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

Below: Watching dolphinsWhales, whale sharks, etc…And while you’re out there…World Dolphin DayRead More

Watching dolphins

To see dolphins in the wild and at arm’s 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.


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.

All vessels also do costal tours.

Feeling more adventurous? How about diving around St Helena?

Whales, whale sharks, etc…

Below: WhalesWhale 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.

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

Whale Sharks

Whale Sharks visit St Helena every year in and around February/March, possibly to breed. They are so important they have a page of their own.

And while you’re out there…

Why not explore some of the islands and islets that surround our coast: Speery Island, Egg Island and many more. All are within 1Km of the shore. Egg Island is visited by most of the dolphin watching trips run from Jamestown, and some make it out as far as Speery Island, though the sea can be quite rough once you get out of the sheltered waters to the North-west of the island.

Incredible as it may seem, with dolphins now not only a protected species but also part of our tourism industry, as recently as the 1980s dolphins were hunted for meat.

World Dolphin Day

World Dolphin Day, on 14th April, is not at all celebrated on St Helena, unless you happen to be out on a Dolphin Watching trip on the day and the tour operator happens to know about the day{1}.

Read More

Article: Facts about Dolphins

Abridged from the International Dolphin Watch website{2}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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{2}{c} St Helena National Trust

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{1} Possibly from Saint Helena Island Info!{2} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

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