Many people list “swimming with dolphins” among their “top ten things I must do”, as it is undoubtedly a magical, and for some a life-affirming experience. But, the experience may not be so good for the dolphins.
Many tour operators around the world unfortunately list swimming with dolphins in their holiday packages, and with the growing tourism these offers appear more and more often in Oman too, especially in the Dhofar region. But many wild dolphin encounters may be harmful to the animals. Swimming with wild dolphins is a different experience to swimming with captive dolphins.
Whether it is against the law or not, feeding or harassing wild dolphins clearly needs to stop as soon as possible. For the dolphins' safety and the humans, PLEASE DO NOT FEED, SWIM WITH, TOUCH/PET, OR HARASS WILD DOLPHINS in any way. We encourage everyone to observe them from a distance of at least 50 yards. Closely interacting with dolphins is harmful to them because it reduces their wariness to people and vessels and increases their risk of injury or death by boat strikes or fishing gear entanglements.
The opportunity to swim with wild dolphins is offered in many coastal areas, worldwide and also in Oman, with resident dolphin populations. It can be onshore, but usually involves entering the water from a boat. Boats will often “chase” pods of dolphins in order to try and drop swimmers off among the pod, or try to attract dolphins using food. Food is also used onshore to keep the dolphins close to the beach.
Dolphins are hunters, not beggars...
but when people offer them food, dolphins, like most animals, take the easy way out. This is the same problem we are facing with stray cats and dogs, which you will find explained in our other articles. Dolphins (and other animals) learn to beg for a living, lose their fear of humans, and do dangerous things.
Dolphin scientists have proof of injuries...
feeding wild dolphins disrupts their social groups which threatens their ability to survive in the wild. Young dolphins do not survive if their mothers compete with them for handouts and don't teach them to forage.
In return of feeding them we have also seen (probably) fishermen throwing stones on the dolphins because they start eating the catch, which makes life hard for fishermen. Dolphins will get harmed and soon not be able to differentiate between good humans (with food) and bad humans (with stones). The danger in this is obvious.
They swim too close to churning boat propellers...
and can be severely injured. They learn to associate people with food and get entangled with fishing hooks and lines and die. Especially in Oman you can find those things almost everywhere at the coastline or beaches. The dolphins in addition get sick from eating bait and people food like beer, pretzels, candy and hot dogs.
Following wild dolphins with boats can stress the animals and cause them to change their behavior as they try to avoid the boat and associated noise. In addition, boats and propellers can cause bad injuries to dolphins. Many dolphins inhabit certain areas of coastal waters, and displacing them from their familiar habitat can be harmful.
Unscrupulous operators have send out many boats to be following one pod of dolphins off the coast of Zanzibar in Tanzania – up to 30 were reported. This sounds far away and one may say “This has not happened in Oman.”, but it is our job and our responsibility to make sure, that this will also not happen anywhere in Oman in the future. Researchers have warned that the dolphins may leave the area if the activities are not regulated. This would not only be a problem for the environment but also for tourism, since watching dolphins on the beach from the hotel sunbed is one of the reasons, why tourists chose to come to Dhofar. And there are not that many places in there world, where this amazing phenomenon can be found.
Dolphins are wild animals, and as such can be unpredictable. Close encounters with captive or wild dolphins can result in injuries to people, and dolphins can carry diseases which can potentially affect humans. So there is not only a danger for the animals but also for the humans, and the first negative incident will spread fast through social media and effect tourism in Oman in a negative way.
Dozens of bites have been reported in other countries already...
People have been pulled under the water. A woman who fed a pair of dolphins and then jumped in the water to swim with them was bitten. "I literally ripped my left leg out of its mouth," she said during her week stay in the hospital.
In this case the Dolphins will be blamed, like it was done with the sharks centuries ago. People need to understand, that wild dolphins have got nothing to do with the picture of “Flipper” which is stuck in our minds since the movie got published and famous.
Dolphins are not water toys or pets...
the Flipper myth of a friendly wild dolphin has given us the wrong idea. Flipper was actually a trained, captive dolphin who did not bite the hand that fed him. However, truly wild dolphins will bite when they are angry, frustrated, or afraid. When people try to swim with wild dolphins, the dolphins are disturbed. Dolphins who have become career moochers can get pushy, aggressive and threatening when they don't get the hand-out they expect.
Seeing wild dolphins is a memorable experience, and luckily there are many places in Oman where you can watch them from shore, without disturbing them.
If people are planning to go to the water to watch dolphins, they should watch them from the boat, and make sure they use an operator who works to recognized standards designed to protect the dolphins from harm. Using an experienced, responsible operator with a resident marine biologist will not only help protect the dolphins, it will also enhance own experience and knowledge of these wonderful animals.
We understand, that swimming with dolphins in the wild is something that many people dream of, so suggesting that people don’t do it is going to be unpopular! But all the scientific evidence says that human-instigated interaction with dolphins, particularly when the same dolphins are subjected to it on a regular basis, can lead to negative impacts such as health issues and behavior change. As dolphin lovers, we wouldn’t want to encourage that.
Instead we think, it’s the most amazing thing, when you go snorkeling, and by accident a group of dolphins comes. This will not happen anymore, when we continue harassing them.
From several different people we heard, there are plans to offer swimming with wild dolphins “controlled”, only on several days a few hours. But there are a few "cons" to consider about this. There is a growing body of research that states that even swimming with free-roaming dolphins has negative effects on their well-being. This is due largely to the fact that many of these dolphins become dependent on human sources of food, and because the large numbers of tourists that come at once can be a stressful encounter. There is no control of tourists about feeding the dolphins and even a small amount of people can stress a dolphin already. This belief is also especially held toward operations that use captive dolphins for the purpose of human interaction. Many wildlife scientists have come out against these captive operations, stating that there is no conceivable way that they can provide dolphins with the room they need to thrive, and the engagement they need to stay emotionally content. They also state that dolphins are unique in that they possess a highly sophisticated intellect, and their captivity is therefore unethical. So please don’t consider this as an option, nether so-called “controlled” in the wildlife nor captive in any of the new aquariums or aqua parks. There are already enough countries who practice this, and Oman really does not need to copy bad behaviors of others just for the profit since there are better ways.
The area of Dhofar, like many other areas in Oman, is home to a resident group of dolphins. Due to the growing tourism in the country it is also where many businesses conduct dolphin tours (in a more or less limited geographic area). The heightened amount of human activity in this area may cause unnecessary stress to the local population by disrupting their natural behaviors sooner or later, if not already.
This prompted us, to try to team up conservation agencies, to develop a multifaceted program to promote responsible viewing and advertising of wild dolphins and recognize commercial businesses who participated.
What it means :
The dolphin protection project should provide an enhance tour experience by offering customers:
- Detailed knowledge about the laws protecting wild dolphins
- Information on how to responsibly view wild dolphins and recognize signs of harassment
- Details about local dolphin populations and research.
- Up-to-date knowledge about wild dolphin conservation by enhancing educational opportunities for themselves and their customers
We want to promote responsible viewing of wild dolphins in coastal waters
We would like to involve all stakeholders, including government agencies, non-governmental organizations, researchers, commercial businesses, and members of the public to the development and implementation of a Dolphin protection project
What is most important about dolphin protection can be combined in the following 5 sentences:
Stay at least 50 yards from dolphins
Move away cautiously if dolphins show signs of disturbance
Always put your engine in neutral when dolphins are near
Refrain from feeding, touching, or swimming-with wild dolphins
Teach others how to protect Dolphins
Why should we practice responsible viewing?
Dolphins are frequently seen in coastal waters of Oman and can easily be viewed from shore or by boat. Watching them in their natural habitat can be an exhilarating experience. However, when we approach wild dolphins too closely, move too quickly, or make too much noise, we increase the risk of disrupting their natural behaviors, such as migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, and sheltering. Disruption of these natural behaviors is a form of harassment. Sooner or later this will cause serious problems for the dolphin population and can be dangerous for the people who swim with them, too
What is the dolphin protection project about?
The project should be a recognition and education program, offering commercial businesses conduction for responsible wild dolphin viewing tours that voluntarily follow the “program criteria,” and educate their customers about the importance of responsible viewing of wild dolphins. Among other things, operators in this project engage in responsible advertising further promoting responsible dolphin viewing. This can be supported by governmental Agencies, NGO’s, tourism agencies, hotels, members of the public, etc.
Dolphin Protection Project Purpose:
- We need to minimize the potential of wild dolphin harassment caused by commercial viewing activities
- We have to reduce people’s expectations of wanting to closely interact with wild dolphins in a manner that may cause harassment
- We should eliminate advertising that creates expectations to engage in activities that may cause harassment
- We must educate the public about the importance of responsibly viewing wild dolphins to protect Oman’s natural treasures in long terms
What it takes to protect Dolphins:
All parties must voluntarily adhere to:
- Program Criteria: Legal requirements, policies, and guidelines, as well as best viewing and advertising practices to prevent harassment of wild dolphins
- Training and Education: Participation in an initial training workshop, maybe held by MECA
- Evaluation for Participation and Recognition: Initial evaluation maybe by MECA to establish participation and receive program recognition. Annual evaluation to ensure active compliance with the program criteria and determine the program’s effectiveness.
Upon successful completion, businesses receive materials identifying them as active Dolphin protection participants, such as certificates. By choosing to follow the Dolphin protection criteria, businesses demonstrate their care and concern for dolphin conservation and responsible wildlife viewing and advertising.
With a slogan like “Look Before You Book!” we can raise awareness in the hotels about this project and protect the dolphins.
Dolphin-friendly fishing and viewing tips
Dolphins need our help. Serious and even fatal dolphin injuries from interactions with
recreational fishing gear and boats are on the rise. You can prevent injuries to dolphins and
other sea life - and have a better day on the water - by following a few tips designed to
protect marine animals. These “Best Practices” were developed by marine scientists and wildlife managers working with boaters, anglers, and fishing guides:
- Never feed wild dolphins – it’s harmful and hopefully soon illegal
Feeding teaches dolphins to beg for food and draws them dangerously close to fishing gear and boat propellers.
- Reuse or share leftover bait
Freeze leftover bait for later or give it to your fishing neighbor.
Dumping leftover bait may attract dolphins to fishing areas to beg or steal bait and catch.
- Reel in your line if dolphins appear
Reel in and wait for dolphins to pass to avoid losing your bait or catch and prevent potential harm to dolphins.
Never cast toward dolphins.
- Change locations if dolphins show interest in bait or catch
Move away from dolphins to avoid unintentionally hooking one and prevent damage to gear or catch.
- Check gear and terminal tackle
Inspect your gear often to avoid unwanted line breaks – even small amounts of gear in the water can be harmful to wildlife if entangled or ingested.
- Use circle and corrodible hooks
Circle hooks may reduce injuries to fish, dolphins, and sea turtles.
Corrodible hooks (any hook other than stainless steel) eventually dissolve.
- Stay at least 50 yards away
Stay a safe distance from wild dolphins to avoid causing potential harm.
Maintaining a safe distance helps keep dolphins wild.
- Prevent wildlife entanglements - recycle fishing line
Place all broken or used fishing line in a Monofilament Fishing Line Recycling Bin.
If no recycling bins are available, place broken or used fishing line that has been cut into pieces in a lidded trash can.
- Stash your trash
Littering is illegal and can be harmful to wildlife.
Collect any trash you’ve left behind and place it in a lidded trash can.
- Release catch quietly away from dolphins when and where it is possible to do so without violating any state or federal fishing regulations
Feeding or attempting to feed a marine mammal in the wild must be prohibited by the law as soon as possible.