Sunday, 26 July 2009

Gulf World's Baby Dolphin Dies Suddenly

A male Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin who was born on July 21 at Gulf World Marine Park has died, park officials said Wednesday. It is unclear what caused the animal's death, park officials said in a news release.

Sandy, a 24 year-old Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin gave birth after a 12-month gestational period. The mother and calf were being housed with Luna, the mother’s 4 year-old daughter, and another young female Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin named Indy.

A necropsy will be performed today to hopefully learn more about the untimely death, officials said in a news release.


Friday, 24 July 2009

Bottlenose Dolphin Mark died

The dolphin Mark, who charmed the visitors of the Constanta Dolphin Reservation for 23 years, died Wednesday night. The dolphin, a great fan of the band Las Ketchup, would have turned 32 in a couple of days. Mark’s death leaves the Dolphin Reservation with no dolphins.

According to the manager of the Constanta Natural Sciences Museums’ Centre, Mr. Adrian Mihai Manastireanu, the dolphin had died at 23.46, without any previous signs of a disease, although he was under medical surveillance.

“It was carefully watched by our veterinary. It started this season in a fabulous condition, and this is why it had three daily shows. It never showed any sign of an illness… Ten minutes before, it seemed perfectly healthy. And suddenly its nostril started bleeding, and in ten minutes, it was gone,” Adrian Manastireanu declared.

The dolphin Mark was a representative of the Tursiops Truncatus species from the Black Sea and was the most long-lived dolphin of the Constanta Reservation, under the circumstances that the average life span of his species is 25 – 30 years.

On August 28, Mark was to celebrate, beside the audience, another year spent at the Dolphin Reservation, and was to be offered, during a performance, a mackerel cake, his favourite food. According to Adrian Manastireanu, the Dolphin Reservation only has two sea lions at the time being, the couple Lorry and John, and the management of the institution is negotiating the purchase of new animals with an organization in China.

In 1986, on August 28, five dolphins from the Tursiops Truncatus species were brought to the Constanta Dolphin Reservation, This species is best adapted to captivity, and easily tamable, compared to the rest of the species living in the Black Sea: Delfinus Delphis Ponticus and Phocaena Phocaena Relicta. Of all five dolphins captured, Mark was the one who drew everyone’s attention. Longtime employees of the Dolphin Reservation mentioned that he was the leader of the group from the very beginning, as he had a strong personality.

The cause of death is yet to be established at the autopsy.


Thursday, 23 July 2009

Oldest dolphin in Germany died

40-year old, bottlenose dolphin Eva died on July 22 at Dolphinarium Nürnberg. For many months she showed signs of age-related weakness. She recovered in Spring, but two weeks ago she had troubles to follow hand signals which was noticed by the trainers. Yesterday she also refused to eat and around 2.30 pm her state of health got worse. She had trouble breathing and surfacing. Trainers grabbed her and brought her back to the surface but Eva had already died. A necropsy revealed she died of encephalitis. She lived at Nürnberg since January 8, 1982, where she raised 4 calves, Naomi, Nemo, Nando and Noah. She was one of the oldest bottlenose dolphins in Europe.


Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Britain On Look-Out For Dolphins

Fans of marine wildlife hoping to do some dolphin and whale watching this summer have been urged to head to Britain's beaches.

As the school holidays begin, the public are urged to look for the creatures along the coast, as well as keeping an eye out for washed-up jellyfish.

Two campaigns hope to engage the public in unearthing more about Britain's marine wildlife.

The launch of the National Whale and Dolphin Watch comes in the same week as the annual National Jellyfish Survey.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is hoping to uncover further details about the little-known habits of British jellyfish.

Large jellyfish blooms have already been reported washing up on beaches in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man and, as the UK's seas warm up during the summer, more are expected.

The moon jellyfish is the most widespread species, occurring all around the UK coast from May.

The lion's mane jellyfish has the most powerful and painful sting, though it is rarely seen south of the Irish Sea.

The MCS also received many reports of the usually rare Portuguese Man-of-War from beaches in south-west England last summer, but none have been spotted so far this year.

Peter Richardson, MCS Biodiversity Programme Manager, said: "We started receiving reports of stranded Lion's Mane jellyfish off Wales and Northern Ireland in June.

"Lion's mane jellyfish and some other species can sting, so as ever, we are encouraging holidaymakers to take part in our national jellyfish survey, but the key message is look, don't touch!"

Dolphins and whales may be more difficult to spot, but it may surprise many people to know that 28 different species of dolphin alone live off the UK coast.

Run annually by the Sea Watch Foundation, the national survey will provide a snapshot of the distribution of cetaceans (the collective term for whales, dolphins and porpoises) around the British Isles and should help scientists to understand their behaviour.

Sea Watch Foundation Sightings Officer, Gemma Veneruso said: "The more we can understand about our marine mammals, the more we can help ensure the best measures are put in place to save them."

Sightings of the Common Dolphin, Striped Dolphin, Minke Whale and Humpback Whale have all increased over the last few years.

There have been 45 sightings reported since Sunday.

Bayworld Dolphins Doing Great in Hong Kong

BAYWORLD‘S beloved dolphins Domino and Dumisa have arrived safely in Hong Kong after leaving Port Elizabeth on Wednesday night.

Spokesman Sandra Sampayo said the dolphins were doing "great".

With great care and military precision, they were transferred on Wednesday night from the pool where they have spent their whole lives, loaded into a specially designed crate, trucked to the airport and then lifted into a waiting DC8 chartered aircraft.
They left at 9pm bound for Hong Kong. Bayworld senior curator Robyn Greyling and many in her team were in tears.
Lying next to each other in their stretchers beneath a covering of wet towels, the dolphins occasionally lifted their heads and chirruped quietly, but they seemed calm.
Security around the operation has been super-tight because of concerns about the dolphins‘ welfare.
The Herald did not know when they were leaving until Tuesday and agreed to keep the departure time secret to avoid crowds at the airport upsetting the dolphins.
The operation started at 6pm with Greyling summoning Domino and Dumisa to the medical pool with a special whistle, a procedure they have practised for years because they need to regularly be checked by a veterinarian. Two stretchers were lowered into the water and at another instruction the dolphins swam into them.
With an icy wind blowing, Greyling, her colleagues and Ocean Park general curator Grant Abel and chief veterinarian Paolo Martelli waded around, easing the dolphins into position and ensuring their flippers were positioned correctly through holes cut for the purpose.
Members of the team took turns massaging their heads, which they love. They were then winched out the water and half a dozen helpers carried them into the Bayworld carpark where they were winched up again and lowered into their crate.
The bottom of the crate is lined with a layer of foam, and three tons of water will be pumped in beneath this foam to ensure that there is minimal pressure on the dolphins‘ tummies and that they also stay cool.
Because dolphins are mammals, they can breathe out of water for an indefinite time, but their skin has to remain moist.
Although they are mammals, they will not be enjoying a snooze the way we would cooped up on a long flight. This is because dolphins are conscious breathers, meaning that in order to breathe they have to be awake. Instead, they have perfected the technique of cat-napping by “closing down” half their brains.
Abel, an Australian with 30 years‘ experience in similar operations, explained that dolphins also cannot sweat, so it is important to prevent them getting too warm. For this reason, efforts will be made to keep the water pumped into their crates at a constant 18°C.
There are 300 staff at Ocean Park and 44 in the marine mammal department alone.
They are not as “academically inclined” as Bayworld and do not have an historical or cultural section, but they do have other creatures ranging from pandas to many birds.
They receive about five million visitors a year and their blue-chip environmental education centre includes a “theatre” which seats 3500. As part of their education programme, they have established a trust which funds outside conservation projects.
Martelli is one of four resident vets. Talking to The Herald before the operation on Wednesday night, he explained that he and Dr Andrew Mackay, Bayworld‘s consulting vet, would be monitoring the dolphins constantly on the plane to check their anxiety levels. They will use a stethoscope and listen for any untoward signs, and watch out for any irritable moving around.
Sedatives will be administered if necessary, but the dolphins have been well prepared. Greyling and her team have practised the move out of the Bayworld pool, into the crate and across to the airport many times.
Scientific debate on whether there were any genetic differences between Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphins in different parts of the world was still raging, Martelli said.
“These dolphins and ours at Ocean Park are the same sub-species, but dolphins are very tribal in terms of what they eat, for instance.
“This depends on what the prey fish migrations are in that part of the world. But we feed them very similar things as you do, so there should be no problem with them adapting,” he said. “Here, they eat pilchard. There, they will eat herring or squid.”
The partnership established between Bayworld and Ocean Park revolves around introducing Domino and Dumisa into a breeding programme with other dolphins of the same sub-species, to strengthen the genes of their offspring and to avoid possible second generation in-breeding between them.
Bayworld director Sylvia van Zyl said she and her team had been hugely relieved to have found Ocean Park as a partner in this regard. “They are an institution with the will and the means and the experience to make this move a great success.”
The challenge now was for Bayworld to “think out of the box” and find a way to showcase their other hugely valuable animals and exhibits, ranging from historic artefacts to rare fish and endangered creatures like the African penguin, she said.
Just as things were getting busy prior to the start of the operation yesterday evening, a rainbow appeared and hung in the heavens for 15 minutes, right over Bayworld.
Delighted members of the local trans-location team said it was a good omen that the trip would go smoothly and that their beloved dolphins would be happy.


Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Harbour Hector’s identity confirmed. New Zealand

A rare dolphin residing in Wellington Harbour has been confirmed as a male Hector’s dolphin.

Sporting the distinctive rounded dorsal fin which is a characteristic of Hector’s dolphins, he was nicknamed ‘Harbour Hector’ by locals, who have been reporting sightings of him to the Department of Conservation since January.

Keen to find out if the dolphin was a member of the even rarer sub-species of Hector’s dolphin, the Maui dolphin, DOC sent its marine mammal expert Nadine Bott out into the harbour, with the biopsy tool she uses to take tissue samples from humpback whales during DOC’s annual Cook Strait Whale Survey.

“This little guy has been elusive but we were able to take a biopsy sample, which has confirmed that he is from the South Island population of Hector’s, of which there are only around 7000 in existence.”

Taking a biopsy sample involves firing a small light-weight dart that hits the dolphin, bounces off and floats, retaining a small bit of tissue sample on the tip.

“It’s important that we take these samples to help us understand these vulnerable species better. It’s a safe technique for identifying marine mammals and doesn’t cause them any harm,” Ms Bott said.

The Hector’s dolphin is one of the smallest, rarest dolphins in the world, and the Maui dolphin is even rarer, with only around 110 living along the North Island’s west coast.

While this is the first live Hector’s dolphin ever recorded in Wellington Harbour, New Zealand has an interesting history of wild solitary dolphin visits. More famous examples include: Pelorus Jack a Risso’s dolphin known for escorting boats in the Cook Strait in the late 1800s; Opo, the Bottlenose dolphin in the Hokianga harbour in the 1950s, and more recently Moko the Bottlenose dolphin that has been visiting the Mahia peninsula since 2007.

While DOC hasn’t received any reports of sightings of ‘Harbour Hector’ since May, if you are lucky enough to spot him or any other marine mammals it is important to follow these simple rules:

On shore
• Do not disturb, harass or make loud noises near marine mammals.
• Do not feed or throw any rubbish near them
• Avoid sudden or repeated changes in speed or direction of any vessel or aircraft near a marine mammal.
• There should be no more than three vessels and/or aircraft within 300 metres of any marine mammal.

At sea
• Ensure that you travel no faster than idle or ‘no wake’ speed within 300 metres of any marine mammal.
• Approach whales and dolphins from behind and to the side.
• Do not circle them, obstruct their path or cut through any group.
• Idle slowly away. Speed may be gradually increased to out-distance dolphins and should not exceed 10 knots within 300 metres of any dolphin.

In the air
• Aircraft should maintain a horizontal distance of greater than 150 metres when flying near any marine mammal.
• Avoid flying or imposing a shadow directly over a marine mammal either at sea or on shore.

Take care with set nets
• Stay with your net at all times.
• Don’t net if dolphins, seals or diving birds are nearby.
• REMEMBER set nets catch more than fish.

A guide for responsible set netting can be obtained from your local Ministry of Fisheries office, or visit

All seals, dolphins, whales and porpoises are fully protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. Offences carry penalties of up to six months imprisonment or fines up to $250,000 and further fines of up to $10,000 for every marine mammal in respect of which the offence is committed.

The rules are outlined in a brochure entitled Sharing our coasts with marine mammals which can be obtained from DOC offices or downloaded from the marine mammals section of the DOC website:>conservation>native animals>marine mammals

Refer to the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations 1992 for a complete list of conditions prescribing behaviour around marine mammals. Visit:

What to do if you see a Hector’s or Maui’s dolphin in the North Island
Report sightings of Hector’s or Maui’s dolphins to DOC, preferably as soon as possible, by calling the 0800 DOCHOT line (0800 36 24 68). DOC needs to know the date, time and location of the sighting, the number of dolphins, whether there were any calves, and any other observations regarding their behaviour. If possible, take a photograph (from a camera or mobile phone) of the dolphins with a land feature in the background and a record of the GPS position of the sighting.

Further Information:
Hector’s dolphins have distinctive grey, white and black markings and a short snout. They are the only New Zealand dolphins with a rounded black dorsal fin. Dolphins are generally found close to shore travelling alone, or in groups or pods of several dolphins. They’re often seen in water less than 20 metres deep, but may also range further offshore. Females can be up to 1.7 meters long and weigh between 40-60 kilograms. Males are slightly smaller and lighter than females.
For more information about Hector’s dolphins, the threats they face and what you can do to help, visit the DOC website:


Dolphin baby now at risk, expert fears. New Zealand

A marine mammal expert is "hoping like hell" a dolphin rescued in the Bay of Islands this week finds its calf before it's too late.

The dolphin has been seen alive and well since it was rescued from a sandbar in Kerikeri Inlet - but there are concerns for its five-month-old calf, which cannot survive for long without its mother's milk.

The distressed dolphin was spotted on a sandbar about 10m from the water, stuck on a bed of oysters, about 8am on Thursday. Justin Fitton, a caretaker at Aroha Island nature reserve, directed the rescue until DoC rangers arrived. The dolphin was returned to the water around 10am.

By studying photos of the dolphin's distinctive dorsal fin, Jo "Floppy" Halliday of Project Jonah identified it as a 10 to 15-year-old female bottlenose known as Kiwi.

Ms Halliday said Kiwi was well known and had been coming into the Bay of Islands for at least six years.

Since giving birth early this year - the calf, Squirt, was thought to be her first - she had lived with a pod of mostly other females and juveniles.

Ms Halliday, who works as a Fullers dolphin guide, said she spotted Kiwi on her own in Albert Channel, in the eastern Bay of Islands, later on Thursday. The dolphin seemed to be in good health but Ms Halliday said her heart sank to see Kiwi without her calf.

Fresh injuries on Kiwi's belly were not serious and probably the result of being stranded on oysters.

Ms Halliday hoped Squirt was being looked after by other females in the pod, and that the two would find each other soon. All dolphins had a distinctive "signature whistle" which could carry up to 20km under water.

"We're just hoping like hell they find each other ... he really needs her milk, especially at this time of year when he needs to keep his fat levels up."

Ms Halliday said the five-month-old calf was too young to catch fish on its own and it was hard to know what had caused the stranding.

She had seen Kiwi and Squirt only a day earlier and noticed the pod was unusually subdued, perhaps because they had detected orca, their natural predators.

Kiwi could have made a mistake while chasing fish or playing with Squirt, ending up stuck on the sandbar just as the tide was going out.

Ms Halliday was pleased Mr Fitton had completed a Project Jonah marine mammal rescue course, and had been able to put the lessons into practice.

Aroha Island staff continued combing the shore yesterday in case Squirt was also stranded somewhere.


Ganges River Dolphin population falls below 300, faces new threat from oil.

The Ganges River Dolphin faces a high risk of extinction in India's Brahmaputra river system unless critical habitat is protected, report conservationists.

Once abundant in the Ganges and Brahmaputra river systems in India and Bangladesh, the population of the Ganges River Dolphins has fallen sharply over the past century due to accidental bycatch by fishermen, direct killing for their meat and oil, and diversion of water for agriculture.

Scientists estimate that only 2,000 remain, of which 240-300 survive in the Brahmaputra, according to a new survey by IUCN researchers, who warn the Brahmaputra population is also imperiled by new threats, including dam building and prospecting for oil.

“Our research shows accidental killing through fisheries by-catch, followed by poaching for oil, are the major threats to the dolphins of the Brahmaputra river system,” says Project Leader Abdul Wakid. “Their habitat is also being degraded by human activities. Dam building and a proposed seismic survey in the Brahmaputra river are potential threats.”

Oil exploration, which would involve using explosives and airguns on the bed of the Brahmaputra River, has "potentially disastrous implications for Ganges River dolphins," according to the IUCN report, which warns that the loss of dolphins could have impact for local communities that rely on dolphin tourism. IUCN says that involving communities in conservation will be critical to saving dolphins in the Brahmaputra.



Gulf World Marine Park: "It's a Boy!"

Gulf World Marine Park is proud to announce the birth of a male Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin.

At 7:06 a.m on Tuesday, Sandy, a 24 year-old Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin gave birth after a 12-month gestational period. Sandy and her calf is presently housed with Luna, the Mother’s 4 year-old daughter, and another young female Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin named Indy.

Gulf World’s Veterinarian and marine mammal staff monitored the pregnancy throughout its term, via ultrasound.

The calf nurses frequently and can be seen drifting in the safety of his mother’s slipstream. Dolphin calves nurse for up to two years and can begin supplementing their diets with fish as early as 6 months of age.


Monday, 20 July 2009

The Complete Guide To: Whale & dolphin watching.

As a week devoted to these marvellous marine mammals begins, Harriet O'Brien explores the best places to encounter them in the wild

Breach encounters...
It is a breathtaking and implausible sight. The sea seems to part suddenly and a vast creature, the size of a double-decker bus and more, hurls itself out of the water. For several seconds you take in its enormity as its moves through the air, and then it crashes down into the ocean, rapidly disappearing back to the depths. Exactly why a whale breaches remains a mystery, but the phenomenon constitutes one of the greatest thrills in wildlife watching.

Other encounters are wonderfully impressive: seeing a cloud of bubbles or a spout, watching a gigantic shape come to the surface of the water, witnessing a huge tail flipping out of the sea and then receding. Meanwhile there's a palpable feeling of joy in watching or being among a school of dolphins or shy porpoise. And a great sense of wonder, too, at these highly intelligent, highly communicative creatures.

Cetacean – the collective term for whales, dolphins and porpoises – derives from the Greek word for sea monster. These amazing mammals are peculiarly well adapted for aquatic life. They breathe near the surface of the water through blowholes at the tops of their heads; their forelimbs are flippers while their hind legs are tiny and hidden within their bodies; their tails are especially powerful thanks to two fin-like "flukes" at the end. The 80 or so species (the number keeps increasing as scientists learn more) are classified in two subgroups, essentially those with and those without teeth.

Odontocetes prey on fish and other game, so need teeth (the narwhal whale has a tusk). This group includes oceanic dolphins, river dolphins and porpoises as well as orcas (or killer whales) and deep-diving, large-brained sperm whales. Toothless baleen whales are gentle giants, filter-feeding on minuscule marine organisms and ranging in shape from humpback whales to prodigious blue whales, the largest animals ever to exist in the world – bigger, even, than the largest dinosaur.

Do I have to travel far to see them?
At this time of year, no. Indeed if you live near the coast you may find that you and your binoculars barely need to leave home. Dolphins in particular, but sometimes porpoises and whales, can be seen all around the shores of the UK – if you're lucky. In total, 28 species of cetacean have been recorded in British and Irish waters, the most frequent sightings being from boats, although seeing these sea mammals from land – particularly headlands – is by no means a rarity.

What's more, this week you can go whale and dolphin watching with real sense of purpose. The eighth annual National Whale and Dolphin Watch week runs from today until 26 July.

The survey is organised by the marine conservation charity Sea Watch (084...; which is aiming to involve the public as much as possible in its efforts. Anyone can take part, either by going to specific sites and helping trained observers or by undertaking their own independent dolphin and whale watches and recording sightings on forms downloadable from the Sea Watch website, where species identification notes are also available.

The charity's dedicated watching areas are dotted around the country – Poole Bay in Dorset, Blackpool, Aberystwyth and Aberdeen being just some of the sites. Information about these and other locations as well as events and boat survey trips (for which a small fee is payable) is on the charity's website. The research gathered during the week's watch will help in assessing the distribution and numbers of sea mammals around our coasts and ultimately in forming conversation policies.

So where's best in Britain?
"Scotland probably offers the best viewing – and the greatest diversity," says Gemma Veneruso, sightings officer at Sea Watch. Off the west coast, fin and minke whales are fairly regularly seen, while orcas are not uncommon and Risso's, bottlenose and white-beaked dolphins are frequently sighted. Particularly rewarding viewing locations include areas around Cape Wrath, Red Point (south of Gairloch), Ardnamurchan Point and Mull.

Set up 25 years ago, Sea Life Surveys (016...; sealifesurveys .com) is said to be Scotland's most experienced whale and dolphin watching operator and it provides a variety of trips from Mull, with options including a full-day "whale explorer" cruise.

Off Scotland's east coast, pilot whales, orcas, porpoises and various dolphin species are often seen. Hotspots include areas north of Eyemouth, the stretch of coast between Dundee and Aberdeen, and most of all, the Moray Firth where there is a resident population of about 130 bottlenose dolphins. Among those offering sea trips in the locality is Ecoventures (013...; based at Cromarty.

Another notable population of bottlenose dolphins is resident in Cardigan Bay in west Wales. Trips around the bay to see not only dolphins but also harbour porpoises and grey seals are provided by New Quay Boat Trips (015...; from New Quay harbour.

And getting warmer?
While most whale watching in Europe is a summer activity (generally between May and October), the Canary Islands offer year-round viewing. Bottlenose dolphins and at least 400 pilot whales are resident in an area just south of Tenerife while beaked and sperm whales can also be seen in these waters. One of the most established operators here is the Nostramo Group (00 ...; offering trips from Puerto Colon in a glass-bottomed catamaran (booking is essential). Or head to Tarifa on the tip of mainland Spain from where bottlenose and striped dolphins can be sighted year-round in the Straits of Gibraltar, while sperm whales – and sometimes orcas – are summer visitors. Among those arranging spring and summer boat trips is Whale Watch Tarifa (00 ...;, a branch of the educational association Whale Watch España.

Better still is the prime whale-watching outpost of Portugal, theV CAzores archipelago in the Atlantic – almost midway between Europe and America. Between April and September, the waters around these green, much-rained-on islands attract a fabulous variety of cetaceans, from massive blue whales to orcas and spotted and striped dolphins. You may be lucky enough to see some species from the land, but a better bet is join a boat trip – there are a number of operators at Horta Harbour including Peter Café Sport (00 ...; Or sign up for a seven-day catamaran adventure with Whale Watch Azores (00 ...;, which combines tourism with serious research.

Or colder?
Iceland is northern Europe's greatest haven for whales – and whale watchers. Orcas, blue whales, minke, fin and humpback whales, white-beaked dolphin, harbour porpoises and more are regularly seen between May and October in the waters here. There are numerous whale-watching outfits dotted around the coast. You can even step off the plane and join a boat trip. The Whale and Dolphin Spotting company (00 ...; runs three-hour excursions from Keflavik harbour, five minutes from the airport. But for a real treat head to Husavik in the north east. Here you can immerse yourself in whale culture, from natural history to art, at the Husavik Whale Centre (open daily June to September; 00 ...; and then take a boat trip with North Sailing (00 ...; on whose tours 73 blue whales and 484 humpbacks were spotted last summer.

Norway also presents excellent whale-watching opportunities, with a backdrop of spectacularly beautiful fjord country. Head to the harbour at pretty Andenes in the north to join a summer excursion with Whale Safari (00 ...; on which you are almost guaranteed to see sperm whales and possibly orcas and minke whales too.

A few kilometres further south, Tysefjord offers the prospect of some stunning winter whale watching. Between November and February the waters here provide winter feeding for quantities of herring (although numbers have recently declined slightly). The fish are pursued by orcas, and also by white-tailed eagles.

Orca Tysefjord arranges winter orca-watching trips on big boats and inflatable dinghies from Bognes; you can find out more and make bookings through the Tysfjord tourist centre, 00 ...;

Can I go further afield?
For superb whale watching without leaving dry land, make for Walker Bay on the Western Cape of South Africa. Here the cliffs around the town of Hermanus provide amazing vantage points for spotting Southern Right whales – particularly during the calving season, between July and December. These slow-swimming plankton-feeding cetaceans have been known to come within 5 metres of the shore (more information on

Alaska presents surprisingly accessible nature watching, about three hours' drive from Anchorage. The Kenai Peninsula is a thumb of land slightly bigger than Belgium that dangles into the Gulf of Alaska and offers stupendous sea sights off the fjords of its eastern side. In spring and summer, take a day's boat excursion from the bustling harbour town of Seward and you are almost bound to see orcas and humpback whales – as well as puffins, sea lions and seals. Trips are arranged by Kenai Fjords Tours (00 1 877...;

Or head to Cape Cod, whose waters are a summer feeding area for humpbacks – who sensibly spend their winters in the Caribbean. Until the end of October, two daily whale-watching boat trips are offered by Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises (00 1 508 362 6088;, leaving from Barnstable Harbor.

Among the world's other prime destinations for whale watching is Kaikoura on New Zealand's South Island. Due to a collision of currents in the waters here there is an abundance of food for sperm whales, which can be seen all year round. And that's by no means all: pilot, humpback, blue and southern right whales are also known to frequent the area. In addition, Kaikoura attracts enormous quantities of seabirds, including 14 types of petrel. Boat tours are arranged by Whale Watch Kaikoura (00 64 3319 6767; owned and run by indigenous Kati Kuri Maoris.

What about river life?
There are currently known to be three species of river dolphin – small, moving like quick-silver and very tricky to see. The pink boto dolphin lives in South America and is most populous in the Amazon and its tributaries. Meanwhile the Franciscana dolphin lives in the estuaries on the south-eastern coast of South America. The Ganges and Indus dolphin is primarily found in the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers of India. Fortunately you have a very good chance of seeing these rare creatures on cruises along a stretch of the Brahmaputra in Assam – but you have to look hard: the dolphins arch out of the water and disappear back again in an instant, a tiny blur of a brown curve with a long snout. The trips are run by Assam Bengal Navigation, with offices in Guwahati and in Rutland (01572 821121;

Until recently there was a fourth species. But in August 2007 China's Yangtze river dolphin, also known as the baiji, was declared extinct. Scientists cited human activities, from electrofishing to the construction of dams, as the cause.

And remote adventure?
Several British tour operators offer dedicated whale-watching holidays in out-of-the-way destinations. Out of the Blue (0845 290 3218;, for example, specialises in whale and dolphin trips anywhere from the Shetland Islands to Alaska and Kamchatka, in Russia. The company is affiliated to the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society (01249 449500; to which it makes a donation for every booking taken. One of its most intriguing ventures is a trip to Patagonia to see orcas, southern right whales, sea lions, glaciers and more. The 13-night holiday departs 1 November and costs from £3,500 per person (based on two sharing), which includes flights to Buenos Aires from Heathrow, onward domestic flights and ground transport, accommodation, wildlife trips, guidance and some meals.

In the northern hemisphere, Discover the World (01737 218 800; offers a trip to remote reaches of Newfoundland. Humpback whales are very frequently sighted here and you may even see them lunge feeding on the beach. Other wildlife encounters may well include puffins, seals and moose. With departures until the end of August, the eight-night holiday costs from £2,350 per person (based on two sharing), which covers flights from Heathrow via Halifax to St John's, accommodation, ground and sea transport, entry fees, guidance and some meals.

Other travel companies offering whale-watching expedition holidays include Wildlife Worldwide (0845 130 6982; and Naturetrek (01962 733051;

Carnage to conservation
Save the Whale: the high-profile campaign of the 1970s drew attention to commercial whaling and its disastrous results for the world's cetacean population – the humpback whale, for example, was teetering on extinction. In 1986 a moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect and since then numbers have improved, although several species – such as the blue whale, the narwhal whale and the North Atlantic right whale – are classified as endangered by the World Conservation Union (

The rapid growth of whale watching has strengthened public awareness of the need for conservation. Just 20 years ago, for instance, Iceland was still a significant whaling centre. The first whale watching ventures started there in 1995 and now Iceland is among the world's leaders in marine tourism. (It is, though, considering a resumption of commercial whale hunting. Meanwhile Japan has for years flouted the moratorium.)

Vanessa Williams-Grey, whale watching programmes manager at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, encourages us to see the great mammals of seas but she acknowledges that in some instances whale watching has become a victim of its own success. Some operators, she says, try to cash in on reliable whale-sighting areas, leading to overcrowding that can frighten and displace animals from their preferred habitats. And she warns against encroaching too much on whales and dolphins. Many people want to swim with these mammals but, she says, "They are wild animals that deserve space and privacy."