Opportunities to swim with dolphins both in captivity and in the wild have recently proliferated. In order to understand the nature of the swim-with-dolphin experience, 14 respondents were selected to take part in a phenomenological study based on their recollections of the activity. The results discuss the physical attributes of the experience, the attraction of dolphins, the importance of making a connection either through eye contact or touch, prior conceptions of what it would be like and, finally, ‘animal sensitivities’ towards the nature of the performance. Cognitive dissonance and a heavily anthropomorphic virtual capital are present in nearly all respondents. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.