Extent of whale and dolphin watching
Kenya is best known for its terrestrial wildlife – a dream destination for safaris to see the ‘Big 5’ in the iconic landscape of savannah lands dotted with Acacia trees. Few tourists associate Kenya with marine life or dolphin watching, but the country does, in fact, have an active and growing dolphin watching industry and a burgeoning whale watching industry.
Kenya’s first commercial dolphin watcthing tours were offered in the 1990s, concentrating in the central and southern coastal areas that included the Malindi Watamu National Marine Park and Reserve (MWMPA- gazetted in 1968), and the Kisite -Mpunguti National Marine Park and Reserve (KMMPA- gazetted in 1978). Both areas were traditionally fishing towns until tourism took over as the main source of revenue in the 1970s, when nature based tourism generated more than 1.6 million USD per year and became the main attraction for nearly 30,000 tourists in the KMMPA1. Marine tourism here initially focused on diving and snorkeling, but a number of fishermen, who were accustomed to spending hours on the water and carefully watching for signs of productivity and good fishing, realized that they could supplement their income by using their vessels to take tourists to see the resident populations of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins they knew to frequent the area. In both areas, dolphin watching took off, and as of 2017, there were 40 boat operators offering dolphin watching and snorkeling activities for domestic and international tourists in the MWMPA and 10-12 in the KMMPA.
Target species, peak times of year and locations:
Dolphin watching operations in Kenya focus on Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and humpback dolphins, which are both resident year-round. Spinner dolphins are seasonally present in some locations, and humpback whales are known to migrate along Kenya’s coast between August and October each year.