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“Go slowly, go softly” is a saying in French Polynesia, and it also happens to be the secret to Dr. M. Michael Poole’s successful Dolphin & Whale Watching Expeditions.
As the boat rocked forth from Moorea’s Opunohu Bay toward Cook’s Bay in pursuit of a dorsal fin, my nerves heightened. Spinner dolphins stay underwater for about three to five minutes before coming up for air so, with each sighting, I held my own breath and tightened my grasp on my camera. We pursued the waters — a painter’s palette for the shades of blue — but focusing on the sea was quite difficult for me, with the competing views of Moorea’s dramatic jagged terrain and lush flora. Though distracted, I saw, snapped and excitedly squealed at schools of free-ranging dolphins that gave us a good game of Marco Polo, but stayed put.
“The dolphins don’t move because we don’t harass them,” said Poole. “It’s their choice to approach us.”
Poole may have been in the middle of answering a question about how many dolphins he’s catalogued in Moorea — 150, many of which he knows by name — or why the island is ideal for spotting dolphins — because of its 12 passes and bays, which protect them from sharks — but he didn’t miss a beat as he narrated spontaneous bursts of back flips, jumps and even spins. Poole was the first to begin expeditions in 1992 and extensively researchs dolphins and whales, which groups can spot from July through October. Tours cost $129 per person and can be booked at the Paul Gauguin excursions desk.