Real Dolphin Tales

Fourteen events and counting since last Tuesday’s official release of THE SUMMER GIRLS!  What a wild, wonderful book launch week it has been. 

I just left Chicago where I received a heartwarming welcome at the ALA conference, attended by 15,000 of the nation’s librarians. Wow!

Today I’m in Pawley’s Island, SC for the Moveable Feast Author Series hosted Litchfield Books.  The crowd is always lively and it really feels like a homecoming every time I go.  Then I’m off to another favorite book tour location—the Silver Coast Winery in Ocean Isle, North Carolina.  Then book tour brings me back home for the July 5th book launch party at Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms, SC and everyone’s invited!  We’ll dance to the sounds of steel drum music, enjoy Lowcountry-inspired nibblers, and talk about some behind-the-scenes details of my new novel THE SUMMER GIRLS.  Tickets are $10 per person.  But you must RSVP by tomorrow, Wednesday, July 3.  Call (843) 886-2020 to make your reservation.  I can’t think of a more perfect place to celebrate the release of The Lowcountry Summer TrilogyClick here to see complete tour schedule.

My longtime readers know that nature is the backdrop of my novels —sea turtles, sweetgrass, monarch butterflies, and now the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin.  And one thing people have been asking for during this tour is my own personal experiences with dolphins. 

The dolphin scenes in THE SUMMER GIRLS are not necessarily my own experiences, but they are inspired by the hands-on research I’ve done for this trilogy.  I have worked with the Charleston division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has been involved with a long-term study of resident dolphins here in South Carolina.  The situation is not good-- 48% of Charleston’s resident dolphins are sick.  The stats are even worse in Florida.  I’ve been with them on their watercrafts as they zoom across the water, identifying dolphins and their pods at dizzying speed.  I’ve had the honor of working closely with the Dolphin Research Center (DRC) in Grassy Key, FL where they’ve allowed me to get up close and personal with their resident dolphins.  That is where I’ve witnessed remarkable bonds and connections between dolphins and humans.  Oh and the stories that have been shared with me!

I’ve learned that dolphin mothers are just like human mothers.  There are the good mothers, the very strict mothers and the more laid back, easy going mothers.  Tursi is one of my favorite dolphin mothers that I got to bond with at the DRC.  She’s very strict, keeping her calves close and with her for a long time.  One morning, I was helping feed the babies and all of a sudden there’s Tursi giving me the hairy eyeball!  It was a look of who are you and why are you feeding my babies.  I spoke to her, offered her a fish and after some contemplation, she must have approved of me because she swam off without taking her babies away.  A couple days later, I was in one of the DRC’s ocean lagoons, floating in a raft as the enrichment toy for the baby dolphins that day.  The little ones were having a rambunctious good time, when suddenly, here comes Tursi zooming over and steers here baby away, then comes back to disperse the other calves.  She pauses in front of me, gives this look and glances at her dorsal fin as if she wants me to grab hold.  I do.  And she tows me clear across to the other side of the lagoon and leaves me there.  It’s as if she put me in time out!

My best experiences though weren’t necessarily ones involving me, but instead moments I witnessed between dolphin and child, dolphin and war veteran. 

The first involved the Pathways Program at the DRC for people with special needs.  I got to see the unique relationship dolphins forge with autistic children, connecting with them in ways that perhaps no one or nothing else can.  Dolphins are known for having a complex form of communication.  The autistic children taking part in this program cannot express themselves in ways that we normally expect or understand.  Yet, the dolphin can elicit emotion and response from them.  It’s truly beautiful to observe. 

On another day I met a young man, an injured veteran, now blind after being shot in the head by a sniper.  He had been in the hospital for eight months when he arrived at the DRC to participate in the Wounded Warrior Project.  The program’s goal is to promote a healthy transition to civilian life for those severely wounded during war, left with traumatic brain injury and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  His guide was a former Navy Seal, so they seemed to share the same language.  He helped ease this obviously nervous blind man into the water.  What was so powerful to witness was seeing how he looked entering the water—his body was clenched, shivering and so tightly closed—and then again after spending time with a dolphin, for his first time ever.  The dolphin with the war veteran recognized his fears or needs and just grazed against his feet, very gently at first.  Then gradually, the soldier did reach out enough to touch the dolphin.  And the dolphin was so patient, letting the soldier take all the time he needed to relax.  Eventually he held on to the dolphin’s dorsal fin, and with his guide by his side, this blind, injured veteran was being pulled through the water by the dolphin.  The smile that spread across that man’s face conveyed so much emotion, revealed so much freedom—from his pain, his disabilities, his obstacles.  And that’s what dolphins do.  They force something out of you to make you happy.  It’s powerful.  And I’ll never ever forget that man’s smile. 

You know you’re being looked at when you look a dolphin in the eye.  And anyone who has had the opportunity to be that close with the species knows what I mean and agrees.  It’s a magical feeling, an unexplainable connection similar to the unspoken bond you might have with your favorite pet, but this surpasses that.  And even more remarkable is that a dolphin doesn’t forget you! 

I hope that after you read THE SUMMER GIRLS, you’ll find this saga unforgettable and feel a deeper sense of appreciation for and connection to the bottlenose dolphin, whether you see one for yourself or experience the species in the pages of my trilogy.  


  1. Great book. I am a teacher and I have had students with autism. Everything you wrote in Summer Girls was right on. Amazing what dolphins can do. I cman't wait to read more to find out what happens to my friends, especially Delphine.

  2. I so hope the next book is well on its way to being published. I had a house guest for a week and gave her a copy of Summer Girls so we could read it together. What a wonderful experience. Now we are both so in love with these people that we can hardly wait for numbers 2 and 3. Thank you, Mary Alice, for taking on the trilogy. I also loved your inclusion of Toy and Lovie. You are an amazing author.

    Kathy in Bend, OR


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All the best,
Mary Alice