Swimming with dolphins: top 5 tips and tricks

The Bay of Islands is a great place to view common and bottlenose dolphins. Here are some tips to make the most of your swimming with dolphins experience.

1. Go with the experts

To keep our marine mammals like dolphins, whales and seals safe, the Department of Conservation has rules and regulations around how to behave around them when at sea. Only licensed operators are permitted to run tours that approach marine mammals.

Fullers GreatSights Bay of Islands is one of the only licensed tour operators in the Bay of Islands for marine mammal viewing. We also offer a lifetime dolphin and whale viewing guarantee – if you don’t see dolphins or whales during your cruise, we’ll give you a voucher to go again for free.

You can swim with dolphins in the Bay of Islands on our dolphin eco experience cruise, or during winter on our Hole in the Rock dolphin watching cruise. Our crew includes dolphin expert Jo ‘Floppy’ Halliday, who knows many of the local dolphins by name.

2. Don’t expect dolphins to put on a show

Floppy says dolphins aren’t always in the mood to play and show off. Sometimes they’re “on a mission” – travelling or feeding – and completely involved in their own social activity. People expecting them to leap and jump can be disappointed. “There are moments when people grasp the opportunism of nature itself – in some ways dolphins are the most opportunistic animals. People who get that concept will often get the most out of the trip,” says Floppy.

3. Swim with confidence

You do need to be a competent swimmer to swim with dolphins And when people are confident in the water they’re faster and more agile, which means they’re more interesting for the dolphins. If you just float in the water and hope the dolphins will approach you, you’re likely to be disappointed. Our crew will give you pointers and advice before and during your swim to make sure you’re an attractive swimming partner for the dolphins!


4. Touching the dolphins is a no-no

Floppy tells the story of a visitor from Italy who had only ever seen dolphins in captivity and wanted to touch them. “We discourage anything that’s abnormal for them,” she says. “Think of it as going into their house. I said to him, would you like someone coming into your house and touching you? Then I think he got it.”

5. In the end, it’s up to them!

Remember that you’re swimming with wild animals, not trained performers. While we can offer a lifetime viewing guarantee, we can’t promise that you’ll have the chance to swim alongside them. That’s part of the beauty of these amazing creatures – after all, if they were totally predictable, swimming with dolphins wouldn’t be such a magical experience.

Floppy says it's always interesting to see which swimmers the dolphins will choose to interact with. “Dolphins pick out the special people – they perceive just like we do.”

Find out more about wildlife in the Bay of Islands.

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