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Dolphin spotting is a popular activity on a lot of touristic destinations. I know the thrill to see a dolphin or whale in the wild and how much many tourists want to experience it. There’s a dark side to dolphin watching but that doesn’t mean you’re never able to go watch dolphins. Do you want to know how to ethically go dolphin watching? Keep on reading!
When I was a little kid, dolphins fascinated me. They are graceful animals, seem so friendly and I always wanted to get close and watch one in the wild. It’s not easy to spot a dolphin in the wild which is why many people decide to go on an excursion to try and find dolphins. These dolphin watching excursions are mainly popular in more tourist destinations like Greece and Portugal for example. Many, many destinations have tourist offices offering these excursions.
I’ve only seen my first wild dolphin in the summer of 2019. Before that, I never saw one in the wild. I was so excited to see the group of dolphins, happily jumping out of the water and being free. It is a totally different feeling compared to seeing dolphins in a zoo.
First things first – read my blogpost about the animal rights guidelines to wildlife tourism to know all the key notes to keep in mind when you get involved with wildlife!
Before I go ahead with guiding you through the guide of ethically dolphin spotting I want to explain why it is important to do this ethically and briefly touch on the dark side.
What is the dark side of dolphin watching?
Whenever you decide to spot dolphins in the wild, you do need to realize that you are really going to track down wild animals. These are animals who are not used to seeing humans. Who only know their group of other dolphins and the underwater life. Sometimes people feel like they “know” the dolphins because they have seen them before and don’t feel like they’re dangerous but they are still wild animals. Maybe not dangerous, but still wild.
It invades their living environment
One of the big downsides of doing an excursions is that most of them get way too close to the group of dolphins. Some get so close, that the dolphins feel threatened and scared because the boats are invading their home. Their living environment. Not only do they get too close, they are followed for a long period of time by these boats on a very close distance. As you can imagine, it’s impossible for these dolphins to escape and get to a calm and safe spot.
There are stories of dolphins being hurt by the boats because they don’t always slow down. Dolphins or whales can get hit by a boat and get seriously or even deadly injured.
Read more: How To Start With Slow Travel
The emissions from the boats pollute the water
Another important factor to keep in mind are the emissions from the boats. These touristic destinations have multiple groups of boats entering the ocean on a daily basis. All of them have emissions that do pollute the water. Especially if you’re on an older boat that’s less sustainable compared to more modern boats.
The end result is that the water gets dirty and it affects the health of the dolphins. They live in this water day in and day out. When offices keep on doing these tours multiple times on a daily basis, the water will only get more polluted. It only ends with endangering the dolphins.
Those are two main discussion points and things to keep in mind if you are planning a dolphin excursions. It’s not all bad, but wildlife tourism always has downsides.
Let’s get into the guide!
How to ethically go dolphin watching
As I said, dolphin spotting can be done in an ethical way. You just have to know how before you see the opportunities.
Try and see them in a sustainable way
I know some places in Bali and Australia have groups of dolphins close to the shore pretty frequently. If you’re familiar with a surfboard, it’s nice to paddle to the group of dolphins in the early morning and see them from a distance but without the noise and emission from a boat. Another way to get there is to have a kano or kayak in the early morning or during sunrise! I’ve heard that those are the moments the dolphins are most likely going to be seen.
Book at a sustainable office
So if the only option to see the dolphins is by going on an excursion, make sure you’re going with one that’s ethical and sustainable. If you do this – you should always go on a guided tour! There are offices, for example in Madeira, that offer ethical dolphin spotting excursions.
They explain the affects of the excursions on the animals before they start the tour, have rules and guidelines onboard like the rule to never use toilet paper when you go to the bathroom because it all goes into the ocean. Their boats will never get too close to a group of dolphins or wales and will not follow them. They stay at one spot for a maximum of five minutes and move away from the dolphins to leave them alone. These are the tours to book! Do your research beforehand to find these offices.
Watch the potential red flags
A boat should always slow done before approaching a group of dolphins. The boat should not enter them from the front or rear and should not be in their way. If there are multiple boats, they should all stay on the same side and not have the dolphins in between them. This is all to make sure the animals won’t feel rushed and won’t get injured.
Another important note is that the boat should never separate a group by laying in between the group. So when you have one group of dolphins on the right side of the boat and one on the left side of the boat – big red flag. The group needs to be together at all times.
Never go on a jet-ski
As thrilling as it may sound and as cool as it sounds to fly over the waves on a jet-ski to see a group of dolphins or whales – always say no. Jet-ski’s are very polluting for the environment because the emissions are high and the noise is loud.
If you are on a tour and it doesn’t feel right: take a video or photos for proof. Talk to the skipper if you feel like things aren’t right and explain why. Maybe you noticed that the group is split by the boat. Take your responsibility because the animals aren’t able to stand up for themselves when it comes to us humans.
The best thing to do is gather evidence and report it to the office where you booked your excursions. Spread the word on social media and on TripAdvisor. Most countries have animal right protection groups so I would suggest to enlighten them as well. Don’t let it go unknown because you can make a difference! Always speak up.
Never feed the dolphins
A key in all wildlife tourism is to never feed the wild animals. It will harm them in the long term, might make them sick and they should just be left alone. They need to take care of themselves and find their own food. On land, feeding wild animals can even cause dangerous situations in villages. Just never feed wild animals even if it seems harmless.
Watch dolphins from land
If you ever get the chance, choose dolphin watching on land over dolphin watching on a boat. It is much more sustainable and better for the animals. Some countries have look out points at certain areas where groups of dolphins show up regularly. If you have binoculars, you’re going to have a great view!
At lastly in general, don’t let the Instagram game take over. A selfie with the dolphins or a photo or video is not important compared to all these points. If your tour guide is following all the right guidelines, yay – go ahead and take the photos if you can. If your skipper is turning away from a group of dolphins before approaching because there are too many boats – be happy and respect that they do this excursion ethically!
Have you ever seen dolphins in the wild?