Open letter to all Dolphins Lovers

To Swim or Not To Swim… It is no longer a Question… for Espaço Talassa
Since 2001 Espaço Talassa has had a strict policy in regard to swimming with dolphins: Small groups (8 max), training for all our supervisors, the obligation for each participant to present a medical certificate, a briefing on the activity and the environment of the 5 species with whom man is allowed to swim, a minimum 5 day package…taking time with nature is the key to respect! The idea behind this code of ethics was to limit both the negative impact on the dolphins, and the danger for swimmers. My secret wish was to convince all the other operators and Azorean politicians to follow our initiative. 15 years later I’m forced to admit that we failed. I am surprised that no serious accident has yet been reported…dolphins truly are peaceful and patient animals! Today there is:
  • Insufficient information: about the animals, which species you are allowed to swim with or how to behave with them (noise, sudden movements…)
  • Too little information in regard to the risk of swimming in high seas
  • Too many boats in the swimming zones and too many hours (very often from 8am to 8pm)
  • Noisy and powerful boat motors (large craft)
  • Not enough law enforcement
  • Untrained swimming supervisors
Faced with this lack of respect from the majority of operators, their illegal conduct and the passiveness (even complicity) from the Azorean authorities we have no other option than to cease our activity in order to remain true to our convictions. We ask all those who still wish to pursue the experience to think twice or at minimum to ensure that:
  • The company used is correctly insured for swimming and holds a current license
  • Your physical condition is good enough (consult your doctor)
  • The swimming supervisors are sufficiently equipped to ensure your safety (do they have first aid or
Padi training, a lifeguard certificate…?) Swimming in high seas is risky for you (and your children) and is reliant on the capacity, experience and training of the crew (how to deal with cramp, a panic attack, hypothermia… getting you back on board… Preferably:
  • Avoid July and August; sea activity is such that it leaves little chance of a worthwhile encounter, the animals are saturated. Remember that “observation” boats have priority over “swimming” boats and that you will often need to get out of the water!
  • Choose a small semi-rigid boat, easier to manoeuvre and less disturbing than the bigger rigid crafts (Azorean law prohibits the use of reverse gear)
  • Ensure that there are not more than 8 people in the swimming group and that the trip lasts for a minimum of 3 hours. Azorean law only allows for 2 people in the water at the same time. The combination of too many swimmers, the time it takes to get to the swimming zone (and back) or to approach the animals with precaution, leaves little hope for a serene encounter. With more than 8 people on board the operator will be lying to you if he says that you can swim or will not respect the law of having only 2 people in the water at a time.
  • Embark on a boat reserved exclusively for swimmers. A number of operators mix swimmers and observers for cost-effectiveness, which results in extreme dissatisfaction for both, left hungry because they’ve seen or swam too little.
I know that I will have difficulty in convincing some of you. Yes! Encountering these animals is a moment of rare and intense beauty… but just like in any relationship, feelings need to be reciprocal, or subject to punishment! Let’s question our desire to be in the water with them at all cost, of our frustration when it is not possible, of the childish relationship we maintain with cetaceans (and their world) and to how certain “Guru’s” exploit them… In 1996, I wrote: “Superb, I was in their domain!” and it really is about that when you enter into the Atlantic blue, you cross into another world, their world… My deepest wish is to see you climb back on board with a smile from ear to ear and hear you say  “Superb, I was in their domain and they looked me straight in the eye”. Unfortunately, the pleasure is becoming less and less frequent. Please feel free to contact me; I am always ready to talk about my decision. Who knows, together maybe we’ll manage to better inform potential swimmers, incite operators to adopt a more respectful conduct and oblige the regional government to legislate the subject…or at least enforce the existing laws… For example, enforcing article 20, which forbids boats to approach cetaceans from the front, will see the end of the activity. No one can catch a dolphin by swimming! Our dreams are far too often their nightmares! Together let’s campaign for a more responsible type of tourism.  
Serge Viallelle, for Espaço Talassa