Chris Cruz, a scuba diving instructor and trip leader was out at sea, just off of Khao Lak, north of Phuket in Thailand, with diving crews when the tsunami hit. He says he was saved because he followed dolphins to safety.
What happened the day of the tsunami?
The earthquake [occurred] around 8:30 a.m., and around 10:30 most of the boats on the west side of one of the main islands, the waters were still acting the same, like whirlpools whirling, whirlpools all over the place. And some boats were going around the ropes. We were wrangling each other. We told each other, “Let’s cut the ropes. We have to let go of some over the anchor and we have to move.” Around that time, a number of boats got close together and all of a sudden there were dolphins jumping right in front of our boats. They were just jumping, playing, jumping, jumping. And I’d been there for two years in the Similan islands and I’ve never seen dolphins that close to the boat. Yes, you can spot them from a distance; sometimes they come in; but they’ve never exhibited that behavior.
So what came to play in my mind were folk stories in the Philippines. Like pregnant women being helped by dolphins when there’s a shark attacking. So I told one of the dive masters, “We probably have to radio some of the diving instructors, some of the captains. … Let’s order the captain to follow the dolphins.” The [captains] agreed, so we all followed the dolphins. They kept jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping. Once more we followed them. Maybe we were five, seven, 10 boats all together. … Then we realized the dolphins at that point were trying to lead us westward, farther away from the island — not the mainland, but the islands. … This is what was playing in my mind: they’re talking to us, “Why are you here? Follow us.” So we did follow them and then eventually around 10:30 we felt just a little wave; you would not feel it if you’re not close to the line, to the island, because the wave is not yet breaking. Basically it will be breaking 50 kilometers (31 miles) away, but there are the small islands that experienced some waves, around 5 meters (16 feet) high.
When we came back we realized some of the tents, some of the kitchen utensils, the restaurant tables and chairs, sleeping facilities, they were all destroyed and taken out in the water. Which meant that if we [hadn't] followed the dolphins we would have smashed into the island. It was actually as simple as that … if we insisted on staying there, there was a real, real big chance we would have been swept by the water and smashed into the rocks and into the islands. But what’s amazing, because we were far away, 50 kilometers away from the mainland where the tsunami really struck; the water came up, but you wouldn’t even have noticed it. It was amazing the dolphins followed that sign, and for me, like, I maintain the idea — I’m not a scientist, I don’t know what really happened, but for me what really came into essence in my mind and in my heart was folk stories from my own native country. When there are disasters, animals like this, they come and they help, and for me it’s like a rapport and symbiotic relationship between animals and human beings. So when I asked the captain to follow the dolphins, he immediately followed, he realized that the dolphins were probably communicating with us. Most of the diving professionals and even the divers were just looking and they were very happy with the interaction. There’s a certain kind of joy you feel every time there’s animals like this. It’s as simple as that.
Do you think the dolphins saved your lives?
This is what I believe. But once more, I’m not really in the position to qualify the case. … I really believe if we did not follow them, we would have been in a real, real bad predicament. Because when we went inside and we checked the island, we saw a mound of destruction that happened. Which incidentally, we did clean up after a few weeks. We were able to see everything; tables, chairs, kitchen utensils, bedding, tents, everything, you know, and of course a number of dead people. Jewelry, money, everything, anything you can say is connected to living.
I believe the moment the dolphins popped up, they were already giving us signals for interaction. A number of people who have been on the boats … people who have been in the diving industry for years … these are moments that they’ve always been waiting for, a chance to interact with animals like this. And around that time on the 26th of December, just before the waves came, around 10 o’clock, 10:30, when the dolphins appeared it was the perfect moment for us to interact with them, because we didn’t really know what was happening. In the history of Thailand they have not, at least in present history, they have not ever experienced a tsunami before. It was for them a very important lesson also. So I believe when we followed the dolphins, … they really on their part were telling us something. So for us, I sincerely believe this is a lesson we should all take, so once more when there will be disasters like this, these things can be documented, and we at least have … in effect, like some guidelines or signals to follow when dolphins appear like this, in terms of maybe typhoon or maybe again after another earthquake. At least we already realize they are communicating with us, something important, something which means our very own life and death.
After this happened, diving instructors and divers both were communicating a lot, some people were in tears, and a number of people, like me, believed the dolphins saved us and communicated with us. It was very emotional for us, especially when we came back to the mainland. We realized the monstrosity of the disaster that occurred. The number of people littered in the streets, all dead. We realized there was something special that really happened. It was almost a miracle we survived. … The miracle was just mere timing, being in the right place at the right time, following your instincts, understanding your surroundings, being in tune with nature, also cooperating and having a symbiotic relationship with other creatures of the sea.