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An entertaining time on the bow watching the avid bow-riding spinner dolphins of Puerto Princesa

My next trip out on Toto’s dolphin watching boat on July 29th was even better than the last one. On this occasion the dolphins seemed to be harnessed to the boat and pulling it along like Neptune’s chariot because they didn’t stop bow-riding in numbers for most of the time that we were with them. I positioned myself quite precariously on the bow with two expensive cameras and lenses dangling around my neck. Apart from maintaining my balance I had to ensure that my feet didn’t get tangled up in the bow line of the boat loosely coiled under my feet. It’s impossible not to get completely absorbed in the rapturous motion of dolphins when they perform with so much gusto as they did that morning. I informed the guests onboard that it was one of the best bow-riding shows that I’d ever seen. When I had a boat in Southeast Alaska many years ago I used to love watching the tiny Dall’s porpoises, the fastest of all cetaceans, zipping along in front of the boat with barely any effort at all, and then with a flick of their tail they would shoot out of sight. My most memorable and graphic recollection of how fast they were was at night when one screamed past my boat creating a luminous trajectory of bioluminescent algae like a comet flashing across the night sky. There is so much analysis of animal behaviour, and we often find it difficult to interpret some behaviour as just being pleasurable as if animals don’t have the capacity to enjoy pleasurable experiences as much as we do. Dolphins are certainly one animal that can testify to the importance of joyful exuberance for other creatures on this earth! Watching dolphins bow-riding, or leaping and spinning, has given me the same kind of buzz that watching humpback whales breaching used to give me; yes that are a lot of reasons why they may do that like dislodging parasites or herding fish, but sometimes the joie de vivre was inescapable, especially if it involved a calf. It is widely accepted that dolphins can have a therapeutic affect on people with disabilities if they swim with them, and animals like horses are attributed with the same kind of influence on people. I also get it from dogs when they wag their tails so feverishly and grin as if they see me as a giant bone. When dolphins are gliding through the water as if between sheets of silk, and twisting and turning so effortlessly, it must release pleasure-inducing endorphins or something equivalent in the viewer as well as the dolphins.

There were two European students onboard who got a tremendous thrill from watching the dolphins. I was glad that I was able to tell them how lucky they were that the dolphins were putting on an exceptional show that morning.

There were two European students onboard who got a tremendous thrill from watching the dolphins. I was glad that I was able to tell them how lucky they were that the dolphins were putting on an exceptional show that morning.


Dolphins are the true masters of synchronised swimming.

Dolphins are the true masters of synchronised swimming.


I'm using the superb Canon 70-200mm F2.8 L IS II zoom lens, which delivers unbelievably crisp images. I usually shoot with the highest possible shutter speed to cover the longest focal length so when I zoom back to shorter focal lengths the images are frozen with microscopic sharpness as demonstrated by the water splashes.

I’m using the superb Canon 70-200mm F2.8 L IS II zoom lens, which delivers unbelievably crisp images. I usually shoot with the highest possible shutter speed to cover the longest focal length so when I zoom back to shorter focal lengths the images are frozen with microscopic sharpness as demonstrated by the water splashes.


The fast shutter speed of my camera freezes the motion and reveals things that are happening too fast to be aware of at the time. I did remember to shoot some video this time because there were so many dolphins bow-riding in tight formation but still photos are always so rewarding when the dynamic elements of dolphins and water are combined.

The fast shutter speed of my camera freezes the motion and reveals things that are happening too fast to be aware of at the time. I did remember to shoot some video this time because there were so many dolphins bow-riding in tight formation but still photos are always so rewarding when the dynamic elements of dolphins and water are combined.


This photo reminds of when I used to watch orcas cruising on the surface in Southeast Alaska and seeing the exhaled breath being enveloped in large bubbles that slid along their silky smooth bodies. They are so hydrodynamic that the surface tension of the water remains unbroken and stretches across their head like a second skin.

This photo reminds of when I used to watch orcas cruising on the surface in Southeast Alaska and seeing the exhaled breath being enveloped in large bubbles that slid along their silky smooth bodies. They are so hydrodynamic that the surface tension of the water remains unbroken and stretches across their head like a second skin.


They really do have long beaks relative to the size of their small bodies, hence the alternative name of long-snouted dolphin.

They really do have long beaks relative to the size of their small bodies, hence the alternative name of long-snouted dolphin.


The blowhole looks very large here when it is fully dilated. The lungs can be emptied and refilled through this in one fifth of a second. The blow is explosive and can reach speeds of up to one hundred miles per hour. A nerve mechanism alerts the dolphin when the blowhole is out of the water so that it can exhale and inhale. Strong muscles close the blowhole when dolphins dive into the water to avoid drowning.

The blowhole looks very large here when it is fully dilated. The lungs can be emptied and refilled through this in one fifth of a second. The blow is explosive and can reach speeds of up to one hundred miles per hour.
A nerve mechanism alerts the dolphin when the blowhole is out of the water so that it can exhale and inhale.
Strong muscles close the blowhole when dolphins dive into the water to avoid drowning.


The water and lighting always adds such a dynamic mercurial element to marine creatures, and really enhances the pleasure of watching and photographing them.

The water and lighting always adds such a dynamic mercurial element to marine creatures, and really enhances the pleasure of watching and photographing them.


I love watching their bodies being distorted underwater as if their form has been liquified; with a web of light reflected from the surface crackling along their bodies like lightning.

I love watching their bodies being distorted underwater as if their form has been liquified; with a web of light reflected from the surface crackling along their bodies like lightning.


Looking at these photos reminds me of the classic old song "I'm forever blowing bubbles" and dolphins certainly are!

Looking at these photos reminds me of the classic old song “I’m forever blowing bubbles” and dolphins certainly are!


After giving us such a tremendous show on the bow, for their finale they all raced alongside the boat leaping in unison.

After giving us such a tremendous show on the bow, for their finale they all raced alongside the boat leaping in unison.


Even though I’ve had cameras with HD video for years now I still always seem to forget to use it, maybe because I was a stills photographer for so many years before. I’m really glad that I suddenly remembered to shoot some video this time because the action was perfect for video with so many dolphins filling the frame, and the lighting on the water really enhanced the motion of the dolphins. I love the way that they are constantly changing their underwater hue.


This sequence is really nice because there are so many of them weaving back and forth across the bow. The collective noun for dolphins is “pod” as it is for whales, but sometimes “school” is also used, and in this instance it seems more appropriate because they really are swimming like a school of fish.

For more information about these dolphin watching trips please contact Toto at Dolphin and Whales Travel and Tour/Facebook.

Tel +63 915 263 2105 – email totodolphin@yahoo.com or dwhalestraveltours@yahoo.com

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