Swimming with Dolphins

If there is one marine animal that we want to be close to, its dolphins. Whether it is their toothy smile, intelligence or reputation for acts of kindness towards humans, dolphins hold a special place in our heart. It is no wonder swimming with them is such a sought after experience.

In Australia, dolphins are regular visitors to many parts of the coastline and chance encounters are not rare. But if you haven’t had that kind of luck, there are several places in Australia where you can go to swim with dolphins.

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Swim with Dolphins

What to Expect on a Dolphin Swim

Unlike seals and sea lions, dolphins are not as naturally inquisitive and playful when it comes to interacting with people. Despite how much we love them, they can be aloof towards us!

We have been on half a dozen dolphin swims and it is usually a case of waiting in the water to see if the dolphins are in the mood to stay around in your presence. Sometimes they aren’t, but when they do indulge us it us a magic experience

Don’t be put off! Any view of dolphins in the water, hearing them click and whistle and seeing them swim around you is an amazing experience. Just don’t be expecting them to be all over you like an affectionate dog.

As it should be with any wildlife encounter, the interaction is always on the dolphin’s terms.

Swim with Dolphins

Do you have to be a Good Swimmer to Swim with Dolphins?

When you are getting in the water for an animal encounter it always helps to at least be able to float/tread water and swim a short distance. You will also enjoy the experience more if you feel confident in the water.

Some interactions, are done as free swims, others are done holding onto a mermaid line – a rope with floats attached to the boat. If you are a less confident swimmer, doing a tour that uses a mermaid line is a better option.

There are also a couple of tours where you are at the front of the boat holding onto a line or in a submerged net. One tour even pulls you along behind an aqua scooter (see Rockingham).

Dolphins Watching Cruise

Dolphin Watching is Fun Too

Swimming with dolphins is a amazing but if you don’t like the idea of getting in the water, you can still be part of the fun.

Most operators will have a lower priced dolphin watcher option and we must say, you get some great views from the boat. While everyone else is getting in and out of the water, you can just have your eyes on the dolphins and often, they will be only metres from you.

Dolphin Swim

Is Swimming with Dolphins Safe?

Swimming with dolphins is a safe experience. They do not have a reputation for being aggressive towards people. The greatest danger is your own lack swimming ability or fitness.

If you are concerned about sharks, most operators now use a shark shield to keep toothy visitors away when you are in the water.

What Gear do I Need?

All in-water equipment – such as wetsuit and snorkelling gear – is provided by tour operators.

If you are free swimming, you might want a camera. They are harder to use if you are hanging onto a mermaid line. On some tours you can hire a GoPro.

Where to Swim with Dolphins

Swim with Dolphins

Port Phillip Bay – Sorrento & Queenscliff, Victoria

(Polperro Dolphin Swim and Moonraker Dolphin Swims)

Home to around 150 bottlenose dolphins, there are a several tour operators here that give you the opportunity to swim with them. The dolphin swim tours also incorporate a stop at Chinaman’s Hat where you get to swim with seals.

We have done this tour and, just quietly, the seal swim was as good if not more interactive than our time in the water with the dolphins. But every wildlife encounter is different, it is certainly a fun day out, and no matter what you see it will be a lot of fun.

Depending on which tour you choose, the dolphin interaction will be on either a mermaid line or a free swim.

Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park

If you want to swim with wild dolphins in New South Wales, make your way 185km north of Sydney to Port Stephens.

There is a pod of oceanic dolphins that are generally swimming around the Great Lakes Marine Park off Port Stephens.

The dolphin viewing here is done from the front of a catamaran and it is a sensational vantage point if the dolphins decide to sit on the bow. We have swum with dolphins from a similar spot on the next tour mentioned below and it is a great view.

Swim with Dolphins in Adelaide

Adelaide – Departs from Glenelg

With the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary extending down the metropolitan coastline, it is no surprise that you can swim with dolphins in Adelaide. They are regularly spotted from the beaches up and down the coast.

Like the dolphin swim in Port Stephens, there is a submerged net at the front of the boat where you are in the water with the dolphins. When you are not there, you can be holding onto a mermaid line at the rear of the catamaran.

We did have some dolphins join us on the bow here and the view is amazing. You get so close to the dolphins it is a brilliant immersive experience (no pun intended!). The net is a great option for less capable swimmers too.

Kangaroo Island

With a global reputation for abundant wildlife, Kangaroo Island, off the tip of South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, is one of the best places in Australia to swim with wild dolphins.

Large pods of dolphins call the sheltered north coast of the island home. There are a couple of bays that they return to after feeding for some downtime which is where the dolphin swims occur.

The dolphin tours on Kangaroo Island are free swimming, so you slide into the water and let the dolphins do their thing around you. With so many in the water, we could clearly hear them chatting to one another. Tours leave from Emu Bay and Kingscote.

Apart from an amazing dolphin encounter snorkelling on our own at Port Victoria on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, this is the best dolphin swim we have had. It was a magic experience and is another to put Kangaroo Island on your to do list.

Bunbury – 170km south of Perth

Home to the Dolphin Discovery Centre and a shore based Interaction Zone, Bunbury has long been a dolphin watching hotspot. It is now also one of the top places in Australia to swim with dolphins.

Dolphin swim tours run from November to April. This is a free-swimming experience so even though buoyancy aids are available, you need to be able to swim and snorkel to take part in the tour.

We have seen the dolphins in the interactive zone but have not swum with them here. It is certainly a nice, sheltered area of water and if the dolphins do come along, you are in for some great viewing. The guides here are second to none when it comes to knowing their local dolphins.

Swim with Dolphins

Rockingham – 50km south of Perth

A little closer to Perth, the bays and islands that make up the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park are home to around 200 bottlenose dolphins. This is another tour we have on our to do list because it is unique amongst the various dolphin swim options.

Once the dolphins have been located, small groups of swimmers get in the water and are towed by a guide who is hanging on to an aqua scooter. So long as you are comfortable wearing snorkelling gear, this is the most relaxing dolphin swim you will ever do as the guides tow you along with the dolphins!

With the unique way of seeing the dolphins, the (conditional) free make up session if you don’t swim with them and the local operators many years of experience, this is a great way to get up close to dolphins. Tours run from late September to early June.

Steve Klein
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