In September 2014, I went with a few friends and fellow marine activists to the beautiful archipelago of the Azores (main island of Pico), which is two and a half hours by plane from mainland Portugal. Our aim was to ‘swim’ with wild dolphins, in their home, the majestic Atlantic ocean.
We chose an eco tourist tour operator called The Dolphin and Whale connection, based in Brighton UK.
They organised our stay in a beautiful villa, with all modern facilities. The villa was situated a few kilometres outside Lajes do Pico and very tranquil, facing the ocean. We had guests at night such as bats. The singing of corys shearwaters during the night made the whole stay even more magical. They also organised our boat trips with a local boat/tour operator. Everything went very smoothly.
Our boat operator for swimming with dolphins is Espaco Talassa situated in Lajes do Pico.
Prior to venturing out on the ocean, we had a briefing about the Azores, the cetaceans we may encounter, what our conduct in the water should be (no touching and/or chasing the animals, no diving to reach the animals), how a boat (zodiac style boat) will approach the dolphins, and how many people will be in the water at any time (only two people were allowed in the water when a pod of dolphins was spotted, and for a duration of five minutes max) and of course, health and safety procedures. We then went on our first trip for our guides to assess our skills with snorkelling. Trips to the ocean were either in the morning or during the afternoon.
From an activist point of view, Espaco Talassa ticked all the right boxes concerning animal welfare, respect of the local/international laws and respect for the environment. During one of our trips, a spermwhale mother and her calf was spotted. There were only three boats around the whales and, at a distance; motors cut off. When another boat arrived, our skipper/guide decided to go as not to have too many boats close to the whales. When we swam with the dolphins, it was only our boat around, with two people in the water , four tourists on the boat plus two crew members. A sustainable and respectful form of ecotourism. Just perfect!
We were very lucky to have the expertise and passion of two wonderful guides who talked to us about the Azores, its whaling past but also about conservation, cetaceans and the local pods. Our skipper was in constant contact with the vigils who were looking for pods from their high towers (reminiscent of the island’s whaling past) and we were not left disappointed.
When a pod was spotted by the vigils, the boat moved in the direction of the dolphins. When the conditions were optimal, our guide told us when to get into the water to see the animals. No one was allowed in without the consent of the guide. After each swim, the guide signalled us to board the boat again. That was the only challenge for me, climbing the very narrow ladder which was very slippery and hard to grasp. Fortunately, a few tritons on the boat rescued this mermaid in distress several time.
We saw and swam with several species of dolphins (Risso's, spotted, bottlenose and common). We were privileged to see a spermwhale baby with its mum as well. On the last day, we saw a juvenile hammerhead shark gliding on the surface of the ocean, with not a care in the world. This gorgeous being stayed with us for about twenty minutes. The sheer happiness on our boat (skipper and guide included) was great as we were all ecstatic to see the shark.
When I went on my first swim with dolphins, it was with a pod of Risso's.
I cannot describe how amazing and truly magical it was to see this pod of little ghosts of the sea, gliding underneath us. It had a profound impact on me.
I was also amazed when I encountered a bottlenose dolphin who swam a few metres from me and my friend passing just beside us whilst looking at us eye to eye. This was an encounter I will never forget.
Overall I would highly recommend both the Dolphin and Whale connection (they organise trips to watch whales or swim with dolphins in Egypt as well) and of course Espaco Talassa in Lajes for their professionalism, enthusiasm and passion for the ocean and the cetaceans.
I know that one day I will return to the magical islands of the Azores to watch the whales and perhaps swim with dolphins again.
Mermaid Oephebia aka O
I travelled to Iceland in February 2014 with a group of whale watcher friends. We went for 6 days, spent four days in Grundafjordur and two days in Reykjavik.
We found both companies to be very respectful of the wildlife and environment and the guides were knowledgeable and approachable.
We saw orca in both locations. Sometimes they would come up next to the boat sometimes at a distance. Watching two orcas swim directly towards us and then under the boat was an incredible moment.
It was a wonderful trip!
I travelled with a friend to the island of Pico in the Azores in May 2013. We booked the Ocean Giants week with Amanda Stafford of The Dolphin and whale connection.
Our boat trips were booked with EspacoTalassa. We were lucky with the weather, which can be unpredictable, and were able to go out every day. I originally booked 5 trips but went on 2 extra ones, so 7 in total.
It's a truly great place to go whale watching. They have a tower on the coast called a vigia. They were previously used to spot whales in the days of hunting, but are now used to give whale watchers an incredible experience. A person sits in the tower looking for cetaceans and when they spot them, phone through to the boat skippers with coordinates. This means that we saw multiple species on most trips.
In a week we saw Blue, Fin, Sperm and Pilot Whales, Pseudo Orca, Striped, Rissos, Bottlenose and Common Dolphins, plus flying fish, turtles, an ocean sunfish and lots of birds.
The skippers and guides working for EspacoTalassa were great and helped to make our week there an unforgettable one.Lynn Sampson
Ecotourism on different continents: