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Dolphin watching

And other marine activities

Man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.
But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The waters around St Helena provide ample opportunities for all sorts of marine activities.


Dolphin in the bay Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching
Dolphin in the bay{a}

Below: Watching dolphins • Whales, whale sharks, etc… • And while you’re out there… • Read More

Watching dolphins

To see dolphins in the wild and at arms length is a rarity and should not be missed. Watch them cavort and dance as nature intended!

Going dolphin watching is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.

Dolphins off St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

Dolphins follow any boat Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

Dolphin jumping Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

Dolphin jumping high! Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

Dolphins off St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching


Dolphin watching and other marine trips are offered on a variety of vessels with the selection constantly changing, so we advise contacting the Tourist Office to choose your operator.

Boats for Dolphin Wathcing Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

All vessels also do costal tours.

Feeling more adventurous? How about diving around St Helena?

Whales, whale sharks, etc…

Below: Whales • Whale Sharks


Whales are common around St Helena, and can often be seen from the island, mostly from June to December. If you are lucky you may be able to get close to one.

Humpback Whale breaching Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching
Humpback Whale breaching{b}

In the 19th Century whales were hunted off St Helena. Read more on our Whaling page.

Whale Sharks

Whale Shark / Human compaison Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

Whale Shark Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

We also get regular visits from Whale Sharks rhincodon typus - the largest known extant fish species, averaging nearly 10m long and sometimes weighing more than 20 tonnes. These enormous and completely harmless (to humans!{1}) animals are stunning to watch. To get an idea of their size look at the comparison image (left)… Although normally solitary creatures, at the end of January 2013 a group of 17 Whale Sharks were spotted around St Helena, much to the delight of ecologists and tourists alike, and they have come back in increasing numbers, every year since. To protect the species he following rules were published regarding human interaction with Whale Sharks:

Despite their size whale skarks eat only plankton. To collect this they have an enormous mouth and some whale shark watchers are concerned that they might be swallowed, albeit accidentally. But as Dr Alistair Dove, a leading whale shark expert, explains: Their mouth may be up to 1.5m wide, but their throat is not much bigger than a £1 coin, so they couldn’t swallow you even if they wanted to.{2}

Incidentally, it is now thought that Whale Sharks may come to St Helena to breed.

I was alongside the whale sharks for over half an hour. It was an experience that will never leave me.
Andy Hobson,, October 2018

A report by the World Wildlife Fund and others, published in January 2019, warned that whale sharks could be at risk from plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Animals that eat plankton and smaller algae cannot discriminate between their food and micro-plastics the report said. The micro-plastics are not digested so stay in the animal’s stomach, which fills up leaving no room for food and the animal dies. The report calls for a global reduction in the use of plastic.

Governor Lisa Phillips with a whale shark 2017 Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching
Governor Lisa Phillips with a whale shark, 2017

And while you’re out there…

Why not explore some of the islands and islets that surround our coast: Castle Rock, Speery Island, the Needle, Lower Black Rock, Upper Black Rock (South), Bird Island (Southwest), Black Rock, Thompson’s Valley Island, Peaked Island, Egg Island, Lady’s Chair, Lighter Rock (West), Long Ledge (Northwest), Shore Island, George Island, Rough Rock Island, Flat Rock (East), the Buoys, Sandy Bay Island, the Chimney, White Bird Island and Frightus Rock (Southeast). All are within 1Km of the shore. Egg Island is visited by most of the dolphin watching trips run from Jamestown.

Speery Island Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching
Speery Island

Birds nesting on Egg Island Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching
Birds nesting on Egg Island

Incredible as it may seem, with dolphins now not only a protected species but also part of our tourism industry, until relatively recently dolphins were hunted for meat.

Read More

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

WARNING: For the avoidance of doubt, you participate in any activities described herein entirely at your own risk.


Article: Facts about Dolphins

Abridged from the International Dolphin Watch website{3}

Below: How do dolphins communicate and do they have their own language? • How does dolphin sonar work? • What and how much do dolphins eat? • How old can dolphins get? • How deep can dolphins dive? • How fast can dolphins swim?

How do dolphins communicate and do they have their own language?

Dolphin group Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

Dolphins communicate mainly by means of sounds. These sounds include whistles, but also so-called pulsed sounds, which are often described as squawks, barks, rasps, etc. But they also use breaching (jumping and falling back into the water with a loud splash) and pectoral fin (or flipper) and tail (or fluke) slaps (hitting the flipper or fluke on the water surface). Body posturing and jaw popping also have a role in communication. As for language, we do not know if they have one. Several studies have demonstrated that dolphins can understand a structured language like ours. This same has been demonstrated for a number of other animal species as well (gorilla, bonobo, California sea lion, parrot). Some studies also indicate that dolphin vocalisations are complex enough to support some form of language. However, to date it has not been demonstrated yet that they can undoubtedly communicate among themselves. On the basis that dolphins have large brains and their primary sense is acoustic, Dr. Horace Dobbs has speculated that dolphins send holographic sound images to one another.

How does dolphin sonar work?

Dolphin sonar Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

Dolphins (and other toothed whales) can produce high-pitched clicks. When these clicks hit an object, some of the sound will echo back to the "sender". By listening to the echo and interpreting the time it took before the echo came back, the dolphin estimate the distance of the object. (That’s why sonar is also called echo-location: with information from the echoes, a dolphin can locate an object). Depending on the material the object is made of, part of the sound may penetrate into the object and reflect off internal structure. If the object is a fish, some sound will reflect off the skin, some off the bones and internal organs. So one click can result in a number of (weaker) echoes. This will give the dolphin some information about the structure and size of the fish. By moving its head (thereby aiming the clicks at other parts of the fish) the dolphin can get more information on other parts of the fish. It is like a medical ultrasound probe, but the results are far less clear. A medical probe moves back and forth very rapidly, much faster than a dolphin can move its head. Also the frequency of the sounds of the medical probe is much higher than a dolphin’s sonar. Therefore the level of detail the echoes can provide is much higher in the medical probe.

What and how much do dolphins eat?

Dolphin eating Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

Bottlenose dolphins eat several kinds of fish (including mullet, mackerel, herring, cod) and squid. The composition of their diet depends very much on what is available in the area they live in and also on the season. The amount of fish they eat depends on the fish species they are feeding on: mackerel and herring have a very high fat content and consequently have a high caloric value, whereas squid has a very low caloric value, so to get the same energy intake (calories) they will need to eat much more if they feed on squid than if they feed on mackerel or herring. On average an adult dolphin will eat 4-9% of its body weight in fish, so a 250kg dolphin will eat 10-22.5kg of fish per day

How old can dolphins get?

Dolphin birthday Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

The maximum age for bottlenose dolphins is between 40 and 50 years. The average age a dolphin can get (the life expectancy) is about 25 years. There is, however, anecdotal evidence, which indicates that dolphins can live longer than estimated if death by human interference is eliminated from calculations.

How deep can dolphins dive?

Dolphin diving Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

The deepest dive ever recorded for a bottlenose dolphin was a 300 metres. This was accomplished by Tuffy, a dolphin trained by the US Navy. Most likely dolphins do not dive very deep though. Many bottlenose dolphins live in fairly shallow water. In the Sarasota Bay area, the dolphins spend a considerable time in waters that are less than 2 metres deep.

How fast can dolphins swim?

Dolphin speed Saint Helena Island Info Dolphin watching

The dolphin’s fast cruising speed (a travelling speed they can maintain for quite a while) is about 6-7 knots. They can reach speeds of up to 9.3 knots while travelling in this fashion. When they move faster, they will start jumping clear of the water (porpoising). They are actually saving energy by jumping. When chased by a speedboat, dolphins have been clocked at speeds of 14.6 knots, which they maintained for about 1,500 metres, leaping constantly. Studies have shown that the most efficient travelling speed for dolphins is between 3.3 to 4.5 knots. There have been reports of dolphins travelling at much higher speeds, but these refer to dolphins being pushed along by the bow wave of a speeding boat. They were getting a free ride (their speed relative to the surrounding water was low). It is possible that dolphins can reach speeds over 15 knots during very short bursts (like in preparation for a high jump), but they can’t maintain that speed.

Laugh at funny Dolphin watching humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info

A group doing research on sea mammals around St Helena captured a rather odd dolphin. It was peculiar because it had feet. After they had photographed and measured it, they prepared to set it free. Wait a minute, said one of the researchers, Wouldn’t it be a kindness if our ship’s doctor were to amputate the feet so that it would be the same as all the others? Not on your life, exclaimed the doctor. Why not? he was asked. The doctor replied, Because that would be de-feeting the porpoise.

{a} Robyn Sim{b} Into The Blue{3}

{1} Whale Sharks have very large mouths, but as filter feeders they feed almost exclusively on plankton.{2} Quoted from the Tourist Office Blog, February 2017.{3} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

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