It was just another normal open water training day, or so we thought. Conditions were looking good as we pulled up to our usual spot between Lazarus and St John’s Island on 16 February, 2020. There was no current, and we managed to find 20m depth easily. We put in the buoys, did some stretches, and hopped in to start. Visibility was even better than usual, which was a bonus. Soon enough, the training session was well under way.
About 2 hours later, some divers had were finished with the first session and were on the boat resting. I was providing safety to Chris on a dive, and as we broke the surface, we heard Kohei say “Hey, there dolphins like, right behind you!”. WHAT?! I thought to myself as I spun around, scouring the surface of the water for any sign of them. I had dreamed of seeing dolphins in Singapore waters since I knew they existed. No sign of them, of course. I was disappointed. I had heard that these dolphins, the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, were shy and I didn’t think they would stick around for us to get a second look.
Then, “There!” someone exclaimed. Sure enough, a pinkish grey back with a fin was on the surface, and another soon appeared. As we watched, the dolphins disappeared and reappeared, within 20-30m from our boat. They seemed fairly relaxed and not in a hurry to get away from us. Another dolphin showed up, to form a pod of three. We watched them for the rest of our break as they frolicked around, playing, with one even jumping clear out of the water. Seeing these natural freedivers in their element, with the city in the background, felt like a reminder to take time out of our busy schedules to enjoy what freediving has to offer.
The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) are also known as pink dolphins, due to their pinkish-grey colouration. They are sighted regularly in Singapore waters, though this is the first time we’ve seen them in the 5 years or so that we’ve been visiting the Southern Islands (granted, we only go once or twice a month). This species is found in much of Asia, but their numbers are declining due to human development causing habitat loss, pollution, and reduced food sources. Sadly, this is a recurring theme in the natural world.
The dolphins hang around for a couple more hours, and I decide that they are not as shy as they are said to be. Seeing them co-exist in the same environment as the leisure boats and transport ferries, in a heavily modified environment (much of the shoreline of the offshore islands of Singapore were reclaimed) along a major shipping route shows us how resilient they are, but I hope that they are not the remaining few of a once-thriving population, and that we see these freedivers around for many years to come.
Videos by Zaw Than and photos by Elliot Drake
Other articles on our dolphin sighting: