It’s day break. The sun peers over the hills behind the Balinese town of Lovina as you rock gently back and forth in a wooden fisherman’s boat on the calm waters of the Bali Sea. A fin appears out of the water, then two, then three and all of the sudden a dolphin playfully leaps out of the water.

The perfect way to start our last morning in Bali.

Lovina Dolphin tour

Or was it?

Lovina dolphin watching seemed like the ideal end to our trip on the Island of the Gods. We love whale watchingΒ and assumed we’d also love a Lovina dolphin tour when our driver recommended it to us.

Our experience on our Lovina dolphin tour was less than ideal – and made me wonder, is this OK to do?

We booked our tour through the hotel we stayed at in Lovina – I should mention we booked this hotel because it was the first one we saw when we arrived in Lovina at 10:30pm – and in hindsight, perhaps this wasn’t the perfect recipe for a good tour. The tour cost us around €7 per person.

Our tour began at 6am sharp. We walked from our hotel to the Lovina Beach, and our “captain” took us to our tour boat. It wasn’t exactly what I expected – but it looked pretty romantic. We set off at dawn with one other couple and our captain in a typical fishermen’s boat.

In the beginning it all seemed fine. The waters were calm – nothing like my past boat experience in IndonesiaΒ  – and the Lovina dolphin tour seemed like the ideal way to begin our last vacation day.

After several minutes though, I noticed we weren’t alone. Suddenly there were dozens of other boats (each just like our own) surrounding us on all sides. All of these tourists were also out in the morning to catch a glimpse of the dolphins. We didn’t expect to be alone, but it was a surprise to see so many boats around us.

Find hotels in Lovina

We waited and waited – and suddenly we saw dolphins! They were small, much smaller than the bottle nosed dolphins I’d seen in Hawaii, and were swimming in groups of 5 or 6, leaping out of the water.

All of the other boats saw the dolphins too, and before we knew it, all of the boats revved up their single engines and began following the dolphins. It felt more like a chase. At this point there were more boats around us than we could count – it seemed like 50 or 60 other boats all filled with tourists. All chasing dolphins at the first sight of them – until boats were circling around the packs of dolphins.

Lovina Dolphin Tour Boats

The fishermen’s boats were all powered by a single engine on the back of the boat. Imagine 50-60 single engine fisher boats revving their engines at the sight of dolphins, charging toward them.

It made me wonder – how safe is this for the animals and the environment? Do the dolphins feel scared or overwhelmed by the boats surrounding them? Is this dangerous for them?

What about all the engines and pollution in the water?

Our boat was actually leaking gasoline. A lot of gasoline. It stunk. This wasn’t the way I wanted to wake up in the morning. Not with a gasoline induced headache. The bottom of our boat was filled with gasoline. I know, because my boyfriend dropped his flipflops in the bottom boat when we boarded, and after we returned to our hotel, we ditched his flipflops (with fabric straps) because they absolutely REEKED like gasoline.

If I had a headache, and if we had to throw away his flipflops just from one boat ride – what could the impact of these Lovina dolphin tours be on the environment?

After 45 minutes of dolphin chasing and the stench of gasoline, we were ready to go back to shore. The dolphins were within hand’s reach from our boat, but to be ho

nest, it was hard to enjoy. The whole Lovina dolphin tour felt disrespectful to the animals and environment. With dozens of boats chasing these animals I felt sick to my stomach. Why had we agreed to go on this tour? Had we not learned better from how we saw animals treated on Gili Air?

dolphins lovina

I don’t want to be negative, but…

I think Lovina dolphin tours are a “no-no.” I couldn’t recommend anyone to do these tours in good conscience.

I hope that I’m wrong – but from what I saw in Indonesia, unfortunately there is still a long way to go to reach understanding on how to respectfully treat the environment and animals.

Does anyone have a positive experience from this? Or know of any projects to educate locals on safe dolphin tours?

18 Comments

  1. An interesting post and definitely something to think about. It’s such a shame that something as seemingly innocent as dolphin watching is still causing them harm, but it is the sad reality of these kind of excursions. I agree that the fuel emissions and the sheer amount of people definitely impacts these poor creatures. It’s very easy to enjoy dolphin watching from other spots – like in Byron Bay in Australia where they jump up right by the beach. That’s probably the only sustainable form of dolphin watching that we can do to ensure that their natural habitat isn’t damaged.

  2. Veronica P. Reply

    This is a huge nooooo! Why do humans always want to disturb others?! I am so totally against all entertainments like this one! Thank you for bringing this up! I hope more people will understand this through your blog. And I also hope that dolphins will go somewhere more peaceful.

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      Thanks for your comment… it was so unfortunate, and we had no idea until we were on the boat… hope it brings awareness!

  3. This is one of my biggest worries when I’m travelling – as much as I want to see and learn about the native animals, I don’t want to cause them any harm. I’ve adopted the habit of doing a huge amount of research before choosing a tour operator do do these sorts of activities with, but you can still always make mistakes and you’ll never know until you’ve done it. I visited a turtle hatchery in Sri Lanka recently which described itself as an eco-conservation project, but after paying and seeing all these turtles confined to their tiny tanks, it was obvious it was just a way to make money off tourists. Thanks for sharing your review of your experience. It’s so important for other travellers to be aware of the damage these types of activities can cause. Particularly when you have to chuck out your flip flops from the amount of leaking gasoline!

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      oh no I will have to avoid that turtle hatchery.. I’m always a sucker for those things πŸ™

  4. I hate hearing stories like this, but it’s so important to share. I wish more people took the time to read, write, and share such important pieces. We all must do our part to help our animals and our planet, so thank you for doing that.

  5. I originally planned on doing this in Bali and then a fellow traveller told me she went and they just chased them. That cancelled my thoughts of going immediately. I loved dolphins, and would have loved to have seen them, but not at the expense of causing them danger and stress.
    I’m glad you are sharing this and your experience, hopefully it encourages others to avoid it as well.

  6. This is so sad! I am a huge advocate of ethical tourism and this just sounds like the worst. I think there are ways of doing this ethically and with less impact on the habitat of the dolphins. I am sorry your experience was so awful!

  7. Not a positive one I’m afraid. I took a standard island tour with my parents the first time we went to Bali, and one of the stops was at a turtle ‘sanctuary’ which was actually more like a pen. It wasn’t at all clear exactly what the conservation part was, it was full of tourists, and then before I knew it the guide grabbed a turtle under the flippers and shoved it at me for a photo op. I mean, I’m a marine science graduate. Even though I’m Asian myself and kind of used to a relatively lower awareness in the region, it shocked me speechless. I could not make him understand why I wanted him to put the turtle back and not take a picture… And that’s not counting the captive eagle. Super stressful tour.

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      that also sounds terrible… I hope that there is more awareness about animal rights in Bali soon πŸ™

  8. Oh Yikes! This sounds terrifying for the poor dolphins. We often encounter them when we kayak the Gulf here in NW Florida. We just sit and watch them in their natural habitat. We are the visitors after all!

  9. Thanks for sharing and creating awareness. Its so unfortunate that this is what happens and is quite sad. Dolphins are such friendly creatures. I definitely want to do something like this, but will make sure to do research before hand.

    Ashlee | ashleemoyo.com

  10. This is so upsetting and so happy to see bloggers coming forward and addressing it. I also was upset by many things in Indonesia (and SE Asia) especially the horses in Gili! Definitely planning some action. Maybe we can collaborate.

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      I also noticed that in the Gilis! It’s in another post of mine actually.. I did read online that there is a non-profit on the Gili’s to start taking better care of the horses and the animals in the environment but there is still a long way to go!

  11. This is really interesting because I had a similar experience! I have never been whale or dolphin watching, but in Cancun, I did swim with dolphins once. I was a lot younger and never realized the importance of how animals were being treated. I do remember thinking about it afterwards and not enjoying my experience because I felt bad for the dolphins.

    I think the way they promoted the tour made it seem much more lucrative than it could have been. The leaking gasoline and many boats chasing after dolphins sounds like it could be extremely harmful

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      Thanks for sharing your experience too! I think those swim with dolphin experiences are also really bad for the animals in general πŸ™

  12. Hi, I did the dolphin tour this morning (unfortunately, without thinking to much and not reading your post before…). And I felt exactly the same like you did. There were about 100 boats on the water, all with loud engines and heeps of tourists on, waiting to catch a glimpse of the dolphins passing by. Actually we did, but it was definitely not nice to see. The boats were somehow surrounding a small group of dolphins, the dolphins quickly escaped – and the boats went on chasing them! What I (absolutely) don’t inderstand that there seems to be no regulation of how many boats, what kind of boats, how many tourists go out there each (!) mornig to see, better: disturb, the dolphins. Talking to the host in my homestay it does not seem that locals have a real sensitivity for the harm their boats (and engines) cause to their environment. I am not sure how long there will be any more dolphins in this stream of the Bali see . I feel like I have seen some of the last ones today. I hope the dolphins will find some more quiet spot to find their daily food …. an awful experience and makes me really angry.

    • gab.grow@gmail.com Reply

      thanks so much for sharing your experience. I think in Indonesia in general there is a big lack of understanding about animal welfare and how to treat animals… I experienced it in other areas of the country as well. For me it was also a terrible experience on the boat, and I never expected it… I thought it would be just like the whale watching I’d done before. I think the best thing to do is continue to share your experience so more people can learn to stop doing this (like share on TripAdvisor for example), and hopefully things will change…

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