Hobbes, the dolphin-swimming dog


We first met Hobbes, a Hound-Lab-Irish Setter-Golden retriever mix on a family fishing trip to Capers Island.

“Maybe little river otter too,” laughed his owner Kelsey McClellan.

That’s what he looked like as his little, brown head bobbed through the turbulent inlet he dove into from the safety of a sandy beach. We had stopped in awe to watch a pod of frenzied feeding dolphins.

That determined dog saw them too. Let’s just say our awe intensified.

“I was yelling for him to come back,” said McClellan. “But that hound in him just turns everything off when he sees something he wants.”

We chuckled as it sounded like she frantically screamed, “Hey Bob, get back here.”

Bob, what a great name for a dog we thought. I grabbed my phone and nervously videoed what I could barely see in the blazing sun.

“Yeah, his name is Hobbes, not Bob,” said McClellan. “Bob is my dad’s name which I think is hilarious.”

Hobbes, by the way, is appropriately named for the mischievous cartoon character in Calvin and Hobbes.

“As he’s swimming out I realize the feeding behavior that the dolphins are doing. They’re creating a bait ball. They’re schooling the mullet and Hobbes is just swimming straight for them,” said McClellan.

“Then I realize, 'Oh my gosh, this is how my dog is going to lose a leg because when the dolphin are bait balling, the sharks will swim through. We have about 32 different kinds of sharks, skates and rays.”

So how does McClellan know so much? She’s a marine biology graduate student who gives tours on the Isle of Palms Barrier Island Eco Tours.

“And now the story is just a famous part of my speech,” she said.

We followed Hobbes on a recent tour and his canine dolphin alarm is sharp. If he barks, you’ll almost certainly spot a dolphin. The theory is dogs have a heightened sense of hearing, picking up much higher frequencies than humans.

What’s more, he’s not the only dolphin-spotting dog on board. Fellow guide Courtney Leah Hutson has a dog named Moses who does the same.

But her most chilling moment involves a fifth grade boy.

“So I looked right out in front and there were five dolphins facing him with their melons, what they used for their echo location, were exposed out of the water,” said Hutson. “Our captain was just motioning for me to look and I looked and I saw the boy standing there and like Hobbes, it was this unspoken communication. Then I went back and told the teacher what I’d just seen and she said, 'Courtney, he has autism.'”

Dolphins, and dogs for that matter, are known for being highly intelligent. In fact, researchers say dolphins are highly evolved that when their work is done, they take time to play.

Dogs, yes, they like to play too.

Maybe that’s why when Hobbes grew tired fighting the current to keep up with thos bait balling dolphins and turned toward our boat, one bottlenose teasingly jumped up behind him as if to say, “Okay, let’s play.”

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