I am planning an excursion for 100 or so students which involves a trip aboard a boat in search of dolphins, and later a chance to get close to and to photograph butterflies just a short hop along the coast. I thought I might try out both activities myself today just to see how the whole day might hang together.

First up was going out looking for the dolphins. They tell you here when you get your ticket that the dolphins are wild animals and there is not guarantee that they will show up. Fair enough. That´s more or less what I would expect. But, as it happens, luck was on my side and we came across large numbers short beaked common dolphins within about half an hour of setting off.

There is nothing quite like seeing dolphins at close range and, like everyone else, I was delighted by the antics of the dolphins. It is good to see that dolphins are pretty numerous around here although the best place to search out dolphins and their larger cetacean relatives is further west around the straits of Gibraltar where, a few years ago, I had the privilege of spending a 10 minutes or so in the close proximity of a bull sperm whale before it lifted its great tail and headed to the dark depths where it spends most of its day. There is a post featuring this particular event if you would like to find out more (August 2014).

The short beaked common dolphins are not particularly large dolphins being somewhere in the region of 2 to 2.5 metres but they are very fast and agile. There are several other dolphin species in the Mediterranean including the striped dolphin, the common bottlenose, Risso´s dolphin and the smaller harbour porpoise. The larger whales include the second biggest of them all, the fin whale, and the sperm whale, the common Minke, the long finned pilot whale and the enigmatic Cuvier´s beaked whale. Killer whales are not resident year round but put in an appearance in the summer. They are keen on hunting Atlantic bluefin tuna that enter the Mediterranean to spawn. Interestingly, sport fishermen who want to catch these big tuna tend to troll with a lure which approximates in size the flying fish on which the tuna feed. I was reminded of this when, just as we were heading into harbour, the boat disturbed a half dozen or so of these fish and they leapt from the sea and scattered in various directions.

I hope that the students are equally lucky when the consecutive days of Science trips kick off in early October. I organised a similar outing a few years ago and while the students on two of the days managed to get good sightings of dolphins on the third day the highlight, as reported back to me, was looking through the underwater viewing window and spotting a plastic bag drifting in Fuengirola harbour!

Short beaked common dolphin having a laugh