rubbed on it’s belly. I now know what a dolphin feels like – a dolphin is wet neoprene and muscle.

    It got very personal when "Billie" became fascinated by my fluro green flippers. It kept swimming under me, rubbing itself against the flippers and nudging them with its mouth. It bumped up under my bottom a few times, lifting me in the water. At one stage it rose up on it’s tail and looked me in the eyes! I said to it “I’m a human Billie, be gentle with me” and off it went. After almost ten minutes I took the flippers off. I felt guilty that I was giving Billie the wrong impression! I later swam back to shore feeling overwhelmed and so very, very fortunate to have had such an experience.

    There is something else I have to tell you- the sentimental folk of our beach have a theory that the dolphin is the spirit of my mother reincarnated. "Billie" has chosen the beach as it's territory and our friends believe it is our Mother's spirit watching over us and bringing us comfort.

    I am sentimental too; an incurable romantic with a tragic appreciation of beauty. I wanted to see my mother's spirit in the eyes of the dolphin however, I didn't feel any immediate connection.

    I DID feel the presence of the "life force" though- the energy and beauty of all living things – and for that I am eternally grateful.
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