Have you ever had a dream lurking inside of you that you weren’t even aware of? And then all of a sudden it bursts out of you, a longing so strong it’s like a physical need?
That’s what happened to me in my junior year in high school when my mom brought me to see an independent film showing at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. The film was Dolphin by Hardy Jones, and I was mesmerized not only by the underwater scenes of dolphins swimming in the warm, clear waters around the Bahamas but also by his scientific effort to communicate with wild dolphins.
After the film, Hardy invited audience members to join him as a volunteer on future research expeditions.
I had to go.
My mom made me a deal: if I could raise half the money, she would pay the other half. I immediately got a weekend job at a coffee house, saving every cent I earned.
The next summer, I was a research volunteer living on a boat in the Bahamas studying dolphins!
Every day, we’d sit on the decks scanning the horizon and waiting for dolphins to swim by. When they did, the scientists quickly donned their snorkeling gear, jumped in the water and did their research. Right behind them, the volunteers suited up and jumped in the water, too. Our job was to identify individuals by their spotting patterns and nicks and scars on their bodies.
On our last day at sea, a huge group of at least thirty dolphins surrounded the boat. Everyone raced into the water. Three dolphins singled me out and stayed with me the entire time. One swam on my left, one on my right and the third was underneath me. We swam as a unit, up to the surface to breathe, down to the sandy bottom, circling in and around each other.
As I swam shoulder to shoulder with the dolphins, I turned my head to the right and caught the eye of that dolphin. She looked directly back at me and our eyes locked. There was such depth in that soft, brown eye that I knew that she could see through me, see into me, see into the core of my being. I felt like she was looking into my soul. Gazing into her eye, I got lost in her. I felt like I, too, could see deep into her soul. In a flash, I knew there was much more to her than I had ever imagined. This dolphin was more than flesh and blood swimming unconsciously through the ocean. She had a soul. I looked in her eye and saw myself there. There was no difference between us. We just inhabited two different forms.
Back on the boat, I knew that I had found my calling. My heart, mind and spirit were united in a quest to learn everything there was to know about dolphins.
When I got back home, I read everything about dolphins I could get my hands on and began dreaming about my career studying dolphins.
I started as a volunteer at Sea World as a college student. Then I studied mother-infant social development in captive bottlenose dolphins for my master’s thesis and the behavioral ecology of coastal bottlenose dolphins in South Carolina for my doctoral dissertation.
Becoming a dolphin scientist was the first gift I received from my volunteer experience in high school. But there was another gift unfolding in my life.
I longed for the other part of my original dream — to communicate with wild dolphins.
Looking into that dolphin’s eye convinced me that all beings — humans and animals — are divine. We are kindred spirits residing in different forms. As a human, I believed this to be true, but as a scientist, I wanted to test my belief as a hypothesis.
After completing a year-long psychic training program, I tackled my research project, interviewing dozens of animals and sharing their spiritual lessons and messages in my book Divine Beings.
In the process, I received my second volunteering gift, I found my life purpose: to be a messenger for animals, giving them a voice in the human world.
Cara I loved reading your story, and what a unique volunteering opportunity that brought so much to you, so inspiring! I forwarded your story to my daughter who loves dolphins and was able to do a dolphin swim on her honeymoon in Jamaica; she too felt the special energy of these wonderful creatures. Thank you for sharing your lovely story about how volunteering truly changed your life in a big way.