When Evan Pender slips below the water’s surface to go diving off the coast of Ireland, he’s entering a vast, otherworldly place few will ever get the chance to visit.
But though Pender usually dives on own, he’s rarely alone for long.
Almost every time Pender goes diving, he’s met by a friendly wild dolphin named Dusty, who emerges from the depths to greet him.
Dusty has been a fixture along this stretch of coastline for more than 20 years, known for her occasional interactions with boats and swimmers. But her interest in Pender seems driven by more than mere curiosity.
When he goes diving, she seems eager to see him.
“I never look for Dusty when I get in the water,” Pender told The Dodo. “She finds me, so she must enjoy my company.”
Pender often spends hours in the water with Dusty, exploring the undersea world with her, but always on her terms.
“All contact between me and Dusty is initiated by her,” Pender said. “I have never touched her in all the time I have dived with her. I see her as an equal and I wouldn’t like to unbalance our relationship by rubbing her.”
Through that trust and respect, Pender and Dusty’s friendship has blossomed — and it shows.
One day, while out for a dive with the dolphin at his side, Pender momentarily removed one of the fins he was wearing from his feet. Dusty seemed amazed, perhaps realizing only then that his fins were detachable.
That thought evidently lingered with Dusty, even after she and Pender parted ways.
The next day, when he returned to the water, Dusty appeared carrying another fin she’d found. It was a gift — and with it, the friendly pair then played a game akin to fetch.
In that moment, the connection between Pender and Dusty was strengthened in their shared amusement.
“I think I understand why dolphins play games with objects. It builds trust,” Pender said.
“With Dusty, she knew that it was as enjoyable for me to dive down and get the fin as it was for her. Otherwise, she would have wanted me to drop the fin for her always. But she wanted me to go down for it. She never skipped a turn.”
Thanks to Dusty, and interactions like this, it’s clear that the ocean doesn’t just contain seascapes to explore — but real emotions, too.
Pender is reluctant to consider himself an ambassador of sorts between humankind and dolphinkind, but through his incredible bond with Dusty, he’s built a bridge regardless.
“I feel at home underwater,” Pender said. “I love being around Dusty, and our friendship is getting stronger and stronger.”
Watch the moment below: