Bottlenose dolphins in Zanzibar

Sea life: Dolphins

I have only had one experience of dolphins at sea before: a “swim with dolphins” circus off the south of Zanzibar in 2008. I found it very traumatic and refused to go in the water. A pod of wild dolphins had been corralled (there is no other word) by a group of boats off Kizimkazi, and when the boats got close enough (there was no regard for appropriate distances to approach these creatures or the ethics of trying to touch them) hordes of pale, roughly spherical, mostly German tourists leaped into the water clad – in most cases – in Speedos and snorkeling gear. The pod invariably dived at this point, and the process repeated itself.

I am glad to replace that morning in my memory with a more positive experience that we had on our doorstep in False Bay, this June. While we were completing a dive near Roman Rock lighthouse, Grant got a call to say that there was a lot of dolphin activity in the northern end of False Bay near Kalk Bay harbour. On our way back to Long Beach we headed in that direction, and were rewarded with the sight of a massive pod of about 500 long beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis) – many of them breaking the surface.

Long beaked common dolphin in False Bay
Long beaked common dolphin in False Bay

A group of them came close to the boat and swam along next to us, leaping and splashing in the bow wave. The general view of what the dolphins are doing when they come around the boat like this is that they are being friendly and wanting to play, but Tony explained to me that there is an alternate view, held by Angie of Dolphin Encountours in Ponta do Ouro. She believes that the adult dolphins do this as a diversionary tactic, because there are calves in the water nearby. They intend to distract or draw away what they perceive as a threatening entity, in most cases a boat filled with gawking humans!


Grant did not stop the boat, but drove us past the edge of the pod. The surface of the sea was boiling with cetaceans. Seeing such vitality, abundance and exuberance moved me immensely. I don’t own a single piece of dolphin-inscribed clothing, jewellery or wall decoration, and I still don’t want any, but this is an experience I will never, ever forget.

Published by


Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

2 thoughts on “Sea life: Dolphins”

  1. I appreciate hearing how considerate and aware you were about the irresponsible actions of the boat tour operators during your first encounter. We all need to be aware of how to reduce harm to dolphins in the wild. Thank you for posting this article.

Comments are closed.