Steve O’Toole was photographing playful dolphins Sunday afternoon off Dana Point, California, and did not realize until later that he had captured an extraordinary image.
It reveals a circular disc of water around the midsection of a leaping bottlenose dolphin, making it appear as though the mammal is hula-hooping.
O’Toole is a volunteer naturalist for Dana Wharf Whale Watch and a board member for the Orange County chapter of the American Cetacean Society. He said passengers aboard the Ocean Adventure encountered about 50 offshore bottlenose dolphins, which began jumping in the swift catamaran’s wake.
“This particular dolphin caught my attention because when leaping out of the water, it started twisting its body, whereas most dolphins only leap,” he said. “When the activity ended, I briefly looked at my camera’s screen to make sure the pics were there.
“I noticed something unusual with this particular picture and didn’t think much about it, knowing I’d take a closer look when downloading pics to my PC.”
The photo, which might be one of a kind, has been widely shared on Facebook and other websites.
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, an ACS researcher, said she has photographed thousands of dolphins during a span of 30 years, and has never captured or seen a similar photo.
Said Dana Wharf general manager Donna Kalez, in a news release issued Wednesday: “Most people have to go to SeaWorld to see a dolphin do that, and those Hula Hoops are not made of water. It’s truly remarkable!”