But usually isn’t.
At Manengkel Solidaritas, we were lucky to recently have a visit from Icha, an Australia-based researcher studying for a PhD in Marine Mammals. Her talk on Marine Mammal Tourism was fascinating and something we’d like to share.
You sit in a boat, with maybe ten other people, just off the South coast of Bali. As far as the eye can see there are more boats. You start counting and give up when you get to fifty, as they keep coming, keep moving.
You stare into the water, wondering how you’ll ever see a dolphin in this. But then there’s a shout up ahead, boats start accelerating towards the commotion, including yours. And finally as your boat muscles in with the others, you spot it. A pod of dolphins.
It’s amazing, you’re so close. They’re maybe just 40 metres away. But you’re not the closest boat. Opposite there’s a boat that looks like they could almost reach out and touch them, to their right and left, boats which are only a little bit farther away. You tear your eye away from the dip and splash of the mammals to look around a bit further - the sea is a mass of boats. Not everyone has come over, other boats giving up as they know that they’ll barely catch a glimpse through the throng, but on all sides cameras are flashing, people are pointing, engines are running.
The thing is, this isn’t something you have to imagine. This is the reality of dolphin tourism. Indonesia is one of the worst countries for exploiting these creatures, which can lead to feeding problems, issues with nursing and reproduction, interrupt rest and even cause the dolphins to leave and seek new places to stay.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Many countries and marine protected areas have put in place limits to allow local communities to benefit from the wonderful ecosystems on their doorstep, but without causing any harm.
Next time you think about taking part in any form of animal spotting, consider the impact you’ll be having and don’t be afraid to ask about sustainability.
Together, if we boycott exploitative practices, we can help make the world a safer place for dolphins.