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Dolphin Sunset Cruise in Maldives
From somewhere in the depths of the indigo water comes a splash and a squeal. A small fin pokes above the surface followed by the whip of a tail.
It’s a dolphin. Just meters away from our traditional dhoni boat.
Seconds later, it resurfaces. But this time it’s joined by another dolphin.. and another…and another…
By now, there are a dozen or so dolphins surrounding us.
I watch in awe as the dolphins dive in and out of the water in sync, swimming gracefully right alongside the bow of our boat where I’m sitting. They seem to be having so much fun chasing after us, riding in the waves and just soaking up all the attention.
Soon enough, one of them leaps high above the surface to do a spectacular 360-degree spin.
We unanimously cheer in bewilderment, not quite believing our luck.
This isn’t a staged performance in a water park or aquarium — we are ecstatic to see the dolphins in the wild, and they seem just as happy to see us.
Best Place to See Dolphins in the Wild
Considered one of the best places in the world to see dolphins, the waters of Maldives are home to around 20 over species of marine mammals thanks to the high level of plankton.
Spinner dolphins are the most common species found here, and they live here in their tens of thousands. They have a regular daily routine: feeding offshore at night, coming into the atolls in the early morning, and leaving again for the open ocean in the late afternoon. This dependable schedule means that it is very easy to spot them on sunset cruises in the evenings.
While nothing with wildlife can be absolutely guaranteed, my guide says that they see dolphins almost 99% of the time.
That evening alone, we probably saw a total of 50 or more. They were either leaping in and out of the water, or swimming in the bow of the boat, or just frolicking in the water. The pod of dolphins stayed with us for an hour or so, it felt like they didn’t quite want to leave.
I’ve had my fair share of wildlife watching experiences – from whales in Iceland to penguins in Antarctica and lemurs in Madagascar – but this had to be one of the most fun watching animals in the wild.
Is it Ethical?
Dolphin watching is a however a controversial subject. Many raise questions like: Is it ethical to sail your boat so close to the dolphins? Are we interfering with their natural environment? Most of all, is this responsible tourism?
As my guide assured me, dolphins are highly intelligent; if they don’t want to be there, they wont be! As very playful animals, they love to ride waves and and follow ships, often synchronizing their movements with one another. Scientists believe that dolphins conserve energy by swimming alongside ships, a practice known as bow-riding.
Dolphins are completely protected species in the Maldivian waters. The Maldivian government, NGOs, and the resorts in Maldives has been focusing on the conservation of these animals by limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems. A code of conduct for dolphin watching has also been developed and implemented by biologist, Rachel Lambert.
With the implementation of this code there is a higher guarantee of protection and sustainability for the local population of dolphins. Here are some specifics in the code of conduct:
• Keep at least 50 metres away – two boat lengths
• Do not approach from directly behind or head on
• Allow the dolphins to choose to approach the boat
• No rapid changes in speed or direction – be predictable
• 6 knots when within 150 metres
• Do not cut them off or chase them
• Do not separate mothers and calves
Watching dolphins can be a truly fun and moving experience, but seeing them in captivity is not the way to do it. You need to get on a boat, head out into the open ocean and find out what really does cause a dolphin to beam.
How to Do a Dolphin Sunset Cruise in Maldives:
Our resort, Sheraton Maldives, organizes daily sunset cruises from 4.30pm to 6.15pm. This can be booked at the watersports center or through the concierge. The excursion costs US$50 and includes non-alcoholic drinks.
Daily rates at Sheraton Maldives range from US$375 for a deluxe room to US$1,200 for a water suite. Our beachfront cottage is priced at US$565 per night and water bungalow US$625 per night. These rates include breakfast at Feast Restaurant.
Disclaimer: Our experience was made possible by Sheraton Maldives, but as always, all opinions expressed above are our own.