|Tuesday, January 13, 2009
are seen through a window in the eye to eye underwater
viewing pod on Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale
Safari boat off the coast of Laguna Beach on
CHRISTINA HOUSE, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
You can go eye-to-eye with dolphins
New feature on dolphin and whale charter boat offers innovative,
underwater ocean aquarium.
The Orange County Register
DANA POINT –There's no doubt watching dolphins emerge from
the water's surface is one of the most majestic experiences
along our coast.
But getting to see them up close underwater – peering
eye-to-eye with them as they swim with you – is a whole
When I was offered a sneak peek on Monday to check out an
underwater, glass pod installed in the hull of Capt. Dave's
Dolphin and Whale Safari's 50-foot catamaran in Dana Point,
it was hard to visualize exactly what to expect.
The boat, Manutea, had just been put back in the water
earlier by a crane in Newport Beach, and even creator Dave
Anderson had yet to test it out.
Installing the underwater pod – which he claims is
the first in the world for a commercial charter boat – has
been a dream of Anderson's for 10 years. He literally jumped
up in the middle of the night, woke his wife, and told her
of his vision.
"It is groundbreaking. I'm sure it will be copied all
around the world," he said.
Even when they were financially prepared to start the venture,
it would take a yearlong, painful process of getting Coast
Guard approval to make sure the boat wouldn't sink, or the
glass windows wouldn't leak. Several times, they nearly gave
"It's a little scary to do something like this, to
cut holes in your boat," said Anderson.
As we headed out on Monday afternoon – fortunately
for me on a day with pristine weather – we traveled
for about an hour to search for a pod of nearly 1,000 dolphins
stretching over half a mile that Anderson had spotted earlier.
There are about 400,000 common dolphins that live off our
coast, and it's not unheard of to see pods up to 5,000 in
On the boat with us were a group of family and friends with
their children, and hearing their cheers upon reaching the
playful dolphins is a treat in itself.
It was a first-time experience for Alex Lasater, 12, who
had never been on a boat, and had only seen dolphins at Sea
"This is awesome. It's not like the zoo, it is better
watching it in the wild," he said. "They're more
playful, they're just kind of gliding though the water."
When we were positioned within the pod of dolphins, I carefully
walked down stairs into the hull, an area of the boat usually
used for storage.
It's a small area, only able to fit two or three squatting
people at a time. As I inched closer to the glass panel set
on both sides of the hull, there were dolphins everywhere,
so close you felt like you could pet them.
They seemed almost as curious about us staring at them,
as we were of them. They cruised along the boat, surrounding
us on both sides. At times, there were 10 dolphins swimming
all around us, weaving in and out to get a good look at us.
On the ocean's surface, dolphins are usually seen only for
split seconds as their fins emerge from the surface. From
this view, you can see them swimming fast underwater for
minutes at a time, their tails bobbing up and down as they
kept up with the vessel.
It's not like looking down a glass-bottom boat, which frankly
can be a bit dull. You're surrounded by water in the pod,
and you feel like you're swimming with them as the boat speeds
through the ocean. It was almost like being in an underwater
aquarium, or maybe similar to the feeling scuba divers get
when submerged under water – just a lot drier. The
glass panels in the hull are about 6-feet long and 3-feet
tall, made of bulletproof glass that is stronger than the
actual boat, Anderson said.
Anderson's daughter Arielle, 6, was among the first to get
a glimpse of the new underwater pod.
"It seemed like you could reach out, one inch, and
touch them. They were so close and beautiful," she said. "It
was like a jungle out there."
Although not installed on Monday, there will be audio coming
through speakers of the dolphins. And hopefully, when whales
are spotted along the coast, spectators can get a glimpse
of what they look like while submerged underwater. Prices
aren't going up for the new experience.
For Anderson, his vision came out better than what he imagined.
"Just seeing how badly people wanted to go down there,
it's just overwhelming, it's just powerful," he said. "You're
one of the pod. It's really like you're swimming right with
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