The 10 Best Places to Swim and Dive with Dolphins

9th October 2017   |   Mario Passoni

Dolphins have always captured our imagination. They’ve been the stars of Greek legends and modern movies. Swimming with them is a dream for most divers.

These highly intelligent and playful animals will leave you with an experience you will remember for the rest of your life. This is why divers travel all over the planet to meet these incredible creatures.

Here are the top 10 places in the world to dive with dolphins.


Table of contents

Best Places to Swim and Dive with Dolphins

  1. The Bahamas
  2. The Galapagos Islands
  3. Sataya Reef & Samadai Reef, Egypt
  4. Socorro Island
  5. Ningaloo Reef, Australia
  6. The Sardine Run, South Africa
  7. Hawaii
  8. Kaikoura, New Zealand
  9. Brazil, Fernando De Noronha Island
  10. Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Dolphin Facts

Q&A about Dolphins

Dolphin Saviours


Best Places to Swim and Dive with Dolphins

1. The Bahamas

The crystal-clear, shallow waters of the Bahamas offer plenty of dolphin encounters, with the mammals being seen near Bimini Grand Bahama, and in lots of secret coves known only to tour operators. Head to Grand Bahama, located just 56 miles east of Palm Beach, Florida, for warm waters and almost guaranteed encounters with several resident pods of dolphins all year round.

When to Go: Year round

Type of Dolphins: Spotted, spinner, striped, and bottlenose

Other Wildlife: Later in the year, chances to encounter bull, tiger, and oceanic whitetip sharks

Editor’s picked liveaboard: Aqua Cat

View All Liveaboards in the Bahamas


2. The Galapagos Islands

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is at the top of many diver’s bucket lists, and for a good reason. Alongside whales, sharks and other large marine animals, dolphins are often spotted from the boat and below the surface. Bottlenose and common dolphins are permanent residents with other species migrating through the park. Spinners in particular can be found in large groups at Fernandina Island.

When to Go: Year-round

Type of Dolphins: Bottlenose, common, Risso’s, spinner and spotted

Other Wildlife: The list is almost endless and includes whales, mantas, marine iguanas, penguins, sea lions, and plenty of sharks

Editor’s picked liveaboard: MV Galapagos Sky

View All Liveaboards in the Galapagos


3. Sataya Reef & Samadai Reef, Egypt

The clear visibility of Egypt’s Red Sea with its colorful coral and fish life are enough to satisfy any underwater enthusiast. To make the area even better, it’s home to many resident dolphin pods with spinner, bottlenose, common and Risso’s species all making an appearance.

Head to the famous reefs near Marsa Alam in the southern Red Sea. Samadai, known locally as the “Dolphin House”, and Sataya Reef both offer chances to dive and snorkel at the edge of the reef where you wait for the highly inquisitive dolphins to come out of their resting lagoon to check you out.

When to Go: Year round, although the best time is May to July

Type of Dolphins: Mainly Spinner dolphins, with occasional sightings of bottlenose, common and Risso’s dolphins

Other Wildlife: You may also encounter oceanic whitetips nearby at Elphinstone Reef, turtles, and plenty of reef fish

Editor’s picked liveaboard: Ali Red Sea Defender

View All Liveaboards in Egypt


4. Socorro Island

Nicknamed “The Mexican Galapagos” Socorro Island is one of the world's best dive destinations with some seriously impressive large animals. Here, you can experience the giants of the ocean with manta rays, whale sharks, and humpback whales all making an appearance. Alongside these impressive marine animals, dolphin encounters are a regular occurrence during the high season.

When to Go: January to March for dolphins, although the season runs from November to May

Type of Dolphins: Bottlenose dolphins

Other Wildlife: Regular encounters with whale sharks, manta rays, humpback whales, and up to 10 species of sharks including hammerheads

Editor’s picked liveaboard: Quino El Guardian

View All Liveaboards in Socorro


5. Ningaloo Reef, Australia

Ningaloo Reef in Australia is world famous for sightings of whale sharks and manta rays. But this small beautiful island is fast becoming one of the best places in the world to encounter dolphins.

Common and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins cruise past Rockingham’s bays and Islands while large pods of common dolphins can be found in the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park. With an idyllic location, awesome marine life, and great weather, it is a little slice of paradise that is well worth visiting.

When to Go: Year round

Type of Dolphins: Common, bottlenose and Indo-Pacific dolphins

Other Wildlife: You can also encounter whale sharks, whales, and sharks

Editor’s picked liveaboard: Spoilsport

View all Liveaboards in Australia


6. The Sardine Run, South Africa

The Sardine Run gained its worldwide reputation with the release of “Blue Planet” as everyone saw the billions of sardines migrating up the Eastern Coast of South Africa. Shoals of up to 15 km long attract hungry seabirds, whales, sharks and, of course, dolphins don’t hesitate to get in on the action.

Divers can be dropped in the middle of the feeding frenzy for a chance to see some of the 18,000 dolphins which chase sardines every year. Divers not only get to see them in impressive numbers but also witness the mammals showing off their intelligence as they cooperate to hunt the huge shoals.

When to Go: May to July for the Sardine Run, through dolphins are present year round.

Type of Dolphins: Bottlenose and common dolphins

Other Wildlife: Great encounters with sharks, humpback whales, tunas and jacks

View All Dive Centers in South Africa


7. Hawaii

Hawaii has resident dolphin pods all year round with spinner, bottlenose and spotted dolphins all making regular appearances. While Hawaii offers plenty of captive dolphin trips, by far the most rewarding, exciting and fun are the encounters with wild dolphins.

Head to Oahu and Big Island to spot the Spinner dolphins resting in shallow sandy coves and ask your tour operator if they participate in the government’s dolphin-SMART program to ensure responsible dolphin tourism.

When to Go: Year-round, although the winter months can bring big swells

Type of Dolphins: Spinner, spotted, and bottlenose dolphins

Other Wildlife: sharks, turtles, orcas, pilot whales and manta rays

Editor’s picked liveaboard: Kona Aggressor

View All Liveaboards in Hawaii


8. Kaikoura, New Zealand

Kaikoura, located on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand, is the best place to experience Dusky dolphins. They can be found in pods from 100 to 1,000 strong in the waters around Kaikoura. You can dive or even swim and snorkel with them with several tour operators offering guaranteed encounters with these magnificent creatures.

When to Go: Year round

Type of Dolphins: Dusky dolphins

Other Wildlife: Seabirds and whales


swimming with dolphins

9. Brazil, Fernando De Noronha Island

Fernando De Noronha Island is where the world’s biggest pod of spinner dolphins call home; the pod—which possibly numbers in excess of 10,000 animals—can be regularly encountered in the early morning as they return home from a busy night hunting in the open ocean. The island, which is located 200 miles off (320 km) the Brazilian coast, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is blessed with some of the most stunning beaches in Brazil.

When to Go: August to November on the north of the island, January to March on the southern shore

Type of Dolphins: Spinner dolphins

Other Wildlife: Great chances to encounter turtles, whitetip reef sharks, and nurse sharks


10. Raja Ampat, Indonesia

For lovers of biodiversity, coral, and macro-life, Raja Ampat is a near-mythical destination, and luckily, it also has plenty of dolphins. The warm waters are home to spinner, spotted, common bottlenose, Indo-Pacific bottlenose, and Risso’s dolphins. You’re likely to come across dolphins on your boat crossings, which gives you plenty of chances to jump in.

When to go: October to April

Type of Dolphins: Spinner, spotted, common bottlenose, Indo-Pacific bottlenose, and Risso’s dolphins

Other Wildlife: pygmy and false killer whales, pilot whales, sharks, manta rays

Editor’s picked liveaboard: Samambaia

View All Liveaboards in Raja Ampat


a pod of dolphins

Dolphin Facts

Dolphins are marine mammals, belonging to the cetacean group, and more precisely the odontocetes (or toothed whale) group. They spend their entire lives in the water, but they have to periodically surface to breathe through their blowhole.

Let's now look at some curiosities about these amazing animals.


Species

There are more than 43 species of living dolphins. The biggest one is the orca, which can reach up to 7 meters long (23 ft) and a weight of about 3-4 tons. With a maximum recorded length of 1.4 meters (4.5 ft) and weight of 54 kg, vaquita is the smallest specimen. 38 species of dolphins are oceanic; the other 5 are river dolphins.


Diet and Hunting Strategies

Dolphins are carnivores; they feed mainly on fish (like sardines and fusiliers) and squids.They are social animals and form groups called pods. Being very clever, they have developed various hunting techniques in which each individual has a role.

One of the many hunting strategies is called herding, which consists of surrounding a group of fish, concentrating them at a point by forming a sort of cage and finally turning into the group of prey to eat them. Watch the video and take a look at this other spectacular hunting strategy!


Echolocation

To improve their hunting techniques, dolphins have developed an echolocation system, which is a kind of bio-sonar very similar to the one used by bats. They produce sound waves from their head (amplified by an organ called the melon).

They are “frequency modulated sounds” because dolphins modify the tone of the sound, this is, it can rise and fall over time. The burst-pulsed sounds are recognized by the superposition of sound waves and refer to the “clicks,” produced successively at regular intervals.

Once the sound wave hits an object or a piece of prey, the wave returns, giving them an idea of the distance, shape and size of the object. Echolocation is also used to improve navigation, communication and defense against predators.


Intelligence

Dolphins are considered to be among the most intelligent animals on the planet. They have a well-developed social structure. For example, if one of them is injured or sick, they help the sick individual reach the surface and breathe. Moreover, they are among the animals with the longest memory.


Reproduction

Dolphin mating takes place at sea. After 9 to 17 months (depending on the species), they give birth to a baby (rarely twins). The calf is breast-fed for 11 months up to 2 years, then remains with the mother for up to 8 years.


Behaviour

Being very social creatures, it is possible to spot dolphins in pods made by very few dolphins to hundreds of individuals.


How to Interact

Bring respect to these animals and don’t forget that they are wild animals in their natural habitat. For further info take a look at this video.


ID a Dolphin

First of all, the species of a dolphin can be distinguished by the morphology of the body and the place where you see them (obviously if you have a good ID book under your hand). Researchers establish differences from one individual to another through a photo of the dorsal fin, which is usually unique in shape and scars from individual to individual.

It is also possible to rely on the fluke (rarer to see) and photos of the whole body when spotted underwater. The aim of identification is to monitor population, migration and social structure.


Threats

The world's dolphin population is in decline. The main dangers are similar to those threatening whales, turtles and sharks. Fishing nets prevent dolphins from surfacing and breathing. Global warming affects their natural prey, which is decreasing in number and changing their migratory routes.

Dolphins are also eaten by humans, despite their meat containing toxic metals. Furthermore, the natural habitat of dolphins is compromised by construction and pollution.


Mythology

Dolphins appear several times in Greek mythology. For example, they were sacred to the gods Apollo and Aphrodite, and they were messengers of the god of the sea, Poseidon.


jumping dolphins

Q&A about Dolphins

How do dolphins communicate?

They emit whistles. It has been discovered that every single dolphin has produce a unique whistle, so this can be used to identify each animal. It’s also confirmed they know each other even after 20 years!

How long dolphins live?

Their lifespan is about 30 years. Bottlenose dolphins can live up to 40 years, and the longest living dolphin is the killer whale, which can live up to 80 years.

How do dolphins suckle?

Think about how complicated it is to breastfeed underwater. In the absence of lips, milk (similar to yogurt) is literally shot into the mouth of the baby through the mammary gland.

How many dolphins are killed each year?

More than 20,000 dolphins are killed every year.

Are dolphins friendly or not?

Most of them are friendly, but being wild animals they can be aggressive (albeit rarely) and even attack humans, especially when they think they are in danger or are particularly stressed. They are after all, top predators.

How do dolphins sleep?

The way dolphins sleep is very different from ours. Half of the dolphin’s brain sleeps, so they only have a conscious sleep. The other half of the dolphin’s brain is in charge of deciding when to breathe and changing during the time of sleep.


some dolphins underwater

Dolphin Saviours

Fortunately, there are several groups of experts that have founded associations which work to protect dolphins through research, education, training and habitat protection.

For further information take a look at: Dolphin Watch Alliance and Hepca.

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