Words. Pictures. Films.
  • vimeo
  • instagram
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • linkedin

Travel companies in many countries offer the chance to get up close to whales and dolphins by swimming alongside them in the sea. But there is growing concern that in some areas heavily targeted by commercial swim tours, there may be a long-term impact on the health and wellbeing of the animals.

According to Julian Matthews of Discovery Initiatives (discoveryinitiatives.co.uk), which runs a Swim with Killer Whales trip in Norway, it depends on how the trip is managed: “The trip has to be run in small numbers, there have to proper permits in place for boat handlers and the frequency of the tours has to be carefully monitored; above all there has to be an acceptance that it is a privilege not a right to be with the animals.”

However, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (0870 8700027, wdcs.org), which runs its own whale-watching holidays, has decided to not include swim tours on its holidays. It recommends only boat-based holidays, with a naturalist on board and a boat handler who has taken one of the voluntary codes of conduct, such as the Dolphin Space program (dolphinspace.org), or the WiSe (Wildlife Safe) scheme (wisescheme.org).

This article, by Richard Hammond, was first published in the Guardian.


Dolphin Space Programme


I work for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and run the Dolphin Space Programme accreditation scheme for wildlife tour boats in the Moray Firth, Scotland.

Its true that we have a anti-swim with policy concerning whales and dolphins as in too many areas this type of activity, when done commercially, has had unacceptable impacts on the species concerned. There are always exceptions but overall we felt that as an organisation we had to take a stand either for or against.

There are so many great ways to see wild whales and dolphins that I really don’t think swimming with them is necessary, particularly in captivity where the experience is based on the animals being bribed with fish! I’ve always prefered seeing these amazing animals in the wild and I think that experiences from shore or from a responsible tour boat operator are often more enjoyable than swimming. I recently went on a boat in New Zealand that offered swims or watching from the boat. Everyone swam but me. The dolphins did not want to interact with the swimmers and the water was freezing and rough. However, I lay with my head over the bow of the boat watching several dolphins riding the bow wave inches from my nose. I’m pretty sure I had a much more rewarding experience than the swimmers who looked exhausted and cold when they got back into the boat!

Up here in the Moray Firth we have 11 tour boats who take people out to enjoy this area and if you’re lucky,to see our resident dolphin population. You can also watch dolphins from shore in a number of locations near here. In my Dolphin Space Programme capacity I’m happy to help people plan their dolphin watching activities here in North East Scotland. As an ecotourism provider myself (Wild at Heart Eco-Holidays, www.wildatheart-ecoholidays.com), we are soon lauching a new ‘Dolphin Days Out’ day tour with WDCS which offers a whole day of expertly guided shore and boat based watching, plus a visit to our WDCS Wildlife Centre in Spey Bay. Please get in contact if you would like more details, deborah.benham@wdcs.org or on the numbers below.



Deborah Benham
Wild at Heart Eco-Holidays
Web: www.wildatheart-ecoholidays.com
Email: deborahbenham@wildatheart-ecoholidays.com
Tel: 01309 674768 or 07921 106144

Swimming with wild dolphins - their choice

In Egypt there is a reef where up to 300 Spinner Dolphins come to rest and play during the day after spending the nights fishing. A few years ago people came to swim freely with these dolphins who were amicable and happy to interact. Of course, word got out and too many people were soon crowding the dolphins out.

The Egyptian government and HEPCA (www.hepca.com) put together a solution whereby the reef area is divided into sections for the dolphins’ protection. Zone A is for dolphins only, Zone B for snorkellers only – no scuba divers – and Zone C is for the boats that bring the people. The number of people allowed into the reef per day is limited to 100 and swimming is only allowed between 10am and 2pm.This allows the dolphins privacy and plenty of undisturbed time. There are rules in place – no touching the dolphins, no shouting or splashing etc. – which an on-site ranger enforces. Anyone violating the rules is evicted from the water.

The first year the dolphins were wary of the buoys that marked the zones and numbers dropped, but now, three years later the numbers are up to the original 300. Sometimes they stay in their own space and do not swim with the people, but mostly the enter the snorkellers zone and allow many happy people the privelege of swiming with them.

This is a system that works in a unique situation and allows the dolphins the choice to participate in the ‘swim with dolphins’ programme or not.

For more info see www.wild-and-free.co.uk

Swimming with dolphins

If you would like to know about what is acceptable regarding swimming with dolphins, look at what this group is doing in Mozambique, which inlude going out with dolphin researchers and swimming with dolphins. www.ecoafrica.com/news/swimming-with-dolphins.htm

Swimming with dolphins

If you are swimming in the open sea, and dolphins choose to swim with you, that’s fine; however swimming with captive dolphins in cramped pools is all wrong. These dolphins have often been taken from wild populations and are kept in poor conditions.