Advice on seeing wild dolphins

Make sure your clients’ whale and dolphin-watching activities allow these mammals to thrive in the wild, says’s Justin Francis

Striped-dolphins-RWBWhen an organisation specialising in animal welfare was announced as the winner of the 2014 World Responsible Tourism Awards sponsored by the Oman Ministry of Tourism, it was a moment that recognised just how important this issue has become for the tourism industry.

The high-profile debates around the ethics of dolphin and whale attractions are continuing and yet these are still popular
with tourists around the world. suggests some tips you can use before booking clients, and share with them to help ensure their travel supports the welfare of whales and dolphins.

1. Go wild

Book your clients on wild whale or dolphin-watching tours and avoid marine park shows. Watching these highly intelligent creatures perform circus tricks for fish snacks is, in’s view, one of the cruellest forms of “entertainment” and offers your clients no insight into their curious personalities, their unique social interactions and complex natural behaviours.

2. Find the experts

Wild whale-watching is increasing dramatically around the world and needs to be managed carefully in order to give a good customer experience and limit the stress caused to the animals and their environments. The World Cetacean Alliance is a great place to find local operators who “get” whales, rather than just getting business out of them.

A responsible tour operator will have expert guides onboard, will focus on education and adhere to their own responsible whale-watching policy.

3. Be wary of false flags

No global accreditation scheme exists for whale-watching tours and many tour operator brochures will be plastered in stickers shouting about their eco-affiliations. But are these legitimate or just a marketing ploy? Before you book your clients, double check that any conservation organisations still exist and that their affiliations are recognised and up to date.

4. Size matters

Choose your ground partners carefully. Usually smaller boats (maximum 20 people) will offer a better experience for your clients, as the guide or skipper will be able to personalise the information they give about the whales. Operators that replace guides with pre-recorded spiel are usually more interested in cutting costs than in whale welfare.

5. Swim with dolphins on their terms

Clients with their hearts set on a dolphin encounter may be surprised to find out that responsible opportunities to swim with these creatures in the wild do exist.

Look for operators that enforce well-established codes of conduct to limit numbers of swimmers and time in the water – the Azores, for example, offers well-regulated opportunities. And always remind clients that these types of encounter are on the dolphins’ terms, not theirs.

6. Look, but don’t touch

If your clients love dolphins and whales, they will appreciate the opportunity to see them play and swim happily in their natural environment, free from stress and disturbance. So remind clients that they should not attempt to touch whales or dolphins, even if they come close to the boat.

7. Avoid feeding

Whales and dolphins should never be fed by clients on a tour as it can disrupt natural feeding habits and cause severe problems in the long run. If clients witness this, or any other evidence of poor practice, encourage them to report the operator to local conservation bodies.

8. Lose the boat

For truly responsible whale and dolphin-watching, head for dry land. If clients are travelling to South Africa, suggest they include Hermanus in their itinerary.

Between June and December, Southern Right Whales migrate from Antarctica to these warmer waters, usually coming in close to the town’s cliffs. The town “Whale Crier” is on hand to let everyone know whether sightings are a good prospect.

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