By Mat Cotton, Manager, Emperor El Gouna
Regular guests of Emperor Divers have more than likely encountered one or more of these fantastic creatures, riding the bow wave of your dive boat, or the really lucky have had the opportunity to spend some time in the water alongside them diving or snorkelling.
Dolphins are a common sight in all areas of the Red Sea, from Taba down to Sudan, but how much do you really know about these intelligent animals?
Along with whales, dolphins are collectively known as cetaceans. They are streamlined, highly intelligent and social creatures that share distinctive aspects of all mammals, such as breathing with lungs, nursing young and forging complex social relationships. However, unlike other mammals, dolphins have adapted to long periods of apnea and can reach great depths without encountering problems of embolism - shame that we don't share this trait with dolphins! Imagine easy 260m dives, for up to 20 minutes with no decompression stops? They feed on fish and squid, using echolocation to detect potential prey.
As mentioned before, dolphins are highly sociable animals and use this to hunt in large numbers, herding fish together using exhaled bubbles to make for an easier catch. However, dolphins have also been known to break away from their family unit - or pod - and become individuals in their own right. Here in El Gouna, we have regular sightings of a large lone male that seems to prefer his own company, although he is more than willing to come and play with divers in the water! Maybe he just prefers us?
There are many different species of dolphin in the seas and oceans of the world but the most likely you will encounter in the Red Sea is the Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris) and Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus), which are often confused with Belugas because of their lack of 'beak' and white colouration. Bottlenose dolphins commonly inhabit coastal waters, so are regularly seen whilst cruising between dive sites in Sharm el Sheikh and are very common visitors to Shaab el Erg, accessible from both El Gouna and Hurghada. Spinner dolphins gather in small groups and regularly visit offshore patch reefs - you will find this species at 'Dolphin House' in Marsa Alam. Risso's dolphins tend to inhabit steep slopes that drop below 300m, which is why you will see these in the deep channels between Tiran Island and the Sinai mainland from Sharm el Sheikh.
Dolphins have had a lot of press in Egypt recently, with the proposed opening of a Dolphinarium in Makadi Bay and images of four dolphins being kept in squalid conditions. Luckily the local and international community bonded together to ensure that these captive dolphins were moved to better living conditions, even enlisting the help of former dolphin trainer and director of award-winning docufilm 'The Cove', Rick O'Barry. The best place to see these fantastic animals is undoubtedly in the wild - where they belong! If you do happen to encounter dolphins while diving or snorkelling with Emperor Divers, please ensure that you follow this advice on dolphin interaction below:
- It is a thrill to see a smiling dolphin splashing the water with their fluke (tail fin) but sadly this reaction is often misinterpreted - rather than an expression of pleasure, this is a warning sign within the dolphin community and means they are feeling threatened.
- Do not feed dolphins. Feeding any animal in the wild is prohibited by law in Egypt; it can potentially reduce an animal's ability to survive in the wild as they become dependent on human feeding.
- Do not touch dolphins. Touching a dolphin can be a method of disease transmission; both fungal and viral diseases can potentially be transmitted both ways.
- Do not follow dolphins. If a pod of dolphins or an individual swims away from you, get the point that they aren't in a social mood; they probably need to rest.
- A common mistake that people make is to make noises, such as whistling or making banging sounds to attract dolphins. Loud noises are very disturbing to dolphins; they increase their stress levels and make them feel threatened.
- If you ever do meet a dolphin or pod in the wild, don't swim directly at them; swim parallel to them and if they want to play they will approach you.
Finally, encourage others also to be dolphin aware. If you see anyone else doing any of these 'don'ts' please explain to them how harmful this is to the dolphin community and also to the future of the tourism industry of the Red Sea.
Remember that Emperor Divers operates a dolphin friendly Dolphin Spotting and snorkelling trip, available from both El Gouna and Hurghada, and Special trips to Dolphin House from Marsa Alam.