Dolphins off Catalina Island

Dolphins play off the coast of Catalina Island. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Catalina Island may be only a few miles — and less than an hour by boat — from the Southern California coast, but it feels like a world away. It was on Catalina Island where I had my unforgettable dolphin encounter.

Catalina Ocean Rafting hosted me for a two-hour, 20-mile dolphin discovery excursion to explore the Catalina coast.

When I first saw the small rubber-sided boat, I was a little uncertain. I absolutely love the water. It invigorates me and makes me feel alive. But, I am not a swimmer. Determined to brave the waves, I donned my life vest, zipped my jacket against the early morning breeze, grabbed the arm of a fellow journalist, and climbed aboard.

On the water with Catalina Ocean Rafting

On the water with Catalina Ocean Rafting. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

We headed down the Catalina coast for a few miles before turning out to sea. It wasn’t long before we encountered the dolphin. Not just a few dolphin. We came across a huge pod of dolphin. Our guide estimated close to 200 of the beautiful animals in the pod. I forgot to be nervous about the boat and the fact that the water was incredibly deep. It was magical. The dolphin seemed to dance around the boat as if in a carefully choreographed ballet.

They came right to the sides of the boat, gracefully making arcs around us. Small babies followed in the wake of the larger animals. I even spotted one dolphin with a set of twins following her.

We sat for the longest time watching the graceful parade of dolphin off the Catalina coast. I was so in awe of these creatures. I realized I hadn’t taken many photos. I’d been so busy watching the dolphin play in the water that I never thought about my camera. At that point, I tried to take a few shots, but the dolphin moved so fast that for the most part I ended up with pictures of water.

After we enjoyed the dolphin for a while longer, our guide from Catalina Ocean Rafting took us closer to shore to look for more wildlife. The trip was filled with the wonders of that small island. We spotted sea lions, harbor seals, a variety of birds, and a large bald eagle that kept calling to her mate. We explored hidden coves. Bird nests sat high above us on rocky outcroppings.

As we headed back to the dock, I realized I was no longer uncomfortable on the little boat. Near the shore, I watched a luxury cruise ship anchored off the island. The ship would be filled with great food, entertainment, luxury suites. But I had my dolphin. I’d found my wow moment on a little yellow motorized rubber boat, sitting just a few feet above the water.

Thanks to Catalina Ocean Rafting for giving me the chance of a lifetime.

If you go…

Catalina Ocean Rafting
Catalina Island, California
2-hour, 20-mile tours start at $73

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