Swimming with Wild Dolphins

Swimming with dolphins is undoubtedly a magical, and for some a life-affirming experience. Many people list it among their “top ten things I must do”. But, the experience may not be so good for the dolphins.

Many tour operators list swimming with dolphins in their holiday packages. But many wild dolphin encounters may be harmful to the animals. Swimming with wild dolphins is a different experience to swimming with captive dolphins.

What is it?

The opportunity to swim with wild dolphins is offered in many coastal areas with resident dolphin populations. It usually involves entering the water from a boat. Boats will often “chase” pods of dolphins in order to try and drop swimmers off among the pod, or try to attract dolphins using food.

What you should know

  • Following wild dolphins with boats can stress the animals and cause them to change their behaviour as they try to avoid the boat and associated noise. Boats and propellers can also cause injuries to dolphins. Many dolphins inhabit certain areas of coastal waters, and displacing them from their familiar habitat can be harmful.
  • In some places, unscrupulous operators will send out many boats – up to 30 were reported to be following one pod of bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Zanzibar in Tanzania, and researchers have warned that the dolphins may leave the area if the activities are not regulated.
  • Dolphins are wild animals, and as such can be unpredictable. Close encounters with captive or wild dolphins can result in injuries to people, and dolphins can carry diseases which can potentially affect humans.

What you can do

  • Seeing wild dolphins is a memorable experience, but there are many places where you can watch them from shore, without disturbing them.
  • If you are going to take to the water to watch dolphins, watch them from the boat, and make sure you use an operator who works to recognised standards designed to protect the dolphins from harm. Using an experienced, responsible operator with a resident marine biologist will not only help protect the dolphins, it will also enhance your own experience and knowledge of these wonderful animals.
  • We understand that swimming with dolphins in the wild is something that many people dream of, so suggesting that people don’t do it is going to be unpopular! But all the scientific evidence says that human-instigated interaction with dolphins, particularly when the same dolphins are subjected to it on a regular basis, can lead to negative impacts such as health issues and behaviour change. As dolphin lovers, we wouldn’t want to encourage that.

Where does this occur?

Close encounters with wild dolphins are offered in many countries with resident inshore dolphin populations, including Australia and New Zealand, the USA (Florida and Hawaii), Mexico, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Israel, Ireland and the UK, Portugal, Spain and Tanzania.

Links to other organisations for further information