Meet the woman who can count a wild dolphin among her closest friends.
Dolphin expert Ute Margreff spends up to seven hours per day in chilly waters off the coast of Ireland with her dolphin pal, Mara.
But it is her incredible relationship with female dolphin Mara that brings Ute to Galway Bay where she conducts her research all year round.
Ute’s relationship with her sea pal, resonates a striking similarity to the TV series and film Flipper, in which a bottlenose dolphin is the close companion of the sons of a warden at a marine preserve in Florida.
The dolphin expert says: ‘I think my research will make people re-examine what they think they know about dolphins,’ explained the 43-year-old.
‘Very few marine researchers have the privilege to study up close the way I do.
‘It is important to have a certain mind-set, to be rational and open-hearted at the same time.
‘With me, I feel like I’m getting educated by the dolphins. It’s pioneering work to be learning about inter-species communication.’
When Ute was first introduced to the aquatic mammal in 2000, she said she knew that Mara was special.
Ute said: ‘Mara was very open, allowing our interaction to happen. From that point I knew I was going to be studying dolphins full-time.’
And according to Ute, although well known for being friendly, dolphins are as keen to learn about the human world, as she is to better understand theirs.
And Mara wants Ute to know all about the underwater world she inhabits.
Since their first meeting in 2000, Mara has introduced Ute to a range of sea life including wild dolphin pods, sunfish, porpoise and seals.
Ute said: ‘I was speaking with a seal expert with decades of experience who was absolutely amazed at the seal-human-dolphin interaction.’
Mara also brings ‘gifts’ from the seabed, including rubbish left behind by humans.
Ute said: ‘She brought me a discarded food processor recently.
‘It was like she was letting me know that she knows it was something from our world.’
The passionate researcher believes that humans should see dolphins as ‘non-human people’ who are free to make decisions about their own lives.
She said: ‘When I am in the water I have to tune into the dolphin consciousness and dolphin being and let go of my human perceptions.
‘In the beginning I was like a blank piece of paper. It’s been a very natural process.
‘The long-term goal is that we get a whole new idea of how intelligent dolphins are and consider their behaviour and their communication.
‘I would like to see the end of dolphinariums. I think we are kind of dislocated from nature and that we have to let go of trying to control other creatures.’
Since starting her research, Ute has come to know many of the dolphins without pods that swim the waters of Northern Europe including Fungi, Duggie and Doni.
She said: ‘I think it’s important that people realise dolphins have personalities as unique as ours.
‘Mara is very clever and highly sociable. My research shows that solitary dolphins can happily interact with pods, and they frequently do.
‘Like humans they make their own choices about how they lives their lives.
Because I spend most of my time in the ocean, I’m living in a place with no boundaries.
‘If I am in the boat, I might only see what’s happening on the surface and not seeing what’s going on under water.
‘When I get into the water it opens up a whole different level.’
The researcher is currently raising awareness about the plight of Morgan, a young female Orca, who is housed in a dolphinarium in Holland.
Ute said: ‘I feel very passionately that all wild sea creatures should remain wild and free.
‘Orcas can swim up to 100 km per day, yet Morgan has been held in a small concrete tank at the Harderwijk Dolfinarium for the past year.
‘It’s no place for a wild animal. She needs to be brought back to the ocean where she belongs.’