A tryst with the dolphins

When Gil from Around Lisbon suggested we take their Deep Blue tour that covers Cabo Espichel, SessimbraArrabida and ends with Dolphin watching on the Sado river, I was not really too excited. Experience has taught me that dolphins though very friendly, are usually rather elusive and dolphin watching trips usually end up in watching the tail fins of this beautiful creatures, as someone excitedly makes a spotting, a little too late.

But the children were excited, and when Rui began to speak of the 20 day-old baby dolphin that we perhaps would see, were were all prepared to forfeit the swim at the beautiful Portinho do Arrabida beach and head instead directly to Setubal and ensure that we got a seat on the boat.

And as we walked to the docks in the afternoon sun and saw the sleek catmaran ‘Esperenca’, I knew that this afternoon was going to be fun.

With about 80 people aboard we left Setubal doing I do not know how many knots, but certainly at quite a speed, heading first to Troia where we had to pick some of the guests. With 80 on board, there still seemed to be enough space for a few more!

It’s obvious that Vertigem Azul who organise the trip are very passionate about the ‘golfinhos‘ themselves, for the crew seem to know each of the golfinhos by name, recognising them from unique dorsal fin markings that we struggled to cope with.  I could sense the excitement as the boat sailed out smoothly, and we pulled out or cameras and sought vantage positions to make the best shots. To our luck it wasn’t long before we spotted the group, playing in the calm waters between Setubal and Troia.

We have all been on safaris before and the moment we took off, began scanning the waters in hope to be the first to spot the dolphins. It was then that we realised that spotting these elusive animals is far more diffucult than spotting a cheetah on the Masai Mara. And although we could see nothing, the crew seemed confident and excited as they searched the water with their experienced eyes. They knew who they were looking for – each of the golfinhos holds a special appeal to each of the crew, but the baby was certainly going to be the star of the show.

And just as suddenly there was the call – there they are! And next they were all around us. What exhilaration as they swam closer and closer until we could almost – touch them.

The captain slowed down the boat and we moved in the direction of the dolphins. We came really close and had we the experience of the Esperenca crew, or paid attention to their descriptions, we might have made a couple of identifications. But everyone was too excited. Shutterbuggs went rapid fire and the children screamed with excitement. No point was a vantage spot any more, and everyone was all over the boat hoping to see as many of the golfinhos as they could. There are some 28 dolphins in residence in the river, and as I watched them I felt a strange feeling of happines. This was beautiful and I would have cursed myself had I heard of this from someone else and not been there myself.

I was being a little selfish that day… for my eyes and lens were only for the baby dolphin. And as suddenly they were there in my sights. Mama and baby! What a treat that was. Not only did I see the little one, but now that I had them on camera, Rui would have to pay up and buy me the promised cerveja at the end of the day.

And then they were gone and the Esperenca sailed on into the sun, and even the offer of the free dive into the Atlantic didn’t seem exciting anymore. We had our fill and sank into the nets… we too needed that bit of siesta time.


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