Swimming with dolphins is a dream of many! No matter how old or young you are chances are ever since watching “Flipper” for the first time you dream of the day you can live your own underwater adventure with one of these charismatic cetaceans.
If you are here today it’s very likely that you have made up your mind and have decided to live out your dream; you are searching the mighty world wide web for “how to swim with dolphins (the right way)” after all.
First of all, I want to congratulate you and let you know you’re on the right path. With such a high demand for dolphin swim experiences comes a high offer.
This unfortunately means low-quality service that is detrimental to the well-being of dolphins.
The fact that you’re researching how this should be done is a great start to finding an experience that is enjoyable for you and positive for the dolphins you and I love so much.
In this guide, you will learn how to swim with dolphins safely and ethically so that you can have the experience of a lifetime without disturbing your marine friends.
Do Dolphins Like Swimming With Humans?
No. The answer might seem harsh but it’s the truth. This however doesn’t mean that they aren’t curious about people and will playfully approach boats and humans in the same way you would approach a strange puppy to check it out.
Dolphins are social creatures that interact with other members of the pod, and different pods, on a regular basis getting all the social interaction they need to thrive.
Besides these relationships with conspecifics, they also find visual, auditory, and sensory stimuli in their surroundings.
To think they like swimming with humans as something they crave and hope for would be foolish; however, they will take an interest in humans likely because we are just a novel sight in their environment which will provide an enriching new stimulus.
How To Swim With Dolphins Safely
No matter how cute a dolphin looks with its seemingly perpetual smile it is important to keep in mind that a bottlenose dolphin (which is the species you’re most likely to encounter on your adventure) can reach a weight of 650 kg / 1,433 lbs. and a length of 4 m / 13 feet.
Not only are dolphins large enough to inflict serious harm on a human, but they are also wild animals and this makes them inherently unpredictable.
The fact that your encounter will take place underwater also makes you infinitely more vulnerable while dolphins have impressively hydrodynamic bodies capable of reaching high speeds and can outswim you within seconds.
Needless to say, it is of vital importance you take the necessary safety precautions when entering the water with these beautiful cetaceans and I have compiled a few important suggestions to help you check this off your bucket list:
Choose the best location and tour operator
The first step is choosing WHERE in the world you will live out your wildest dolphin dreams.
When making this decision it’s important to take 2 things into account: budget and ethics. You must find a place that fits your budget while remaining respectful to the dolphins.
Several countries have little or no regulations regarding these interactions and you will find an abundance of non-reputable tour operators who will swarm dolphin pods with tourists who will then be encouraged to harass and even feed these wild animals.
Always look for reputable tour operators who show their commitment to dolphin conservation and who abide by the law causing minimum disruption to wildlife.
Look at ratings on their service, how many people go per tour, rules of interaction, and safety protocols.
Enter the water calmly
Jumping in the water excitedly will cause disruption and make dolphins want to avoid you.
Always enter the water making as little splashing and noise as possible.
Don’t chase, harass or touch the dolphins
You’re entering the dolphins’ house and you must let them come to you. Don’t chase after dolphins, block their path or attempt to touch them.
And for crying out loud DO NOT try to ride them by grabbing onto their dorsal fin.
Is There An Ethical Way To Swim With Dolphins?
So the fact that dolphins don’t necessarily “like” swimming with people doesn’t mean it is detrimental to their health.
As I said before, swimming with people can provide dolphins with novel stimuli that can enrich their lives. That is as long as it’s done the right way.
The first thing I would recommend here is to swim with wild dolphins as you will know for sure they aren’t forced to be there and are free to leave whenever they feel uncomfortable.
The second thing is that you choose a tour operator that is knowledgeable, law-abiding, and respectful.
This way you can guarantee it will be an ethical experience for the marine mammals involved.
Can I Swim With Wild Dolphins?
Yes! It is completely possible to swim with wild dolphins and since they have a worldwide distribution you will easily find a location that is close to you.
Just remember to keep in mind the ethics of the experience and make sure you choose a service provider that has a strong moral compass.
Some red flags you should look out for when choosing a tour operator are the following:
Too many people on each tour
Getting more than 10 people in the water with a pod of wild dolphins is too much and is stressful for the animals. The smaller the group the better.
Feeding the dolphins
If the tour operator feeds wild dolphins or allows the group to do it it’s a HUGE red flag. Feeding wildlife is illegal in most countries and it’s extremely unethical as it poses serious risks to the physical and mental well-being of the animals.
The tour guide GUARANTEES you will have an encounter
When dealing with wild animals there is no guarantee. If a person can reliably guarantee an encounter chances are something fishy (pun intended) is going on.
Encourages touching the animals
Touching wild animals is a big no-no.
A reputable guide will be very strict about enforcing this and educating everyone on the tour about why it’s not allowed.
Is It Safe To Swim With Dolphins?
To be safe means that you’re not exposed to danger or risk and dolphins are perfectly capable of hurting and even killing a person so technically it’s not safe. However, instances of wild dolphins attacking people are very rare and usually the result of being harassed.
There has only been one instance in which a wild dolphin has killed a person and it happened in 1994; the deceased was a drunk man who was forcibly restraining a male dolphin in Brazil.
Taking these facts into account it’s very likely that as long as you choose a reputable tour operator and follow proper dolphin etiquette you will have an enjoyable, safe, and life-changing experience.
I hope after reading this article the biggest takeaway you have is that choosing a place and operator that provides an ethical experience is the most important part of planning your adventure.
If you have the slightest hint of doubt that a person or company may not be telling the truth and could be employing immoral or dishonest practices to have more clients then the best you can do is show your love to the dolphins by waiting until you find an experience that better aligns with your values.
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I am a lover of everything nature and animal related with over 15 years of experience in the field of wildlife rescue and education. Currently living in Colombia working with wild and domestic animals and spending all my free time writing about them 🙂