lauantai 7. helmikuuta 2015

Should I swim with dolphins in Zanzibar?

Dolphin tour in Zanzibar is a tricky thing. At its best it can be you swimming with 20 dolphins all alone for an hour. At its worst, it can be you with 15 other boats trying to find dolphins, and once you find them, the dolphins are scared by all the boat motors and swim away, very quickly. And even if they stay it would be too dangerous to jump into the water with all the 15 boats around.

We at Colors of Zanzibar have been trying to figure out how to make this a better experience for our clients as well as the dolphins. I just recently took 2 dolphin tours within 24 hours – one in the afternoon and one early in the morning. The experiences were completely different from each other.

Afternoon dolphin safari begins

On the afternoon tour, or safari could be a better word for it, we didn't find the dolphins. They are much harder to find in the afternoons. But if we would have found them we would have been at the scene all by ourselves, with no other boats in sight. Even without seeing the dolphins the trip was enjoyable – the beautiful coast line and the strong Indian Ocean, all for us only. Afterwards we went snorkeling on the lively Kizimkazi coral reef.

Kids playing at the Kizimkazi beach

The next morning we got up at 5:30 am, and were ready on the shore at 6 am sharp. We took the same route as yesterday, seeing only 2 other boats + lots of fishermen. For an hour the dolphins did not show up – when we finally found them, it was us and 11 other boats. We saw 3 dolphins and 30 tourists, some of them in the water, unknowinlgy risking their lives as the boats were in a small space with not much room to go around the people in the water.

Sunrise at Menai Bay conservation area

Our captain told us not to jump. He was also the only one who followed the official instructions and stopped the engine. We stayed at the scene for approximately 10 minutes, and then asked him to go back to the shore. Dolphins were probably already far far somewhere, awayf rom the 11 motors, and we didn't feel too comfortable trying to find them again.

Other boats arrive

This has led us to 3 conclusions.
  1. Think about what time you want to do the tour. Either extremely early, or later, let's say after 11 o'clock. If you go very early you have the best chance to see the dolphins. But if you don't find them quickly, you will end up sharing the experience with others. How many others is just about luck – some days there might be just few tourists, and sometimes way too many. On the other hand, if you go after the tourist crowds you will end up with a more enjoyable experience, but with much lower chance to see the dolphins. 

  2. Only deal with professional people, not with just anyone who has a boat. All dolphin tour arrangers in Kizimkazi are supposed to have gotten education on how to approach the animals, but it seems to be long forgotten. There are very few who actually care about the environment. Choose them – we definately do. Also, most of the true professionals have much better facilities.

  3. It is very important to get all the information about dolphins beforehand. This way you understand what is good for them and why you need to be respectful. If the dolphins choose not to be around, then it's their decision. You can still enjoy the beautiful fishing village, the turqoise Indian Ocean, snorkeling at the coral reefs and just being in Zanzibar, relaxing.