It is paramount to be attentive to dolphin behaviour and to follow these simple guidelines:
(1) INTRODUCE YOURSELF POLITELY– Approach slowly from the side. Avoid sudden changes in speed and direction.
- Do not approach from behind or head on. Dolphins are aware of your position. Following or approaching them from behind creates a feeling of being chased and they will try to escape or distance themselves from your boat. Similarly, by approaching head on, you are crossing their path and creating a barrier. This will force the group to change direction, split up or dive deep to avoid your boat. Try not to provoke a reaction from the dolphins as this is a clear sign your presence has influenced their behaviour more than is acceptable. Your goal should be to observe the animals without impacting their next move.
- First impressions are important. As a human, you rely heavily on sight to provide initial information about the person you are meeting. However, vision is less important for dolphins. Sound, on the other hand, is carried through water quickly and can be detected at great distances. Bear in mind dolphins can hear you coming from much further away than you can see them. Therefore, your engine is a means of “communication” with the dolphins. You should accelerate or decelerate gradually in their vicinity. Putting your engine in gear, changing speed or direction is alarming for the dolphins, so try to be consistent. Let them get acquainted with the sound you are producing.
- Initially, try not to get closer than 100 m, approaching from either side at a very sharp angle. Allowing some time for them to get comfortable with your presence also give you a chance to note if there are any small calves in the group. It is best you leave immediately if you see any.
(2) FOLLOW IN PARALLEL TO THEIR COURSE – Keep the engine in neutral while they are diving. Do not rush to reach them after they surface.
- It is best you maintain the boat in a parallel position and slightly behind the group. This way you leave enough room for the animals to change direction without constraints. Make sure you are aware of their movements at all times so you can respond appropriately. Avoid crossing their path or moving ahead of them.
- While the animals are diving you can either maintain your current speed and direction or place the engine in neutral and wait for them to reappear. Do not rush to reach them when they surface. Follow the same routine as you would when approaching for the first time.
- If there are dolphins approaching the boat do not make any changes until they leave. They are perfectly aware of the position and speed of your vessel so doing nothing is the safest way to handle this situation. It will also give you a chance to get a longer look at them as they will not be startled by your actions.
(3) DOLPHINS NEED PRIVACY, JUST LIKE US – They will let you know if you are not welcome. Leave immediately if you hear loud exhalation or observe very small animals, tail slapping, changes in swimming direction or prolonged dives.
Even if you are not an expert in bottlenose dolphin behaviour, most of the time you will be able to determine whether your presence is disturbing the animals by making note of the following:
- If you observe mothers with small calves, leave immediately because young animals are particularly vulnerable to stress. Females or the entire group will often try to position themselves between the calf and the boat in an attempt to shield the offspring. This is a definite sign you should move away.
- Leave if you notice the group is repeatedly making abrupt changes in speed or direction, above or below water. You are most likely too close or keeping a course in conflict with their direction of movement. You might also be interfering with a critical period designated to nursing a new-born, rest or feeding and they simply do not want you around.
- Dolphins will undertake prolonged dives in order to “shake you off”, often surfacing far away from the initial position.
- Move away if they are repeatedly swimming directly towards and away from the boat.
- There are also more apparent ways of showing discontent. They can try to scare you away or warn you with loud exhalations and continuous tail slapping at the surface, as well as repeated breaching.
(4) GIVE THEM SPACE – Do not come closer than 50 m. Let them decide to approach you. If there are other boats around, increase the distance from the group.
- Dolphins can be easily disturbed if you do not keep your distance. There is no strictly defined boundary. Each encounter will be different and the comfort zone might alter while watching the same group. If you notice any aggressive (loud exhaling, breaching, tail slapping) or evasive behaviour, you should definitely increase the distance from the group or leave altogether. At all times, try not to come closer than 50 m unless the dolphins approach on their own.
- Too many boats surrounding the dolphins at the same time will have a negative effect. If there are others boats actively viewing the animals, wait for them to leave before you come closer. There should not be more than three boats within 200 m of the group.
- Do not to have boats positioned on all sides of the dolphins. Surrounding them will create a feeling of entrapment and they will try to escape. All vessels should be on one side of the group, allowing them enough room to change course without obstruction.
(5) DO NOT OVERSTAY YOUR WELCOME – Stay with the animals for up to 30 minutes. Accelerate gradually when leaving.
- Your presence itself represents a disturbance, regardless of your behaviour. Following these guidelines minimises your impact but it does not mean you are now part of the group. Although the experience of being close to these animals might be very rewarding, dolphins are wild animals and need to go on with their daily activities to ensure their survival. Enjoy yourself, take photos and share your impressions but leave after no more than 30 minutes. Make sure you are well away before accelerating. Do it gradually, especially if the dolphins are diving and you are not aware of their exact position.
CAPTURING, HARMING OR HARASSING DOLPHINS IS PROHIBITED BY CROATIAN LAW.
- Circling around dolphins, manoeuvring the boat directly at the group, trying to touch and tease the dolphins all constitute harassment – you do not want to get a fine!