Craig Cooper and company were cruising Sunday out of Smithtown Bay, en route to Port Jefferson for a little fun, when the fun found them -- bottlenose dolphins, splashing, cavorting and heading west on the Long Island Sound.
Cooper, his wife, 11-year-old daughter and her friend were heading north when they spotted several other boats ahead, along with "all these things slapping and splashing in the water," he said.
Moving closer, Cooper said he was warned away by a bay constable, so he turned to the west to get out ahead of the dolphin pod.
Sure enough, the group caught up and passed within 30 feet of his 22-foot motorboat, which was drifting with the engine off.
First, three or four leaders came by, followed by maybe 10 to 15 or more, with maybe three or four more bringing up the rear, said Cooper, 61, of Smithtown, who is a national spokesman for the American Red Cross.
"We got the whole show," he said, of videos he and his daughter's friend shot with his cellphone -- flipping fins, tail action, "jumping out of the water and splashing back in."
From the video, the group was confirmed to be bottlenose dolphins, the same species that in 2009 visited in large numbers some areas around Hempstead and Huntington harbors, said Kimberly Durham, marine biologist with the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. Their arrival then and now, she said, coincides with reports of masses of bait fish -- tasty morsels such as bunker -- closer to shore.
She said it's important to remember that the mammals are a protected species and it is illegal to feed them or jump in the water to swim along.
While Cooper has heard reports of dolphin sightings in the Sound, but in his 12 years of boating, he said, "We've never seen anything like this. . . . For us, it's the first time in our lives to have such an up-close and personal" experience.