But who is watching whom? Andy Barrow boards a boat to observe some incredible mammals
Biologists describe cetaceans (members of the Order Cetacea, which includes whales, dolphins and porpoises) as “charismatic animals”. Species with widespread popular appeal are often used by environmental activists to achieve their goals; I am sure you can all think of prominent examples such as elephants, lions, tigers, leopards, wolves, numerous birds of prey and our old friends, the dolphins. And if watching dolphins is your thing, then there are few better places to do this than off the coast of Oman, which is home to large numbers of a wide variety of dolphins. I have seen porpoises off the west coast of Scotland on a number of occasions, but their display was nothing to compare with Oman’s dolphins.
If you do decide to go dolphin watching – and I would encourage you to do so – what are you likely to see? If you are lucky, quite a range of them since more than 20 species of dolphins can be seen off the coast of Oman. Regular visitors to the Sultanate’s warm, clear waters include bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates), common dolphins (Delphinus delphis if short-beaked; Delphinus capensis if long-beaked), spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) and Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus). This last dolphin, under its common English name, grampus, was traditionally a “royal fish” and so considered to be the property of the English Crown. Spinner dolphins are particularly distinctive, leaping out of the water and spinning, hence the name.
Taking a dolphin watching trip may well prompt you to wonder just exactly who is watching whom. It is, of course, impossible for any of us to have a completely clear idea of the mental life of a particular animal species, but there is no doubt that dolphins, and the other members of the Cetacea, are highly intelligent. This can be deduced from the fact that dolphins are highly social animals, often living in pods of up to a dozen individuals, though pod sizes and structures vary greatly between species and locations. In locations with abundant food, pods can be very large indeed, containing in excess of 1,000 individuals. Dolphins communicate both by verbal and non-verbal means, make use of tools and display altruism, caring for the young, the ill and the injured. Wild dolphins have been observed raising injured dolphins to the surface so that they can breathe. Dolphins are – if you will permit me to remind you – mammals, not fish and so they breathe air, suckle their live-born young, have body hair and have three bones in their middle ear. This altruism even extends beyond their own species and there are many anecdotal records of dolphins helping human swimmers in difficulty, rescuing humans from attacks by sharks and making other helpful interventions when humans get into difficulties. There’s also a rather touching story of a Labrador and a dolphin playing together daily in the sea at Troy Island Harbour in Ireland.
Whether a tourist or a resident, one of the best ways to see the dolphins is to take yourself down to Bandar Al Rowdha Marina, located south of Muttrah on the road to the Al Bustan Hotel. Once there, join one of the dolphin watching boat trips organised by Sidab Sea Tours. You can simply go on a dolphin watching cruise or take in a slightly longer cruise, which includes a stop for those with the inclination to try some snorkelling. I have been on two trips, thoroughly enjoyed both and I am planning a third trip very soon to show my wife the dolphins when she next pays me a visit. The boats are clean and comfortable and the cost of the trip includes light refreshments. But remember to take a hat – the Omani sun can be brutal offshore, even at this time of the year.
Sidab Sea Tours: