the cortez encounter.

I remember seeing reruns of “Flipper” when I was a child and since then, I have always thought dolphins were magical.

Smart.

Social.

Beautiful.

So, when we decided to take a trip to San Diego, dolphins were top of mind when SeaWorld was added to the list of things to do while on vacation.

I immediately book a dolphin encounter for the girls.

Day one of our visit to SeaWorld, we set out for Dolphin Point. The casual visitor can interact with the dolphins by just waiting by the side of the pool and if lucky one will splash you or swim up for a quick pat. The pool is filled with young dolphins in training. Because of their youth, the docent tell you to consider yourself  in a 24-hour “soak zone.”

The dolphin home is a newly remodeled 2-million dollar pool. All the dolphins currently there have been born at SeaWorld.

We sit down and wait. The girls are excited to meet their dolphin. Squirming in their seats; anticipation rising.

A few minutes later, we meet our trainer. She takes us over to the pool and our dolphin swims up at her command. Raising our hands slightly over the water, he swims over. Lightly we touch his skin. Cortez is his name. He is 3 years old. Just a baby, she says.

He is grey. Soft. Strong. Skin marked with tattoo like scratches from skirmishes with other dolphins. A right a passage, we are told.

He whistles and clicks. Chatting with us about his day. Ava is mesmerized. She thinks he is talking just to her.

We learn about how they are trained and the history of the SeaWorld dolphin program. Our interaction is considered a training session for the young dolphin.

We touch Cortez; hold his tail and cup his face with our hands. He pretends to sneeze. We feed him fish as a reward. We give commands and he responds by splashing us with his tail,  swims out into the pool, and flips into the air.

Smiles come easy; true joy and amazement.

I anticipate that Ava will remember this experience when she is an adult. Cortez, the dolphin, was unforgettable.

However, Mia is more interested in chasing the seabirds around Dolphin Point. Squealing as she got close to actually catching one. I manage to get her interacting with Cortez for about two minutes. But in her eyes, he is big and just a bit too intimidating. I finally convince her to reach out and touch him. A small smile spreads across her face.

Cortez, thank you for the lesson. We are grateful for another reason to treasure the beauty of our planet.

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