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Extent of whale and dolphin watching

Egypt’s Red Sea coast has grown rapidly as a tourism destination since the 1970-80s. Coastal development has boomed to accommodate international tourists in the areas of Sharm El Sheikh, and later Hurghada, Marsa Alam and Berenice. Tourism in these areas is almost exclusively focused on marine activities. Initially the focus was on diving and snorkeling on coast’s many fringing and offshore reefs and islands, but increasingly, marine tour operators have taken advantage of the presence of dolphins in many tourism areas to offer boat-based or swim-with dolphin watching tours in addition to their snorkeling and diving activities.

Sixteen species of cetacean have been recorded in the Red Sea, including spinner, spotted, bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins, and occasionally false killer whales, Bryde’s whales or even (rarely) humpback whales1,2.   Of these, only spinner and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are regularly targeted for dolphin watching activities.

The Mediterranean coast of Egypt also hosts some important tourist spots, such as Alexandria and Marsa Matrouth, however no regular whale or dolphin watching occurs in these areas.

Target species, peak times of year and locations:

Spinner dolphins and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are most targeted for in-water interactions in the locations indicated in the table below. These species are also occasionally, but less predictably observed in other resorts and bays. While dolphin watching and swim-with dolphin tours occur year-round, there is a peak in the northern hemisphere summer months, coinciding with European holiday periods and even warmer temperatures in the Red Sea.

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Towns or harbours

Platform (motorized boat, swim-with, aerial)

Peak time of year to observe      

Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris)

Egyptian Red Sea/ Marsa Alam

Coastal offshore reefs off Marsa Alam and Hamata.    

E.g. Samadai Reef (Marsa Alam); Shaab Marsa Alam (Marsa Alam); Satayah Reef (Hamata/Berenice).       

Boat and swim-with

Year- round, peaks in summer.

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus)

Egyptian Red Sea/ Hurghada       

Coastal reefs off Hurghada.

E.g. Shaab Fanous, Shaab el Erg, Abu Nugar, Umm Gamar, Shadwan and Gubal Islands (Hurghada)       

Boat, swim-with and dive-with

Year round, peaks in summer.


Additional information about whale watching opportunities in Egypt can be found on the following websites:

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Regulations and guidelines

In some sites dolphin watching is tightly regulated and managed, as is the case in Samadai Reef, which has been designated as a protected area with controlled times and conditions under which swimming with dolphins can take place. In other areas, the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA) has developed a code of conduct, which was later formalized into a Decree enforced in the Red Sea Governorate, for vessel and swimmer interactions with wild dolphins. Failure to respect this code can incur a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (approx. 560 USD).  The code of conduct for vessels stipulates that they should:

  • Maintain distance of 30m from the dolphins.
  • Approach carefully and parallel to their swimming direction at a maximum speed of 4 knots or 7km/h or adjust to speed of the slowest dolphin. Never reverse, accelerate, or change direction suddenly.
  • If dolphins approach your vessel, put your engine in neutral.
  • If dolphins are bow riding, do not suddenly change direction.
  • NEVER herd, chase, encircle or separate dolphin groups. Always leave the animals an “escape route”.
  • When dolphins are already approached by another boat wait for your turn.
  • NEVER follow dolphins inside lagoons and resting areas and keep a safe distance from the reef

The Code for swimmers includes the following:

  • All swimmers MUST wear fins, mask, snorkel and a lifejacket. 
  • Enter gently into the water, without jump or excessive splashes.
  • Once in the water, always keep quiet and swim gently using your fins only.
  • Always swim on the side of the group (parallel) and never dive down from top.
  • DO NOT chase dolphins. Let them approach and decide how to interact.
  • The use of scooters while swimming close to dolphins is strictly forbidden.
  • Avoid any loud noises (in particular shouts and whistles).
  • Touching dolphins is strictly forbidden. The risk of exchanging diseases is very likely.
  • NEVER throw trash in the water.
  • NEVER feed the animals.

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Research on Dolphin Watching in Egypt

Research on dolphin watching in Egypt has focused on the impacts of swimming with spinner dolphins on the Samadai and Satayah reefs, with researchers generally concluding that the management systems in place in Samadai are working well to limit impacts3,4, but that the Satayah population is under unsustainable levels of pressure and improved management measures are required5. In the area of Hurghada, the NGO Dolphin Watch Alliance, in collaboration with local and international partners, is conducting a long-term monitoring of the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin population using mark-recapture techniques and, more recently, behavioural studies to describe responses to human interactions6.

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Afficher / Masquer les références
  1. Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., D. Kerem, and C. Smeenk, Cetaceans of the Red Sea, in CMS Technical series 33. 2017, Convention on Migratory Species. p. 86.
  2. Costa, M., Abundance and Distribution of Delphinids in the Red Sea (Egypt). 2015, University of St. Andrews: St. Andrews,  Scotland. p. 294.
  3. Cesario, A., Population ecology of spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) in an offshore resting habitat in the Red Sea. 2016, Hong Kong University: Hong Kong.
  4. Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., et al., Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris) resting habitat in Samadai Reef (Egypt, Red Sea) protected through tourism management. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 2008. 89(1): p. 211-216.
  5. Fumagalli, M., Conservation of the spinner dolphin in the Egyptian Red Sea. 2016, University of Otago: Dunedin, New Zealand. p. 298.
  6. Ziltener, A., A.J. Wright, and S. Kreicker, Sleeping behaviour in Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) off Hurghada, northern Red Sea, Egypt, in 22nd Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals. The Society for Marine Mammalogy. 2015: San Francisco.

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