Animals,  Spain,  Travel

Alongside Dolphins in the Canary Islands

Thinking about Fuerteventura now, this is what I cherish the most – because it was absolutely amazing and the one thing I had really looked forward to – seeing dolphins and whales in their natural environment. See dolphins we did. The whales were a bit more elusive. We didn’t book any tour before the trip as we thought of finding out more once we were there. It was off-season so there was no worry of tours being fully-booked. I read some guides beforehand (e.g. The Best Whale Watching in Europe by Erich Hoyt, WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society) to have an idea what to look forward to and learn about the various species of cetaceans we could possibly see around the Canary Islands. The islands are one of the few places in the world where whale watching is possible year-round. The warm waters attract many species and it’s also the permanent residence of some dolphins and whales. Book a tour with a naturalist if you want to learn more about the marine environment and species. 

On our second day in Fuerteventura, we headed to the Morro Jable harbor in the south. We had searched for professional whale watching tours online as well and settled with Canco Fuerteventura. Their website in English was clear and informative and they seemed responsible – the do’s and don’t of watching the marine animals are clearly mentioned and they are licensed ‘Blue Boat’ operators. Canco has several dolphin watching tours to choose from and we considered taking the tour from the northern part of the island, where we would be staying for the second half of our trip. We didn’t find one on that day at Morro Jable. Also, the tour from Morro Jable was only 1.5 hours whereas the one from Corralejo in the north was approximately 5 hours – which was worth the higher price (75 per person) as it greatly increased our chance of spotting the animals and spending some time out in the sea. We also considered potential spots for land-based dolphin watching. I had spotted an Indian Ocean humpback dolphin quite close to the shore in Kerala, India last year and it was quite a surprise. It’s actually not uncommon for dolphins to swim by the coast. Anyway, we didn’t really pursue land-based watching as we ended up booking the Whale & Dolphin watching from Corralejo tour a couple of days later. The tour is offered on 4 days of the week and you can also contact them via WhatsApp for information. We got a quick and clear response when we called them about the online booking.

The day of the tour: The weather was sunny and fine with a bit of a early spring chill in the wind. A free pick up was included in our area to the harbour. At about 9AM, a mini-van arrived near the entrance of our apartments and assuming it’s for us, we get in. There wasn’t a logo of the tour operator so we just announced that we’re there for the dolphin tour. A couple of others were in too and according to the website, the tour was to have a maximun of 12 people. At the harbour where we are greeted by our guide in a blue T-shirt. The English spoken in Spain is usually, well, some sort of an attempt.. so we are told in brief about the tour once we get on the boat. Other than that our guides didn’t say much but they were friendly. Heading out to the sea: it would take about an hour to get to a place where it’s likely the dolphins swim.

First glimpse: I hadn’t become desperate to see something yet. The captain alerted us that he’d spotted something and sure enough we see some flippers at the surface. I am more in a frenzy to click photographs at first than look around – it was the first time I photographed these marine creatures and who knew whether they’d disappear in seconds or not. Soon it is obvious that they like to swim by the boat as a couple were gracefully swimming under the bow. The water was clear and it was the closest we saw them. This happened several times with the ‘short-beaked’ common dolphin (Delphinus delphis). It’s best seen in this video.

The short-beaked Atlantic dolphin.

We are nearing the small island of Lobos. Here, a group of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) show up. It seemed like a family or small pod of 3-4 individuals swimming very near each other. One of them also appeared to be a baby, looking at the size.

Not far we spot a distinguishable white figure. He’s a lone Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus) identified by the white scratch marks over the body. Here’s an interesting scientific study by Mariani et al. 2016 about why they have these markings. This species is more closely related to pilot and false killer whales than to dolphins. It was great to see this one take a relaxing swim and chuff a few times at the surface.

The Risso’s Dolphin.

After things calmed down a bit and all the dolphins went elsewhere I sat back and checked the time. It had only been about 3 hours on the boat. It felt like a while after all and now after the main show we could just relax and look at the lovely almost turquoise waters near Lobos. We also spotted a loggerhead sea turtle.

View of Lobos Island from the boat.
Dolphins swimming and Corralejo Sand dunes visible in the background.
Dolphins swimming and Corralejo Sand dunes in the background.

A free drink and sandwich was included on board but we had our own snacks and water bottle – I assume that we would need to notify in advance for a vegan option. Some plastic trash floating about in the sea was picked out by the guides. There was one thing missing – the tour said that following this, we would anchor at some heavenly bay and spend time on a beautiful beach called Playa Concha. This didn’t happen and I didn’t realize it until the end of the tour being so overjoyed by seeing the dolphins. No one mentioned anything about it either so I suppose there was some change in the conditions.. Thankfully everything went according to the guidelines otherwise – they didn’t feed the dolphins or try to force interaction with them. The boat slowed down around them and we spent a good amount of time simply watching them and the guides indeed knew how to go about everything, so we were really happy with the whole tour. We would trust and book a tour with them again. If you would like to have this experience, book yours through this link: CANCO Fuerteventura – Excursions and SightsCANCO Fuerteventura - Excursions and Sights

Whale watching, following strict regulations, is a good way to observe cetaceans in their home. It generates profits through tourism and helps develop a community that appreciates the life of these creatures as opposed to a one that kills them for profit. It’s good to note that whaling and hunting dolphins is illegal in most countries at the present time. Japan, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Peru are known to continue these brutal practices. It takes place illegally in other places. Only when the marine animals start to become endangered, action is taken and now much has been done against the whaling industries. A significant number of dolphins are also killed by commercial fishing – they are caught as by-catch or used as bait. People don’t realize how destructive fishing is for marine life. It is interesting how people around the world abhor whale killing – a practice that some communities claim to do for survival, ”food” etc. but are completely fine with the modern meat industry, which is much more terrible in terms of numbers for one. Whaling was normalized for ages too (still in the places where it is legal) and an organized killing industry as early as 875 AD. It was highly profitable as is the meat industry, not any less barbaric. All we can hope is for this to come to an end soon.

All the photographs are taken by me and have been minimally edited. Enjoy the gallery and feel free to leave a comment if you would like to say or ask something about the dolphins, photographs or the tour!

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