I was doing some research and learned that Dolphin Connection founder Erv Strong passed away in January 2013. We really enjoyed the trips we took with him, and would return every couple years to Ingleside, Texas to visit the dolphins. Here is a column I wrote in August 2004 about Erv and his love of dolphins.
Erv Strong reaches over the side of his boat and dunks his hand in the water. “C’mere, you li’l rat,” he calls as he splashes his fingers in the water.
His passengers gasp as the grinning dolphin glides along the boat. “They love toes,” Erv tells his audience. “Go ahead, kids, stick your feet in the water.” The three youngsters join the captain at the side of the boat, stretching their feet toward the dolphin, hoping against hope that the dolphin will choose their toes for investigation.
Alas, on this hot afternoon in August, the 250+ dolphins in Corpus Christi Bay have more pressing engagements than checking out visitors’ toes. Still, politeness in dolphin society requires each pod to send at least one greeter to the boat and occasionally one of the pod matriarchs themselves swim up to the boat.
For 22 years, Erv and Sonja Strong have been interacting with the dolphins in Corpus Christi Bay from their base of operations in Ingleside Cove. They manage Dolphin Connection (www.dolphinconnectiontexas.com), a two-person “dolphins in the wild” business seeking to educate the public about the nature and intelligence of dolphins.
The Strongs take visitors on a personal, one-hour tour to meet and greet dolphins in the bay. They’ve identified over 150 dolphins and named more than 85. Dolphins approach the boat as it passes through their pods and playgrounds, whistling and greeting the captain. Visitors gleefully watch the dolphins surf the wake of the boat as it moves from group to group.
The boats are small, limited to about ten or twelve persons. Children wear life vests (although the bay is no more than three feet deep, with a hard, sandy bottom) and are encouraged to drag a hand or foot in the water.
“The dolphins won’t bite you,” Erv tells the kids, “but they will take your fingers or toes in their mouths and run their tongues over you to ‘know’ you. Don’t jerk your foot away, though. That’s considered rude.” A look of sheer delight passes over my daughter’s face at the possibility of being “tasted” by the dolphins.
During the hour-long tour, the Strongs relay many dolphin facts to their awed passengers. Erv tells his group that children are encouraged to return to school and write papers and essays about dolphins, then send a copy of their essays to a special website address that he provides at the end of the tour. Each June the Strongs provide cash awards to the students with the best essays. Over $12,000 is awarded for the hundreds and hundreds of essays they review.
If there is one message the Strongs aim to impart, it’s that dolphins deserve to be observed in the wild, not in chlorinated tanks. Even those dolphins that can’t be released should be kept in protected, confined sanctuaries as close to their natural habitat as possible.
We trudge to our car after a wonderful hour in which even adults have been reduced to child-like awe. My daughter emphatically states, as she buckles her seatbelt, “When we get home, I’m writing to [theme park] and telling them they need to release their dolphins.”
Erv Strong has converted one more child.