Friday, July 27, 2007

It turns out that Atlantic City is more than just a seedy, tacky gambling mecca, shattered-seashell covered beachfront, former home to a vapid woman-judging contest, and current home to the world's largest Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum. It's also the summer habitat of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, and for thirty bucks plus the cost of some Dramamine, you can get on a boat and go out dolphin-watching. I've been out at sea whale-watching a couple of times during my many, many otherwise tedious vacations in Cape Cod, and let me just say that no matter how jaded you are, sixty tons of cetacean is pretty damn awe-inspiring. It almost makes up for the hours and hours of antique shopping you're forced to do when you're visiting Cape Cod. (It's even worse when your parents drag through flea market after flea market even though they have absolutely no intention of buying anything, and they don't even like antiques in the first place.)

I heard about the dolphin-watching cruise and figured it might be more fun than losing hand after hand of blackjack, so I went down to Atlantic City to check the scene out. It could've gone better. Okay, so I hate boats. Part of this is because I can't swim, so on the one in a billion chance that the boat capsizes, I'm pretty much relying on the one in a billion chance that I turn into a cartoon character, fall to the ocean floor, and can then walk out of the water, Tiktaalik-style. It turns out that the ocean off the Jersey coast is only between six and twenty feet deep — and the boat's deck is seven feet high, so I guess that improves my odds a little bit. Well, I figured, I'm here to gamble.

Yesterday turned out to be a bad day for dolphin-watching. I did a lot of prep work checking the weather forecast, and it was supposed to be partly cloudy and hot. I didn't check the marine forecast because, well, I forgot that it existed, but if you ever go dolphin-watching or deep sea fishing or just on a boat, period, it's probably a good idea to find out the ocean's condition. Especially if you don't have the strongest constitution. Boats crawling across the water seem particularly vulnerable to every tiny disturbance in the water, and I'm sure some people enjoyed the zero-gravity moments navigating through the sand bars around Brigantine, I didn't. I mean, some people also willingly got on the human slingshot ride at the Steel City Pier.

I boarded the boat, which is just one of your typical ferries, usually used for sightseeing tours or whatever, and on the cruise we had: me, two old ladies, two teenagers holding hands and trying to emo (except they're on a dolphin-watching cruise, and you can't possibly be emo on a dolphin-watching cruise), a mother with five kids who can only control four of them, and an entire summer camp, trying their best to capsize the boat. Did I mention that the cruise is two hours long? No? Well, it's two hours long, and thankfully there's a full bar on board. (This is actually not the great idea that it sounds like. As I said, the boat's not super-steady, and neither are the inebriated.) I found a seat, I thought out of the sun, and waited for the dolphins to magically appear.

And waited.

And waited. Captain Jim reminded us that these are wild dolphins and the entire Atlantic is their playground, although apparently they're usually found in the warmer waters within a half mile from shore. (Half a mile is well within the range you could bring your own sailboat or jetski, if you wanted to get really up close and personal with the dolphins. I don't recommend it, however, if you enjoy having hands.)

And we waited. Captain Jim told us that they don't feed the dolphins. Maybe they should start.

And we sailed up and down the Absecon island shoreline, looking for the dolphins. And we waited. People were getting seasick and literally dropping right there on the deck. You know you're gonna be stuck on a boat for two hours, they say they're gonna take you on the open sea (even though we never lost sight of the shore), wouldn't you bother to take some dimenhydrinate before setting sail?

And we waited.

The dolphins were too busy using language or saving divers from sharks to make an appearance. I thought I saw a couple of dolphins early in the trip, but it turned out those were just dolphin-shaped waves. Ungrateful bastards! This is the thanks we get for letting them out of our tuna nets! Next time one of those underwater nature documentaries comes on TV, I'm rooting for the killer whale.