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 of fish.

In the Atlantic
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.

Surrounded by dolphins
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.

Time 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 ~