I purchased my ticket
at the Bom Dia office with some degree of apprehension,
as I definitely do not have a sailor's stomach.
What attracted me to venture out on a boat into
these pristine Atlantic waters was the promise
of a comfortable trip and of course, the chance
to see real live dolphins in their natural environment.
Leaving Lagos harbour, we chugged along the river
while our guide, Irma, an experienced and qualified
Portugeuse/South african marine biologist, explained
to the 10-strong crowd that we had a 90% chance
of finding the local Short-beaked Common Dolphins
(Delphinus delphis). With conspicuous black white
and yellow patterned sides this is an extremely
attractive species which is present in large numbers
near Lagos. She told us that we should all keep
our eyes peeled for dolphins- the more eyes the
better, as although they live here all year round
they are highly mobile when hunting for shoals
As we entered the unbelievably calm and open
ocean the skipper, Arie, with his years of experience
navigating these waters, looked very pleased
with his very smart brand new, state of the
art, RIB (rigid inflatable boat)- as used in
offshire rescue operations by special forces
and Greenpeace- and opened the throttle to release
the trust of the 310 horse power low emission
engines. I braced myself as we sped smoothly
forward at an exhilarating rate- with no discomfort
whatsoever! Admiring the utterly delightfully
cliff scenery west of Lagos was a pleasure and
soon we had rounded the headland of Ponta da
Piedade and left its large red and white lighthouse
a couple of miles behind. The horizons opened-
now we were really in the Atlantic! The confident
seamanship of our skipper soon dispelled any
fears of insecurity- we were in the hands of
the pros- free to concentrate on the pleasures
of riding on these sunsplattered waters.
The picuresque seaside town of Luz, flanked
by the highest cliffs in the Algarve (over 100
metres high), distracted the attention of the
passengers but I noticed that Irma's keen eye
hadn't left the water. suddenly she raised her
arm- the signal for the skipper to slow right
down and stop the engines. Everybody fell silent,
even the ecstatic children- could we be in the
presence of our quarry? Expectant glances were
exchanged and, with a great whoosh, the sea
surface broke- a real live dolphin! Then two,
then three- the sea around us quickly became
alive. Irma explained that this was a territorial
reaction and the skipper steered the boat so
that the stern faced his maritime crowd and
we drifted slowly away. The dolphins followed
us, soon joined by more from all directions-
some of them actually swam under our craft.
One of the excited ladies exclaimed.
"Look, a baby one!" and sure as sure,
we could see a tiny dolphin through the clear
water riding against its mother's belly in perfect
synchronisation, with an unbelievable deftness,
following every twist and turn of its progenitor.
"That's Maria and here 4 weeks old calf,"
explained Irma, camara in hand as she snapped
away the scores of dolphins surrounding us.
It was impossible to say exactly how many there
were but there must have been around 50- maybe
more. Our guide asked us all to count and, as
we called out numbers, she punched the data
straight into the database on the onboard computer.
to return to Lagos
For most onboard, the trip was a first look
at dolphins and I must admit to having felt
a deep sense of pride at being able to contribute
to the knowledge of these fabulous mammals.
It was time to return, we had been out for more
than an hour and were due back in twenty minutes.
The skipper re-started the engines and after
slowly leaving this wildlife hot spot in peace
we returned at high speed to Lagos harbour.
Algarve Dolphins and their
lovely guides make this a learning experience
as well as great fun. As a working conservationist
I found it very refreshing to find a company
that don't ignore the dolphins well-being, at
the contrary, Algarve dolphins mark the difference,
complying with dolphin-friendly regulations
not yet passed in Portugal. I thought their
attitude was admirable and I left the boat with
a fully informative brochure showing many of
the various sea-mammals and birds which can
be seen on their outings, and explained the
company's ground-breaking scientific study which
is fast becoming an valuable contribution to
the conservation of dolphins in southern Portugal.
~ Simon Wates ~