Frequently Asked Questions about

What is the commercial whaling ban (moratorium)?

Once it became apparent that the numbers of whales being killed were unsustainable and jeopardized whale populations, the IWC voted to introduce a moratorium (ban) on the practice of commercial whaling in 1986.

So which countries are whaling commercially and how are they able to continue if there is a ban?

The rules of the Convention currently allows Norway to hunt under an ‘objection’ to the ban, and Japan uses a loophole which allows countries to hunt for ‘research purposes’. Iceland claims it is allowed to break the ban also because it left the IWC in 1992 but rejoined 10 years later under a self-proclaimed ‘reservation’, however, many IWC members dispute this claim and believe Iceland is still bound by the ban. Between them, these countries' whaling interests kill around 1600 whales a year.

How many whales have been killed since the moratorium came into effect?

In total, some 45,168 whales have been killed since the moratorium came into effect. This number includes whales killed under Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling which is not subject to the moratorium decision.

In commercial whaling, some 36,773 whales have been killed since the moratorium decision came into effect. Of this, Japanese, Norwegian and Icelandic whalers account for some 30,648 whales.

  • Japan has killed some 19,167 whales: 5519 "under objection" until 1987/88 when it dropped its objection, 13648* in its JARPA and JARPN scientific permit hunt 
  • Norway has killed 10,395 whales since the 1986 coastal season: mostly under objection, but also a few under scientific permit
  • Iceland has killed 1086 whales since 1986, of which more than half have been taken since it resumed whaling in 2003, also under its own scientific permits and under its so-called 'reservation
  • Some 8395 whales have been killed in ASW hunts*
  • The former Soviet Union killed 6056 whales under objection between 1985 and 1987, and the Republic of South Korea killed 69 under Article VIII scientific permit whaling in 1986

Please also note that these figures do not account for the thousands of small whales, dolphins and porpoises also killed by whalers since 1985.

 * We have been seeking to confirm the official IWC figures for the 2011 hunts and the data for the past year are based on press reports and intelligence gathering. These figures may well be subject to alteration.

What whale species are currently being hunted commercially?

Fin, minke, Bryde’s, sei, humpback and sperm whales.

Are any other whales hunted for commercial purposes?

Japan hunts smaller whales, dolphins and porpoises* also, but claims that the IWC has no authority over these hunts.

*These species include Dall’s porpoises, short-finned pilot whales, false killer whales, bottlenose, Pacific white-sided, striped, common, spotted and Risso’s dolphins.

Does the IWC allow for any other type of hunting?

Ever since the IWC began it was recognised that certain aboriginal or native people may need to hunt whales to maintain their communities, and for cultural reasons. The IWC recognises the rights of these peoples to hunt a limited number of sometimes highly endangered species such as the bowhead whales. Currently the IWC allows for the hunting of gray whales, Bowhead whales, fin, humpback and minke whales under this classification of Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling.

How are whales killed, is it humane?

Ban or no ban, whaling remains inhumane and whales are unsuitable for sustainable use by humans (they are long living and slow to reproduce). There is no humane way to kill a whale at sea. The hunting process can never be an exact exercise - whales are a moving target, shot at from a moving vessel which sits on a moving sea. Grenade harpoons are often used to kill whales forcing them to be subjected to a long, slow and painful death

Is the whaling industry in decline?

The whaling industry is currently uneconomical without substantial government subsidies (the market for the meat is not big enough at the moment so much of the meat is stored).

What happens to the whale meat?

As demand for meat is falling, a lot of it is frozen and stockpiled. International trade in meat is currently illegal but only recently there have been examples of whale meat turning up in restaurants in South Korea and the US. Remember, it is not just the reduction of whale meat that is important here. It is also about stopping whale product use in cosmetics and health supplements, and whale meal feed. We already suspect that pigs may have been fed whale meal in Denmark

Is it true that whales eat so many fish that they need to be killed in order to protect the fishing industry?

No! Independent scientific data available shows clearly that whale predation (feeding on fish) does not represent a major ecological issue for commercial fisheries.

Trying to imply that fisheries are suffering because whales eat large quantities of fish is a tactic often used by those who support and seek to justify commercial whaling and distracts from the real issues relating to dwindling fish stocks - overfishing, catching of non-target species, and lack of control and enforcement.

What about the hunting of whales in the Faroe Islands?

Every year despite the advice of their own health authorities, hundreds of small whales and dolphins are hunted for meat in the Faroe Islands, a territory of Denmark in the North Atlantic. The techniques used are intensely stressful and cruel. Find out more whaling in the Faroe Islands. This type of hunting is known as a 'Drive Hunt'. Whilst the Faroese now hunt small whales there has been a history of commercial whaling in the Faroes. Similar hunts also take place in Japan where some animals are then sold to dolphinaria.

Why is it not a good idea to keep dolphins in captivity?

Dolphins are highly intelligent. In the wild they live in complex social groups. In captivity, dolphins live shorter lives than they do in the wild. This is significant given the fact that they are kept in an environment that is free of predators, pollution and other threats that they face in the wild. Wild dolphins can swim up to 100 miles a day but in captivity they have very little space in which to move around and so display unnatural behaviour. The captive environment can never replace their natural one.

Is it possible to successfully return dolphins to the wild after they have lived in captivity, even when they were born in an aquarium?

WDC believes all dolphins should be given the chance to show that they can re-learn the skills that would help them survive in the wild but in some cases this might not be possible. We would still like to see these dolphins taken out of concrete tanks, and show pools and instead put in a retirement programme in a more natural environment where they no longer have to perform tricks in shows.

Find out more about our sanctuary work.

How big would an appropriate tank have to be for keeping dolphin in captivity?

No tank can be big enough as they can swim up to 100 miles a day and it is also impossible to replicate their natural environment in captivity.

Is chlorine in the tanks water good for dolphin health?

While chlorine may help keep tank water looking clean, it may present a problem to dolphin health.

Do orcas and dolphins like to play with balls or hoops as they have to do in the dolphin shows?

Whales and dolphins have been trained to perform these tricks. While they may relieve some of the boredom of being held captive, they would no doubt be happier if they could carry out more natural behaviour. During the show, dolphins are fed after every trick as a reward. They may perform simply for the reward of a fish.

Dolphins smile during the shows so they must be enjoying themselves?

Dolphins cannot move their facial muscles to communicate their inner feelings like humans so dolphins appear to ‘smile’ even when injured or ill.

What happens to the dolphins when they are not taking part in the shows?

They are often kept in holding tanks which are smaller than show pools. Confining dolphins together that may not get on with one another can result in stress and aggression from which they can’t escape.

Dolphins eat fresh fish in the wild but in captivity they have to eat frozen fish. Does that affect the dolphin’s health?

Dolphins are predators of fish and spend up to half of their time in the wild hunting. In captivity, they can not demonstrate this natural behaviour. Frozen fish is also supplemented with vitamins, minerals and even water, suggesting its nutritional value may be lower.

Is it a good idea to put different species of dolphins in the same tanks?

Captive dolphins in a facility often come from different regions and populations. Dolphins in captivity are often forced to live with other species that may have trouble communicating with one another, and may not get on with one another, including species that would never meet in the wild.

Where do the dolphins and orcas that are held in European aquariums originate from?

From many sources – some from the wild, some bred in captivity while others are moved between parks. For example, the orcas in Loro Parque in Tenerife are on loan from Sea World in the US. There is no institution within Europe that provides transparent access to information documenting the shipments of dolphins between European facilities, so information is hard to obtain.

How often do the dolphins have to perform in shows?

Shows can take place several times a day but dolphins may not be able to rest when they are not performing. They are also involved in training sessions and health checks.

Why shouldn’t I visit a dolphinarium with my kids? I would like to show them this unique animal. Where should I go if I want to see dolphins?

For many of the reasons given above. Dolphins in captivity live short, impoverished lives doing the same tricks day after day. They have often been separated from their families and forced to share cramped facilities with animals they don’t know. Europe has many fantastic opportunities to see whales and dolphins in the wild with a responsible boat operator. 

Is it ethical to study dolphins in captivity?

The behavior of orcas and dolphins is obviously constricted by life in a tank. Whales and dolphins are ordinarily intelligent, social animals that live in groups in the wild and carry out a myriad of tasks throughout daily life that are simply impossible in captivity. Most of the knowledge gained from carrying out research in the captive environment may not be applicable to the conservation of these animals in the wild.

Is there any proof that dolphin assisted therapy (DAT) works?

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that dolphin assisted therapy provides any long-term benefit to those engaging in it. Find out more about DAT.

How do dolphinariums threaten dolphins in the wild?

Wild capture of dolphins is a brutal experience as entire pods are targeted and only the young and fit are removed. These are the future generations for these already vulnerable wild populations which has a hugely negative impact on group dynamics.

Why do you endeavour to free dolphins in captivity? What about all animals held in zoos?

WDC’s remit covers only cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) although we do recognise the good work of other organisations addressing the welfare and conservation concerns relating to other captive animals. You can find more information about the situation faced by other wild animals displayed in zoos at: and

What can I do to help?

Get active! Write to your local MEP if you have a dolphinarium in your region. Join WDC and get involved with our EU dolphinaria campaign. Donate – help WDC continue its fight.

What is WDC doing to help?

WDC is working for a world where whales and dolphins are no longer subjected to the cruelty of captivity. WDC also campaigns for tougher regulations to protect whales and dolphins from capture and international trade. WDC is engaged in achieving stricter protection for these animals on a national, regional and international level, actively approaches governments, undertakes independent investigations, documents the situation of captive dolphins and engages in public awareness and educational initiatives.

Why does WDC work with SEA LIFE Aquariums?

SEA LIFE opposes the captivity of whales and dolphins and accepts the arguments that WDC puts forward as to why they are unsuitable for captivity.

WDC is confident that the declared position of SEA LIFE, and Merlin Entertainments with respect to whales and dolphins (cetaceans) is fully compatible with WDC’ own opposition to the keeping of cetaceans in captivity. Indeed, WDC has worked closely with SEA LIFE over many years and believes that this relationship has delivered real conservation and protection benefits for cetaceans around the world.

It is WDC’s belief that partnerships with committed organizations such as SEA LIFE are an essential tool for securing a better and alternative future world for whales and dolphins.

What is a Marine Protected Area or MPA?

The term ‘marine protected area’ or ‘MPA’ describes an area of ocean in which human activity is restricted to conserve the marine environment and the wildlife that lives there. Under this umbrella term there are many different types of protected areas, including marine parks, marine reserves and special areas of conservation, each with its own level of protection.

What is a marine reserve?

A marine reserve is an MPA, or part of an MPA, with the highest level of protection. This usually means no commercial fishing or industrial use of the area.

What is a Special Area of Conservation or SAC?

A SAC is an area designated by Europe which protects certain land and marine habitats and species, including bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises. Responsibility for management lies with national governments.

What is a marine park?

A marine park is an MPA which allows various human activities to take place, sometimes using zones within defined boundaries. Certain areas might be zoned for strict wildlife protection; other areas might be open for fishing, whale watching and other marine tourism. Marine park was first used in Australia to describe the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Approximately one-third of this 344,400 km sq park is zoned for high protection and the rest allows various human activities, including fishing.

Some people point out that whales and dolphins are highly mobile, so how can ‘fixed’ MPAs help them?

Whales and dolphins move considerable distances but they have key areas which are critical to them, as ongoing ‘homes’ or as seasonal breeding or feeding grounds. If we protect these areas properly, the chances of survival for whole populations improve.

In some cases, where animals are present only seasonally, protection measures can reflect this. For example, minke whales are mainly found in Scottish coastal waters over the summer months and so MPA management to protect minke whales could occur between April and October. MPAs do not always stop harmful human activity, but they are a big leap forward, and they often highlight issues that require further investigation or management.

Why are MPAs important?

MPAs are as important as protected areas such as reserves and parks on land. The more we learn about whales and dolphins, the more we realise that their homes need just as much protection as the homes of animals that live on the land. MPAs may not solve all the problems in an area or get rid of all the threats, but in conjunction with wider protection measures throughout our oceans, they are a giant step in the right direction.

How many dolphins does Japan catch?

The Japanese government gives permits to fishermen to hunt more than 20,000 small whales, dolphins and porpoises in its coastal waters each year. The annual number fluctuates somewhat, and this year’s (2015/16) total allowable catch in all hunts and for all species in Japan is 15,066 whales and dolphins.

Which whales and dolphins are hunted in Japan?

80% of the small whales and dolphins killed off the Japanese coast are Dall’s porpoises. Other species include short-finned pilot whales, false killer whales, bottlenose, Pacific white-sided, striped, common, spotted and Risso’s dolphins.

How are they killed?

In one method, called Drive Hunts, fishermen frighten and corral the dolphins into a bay using loud noise, by banging on long pipes held in the water. The dolphins are then trapped in bays (or coves) using large nets, preventing their escape. They are killed after being dragged to shore by their tails using an instrument called a spinal lance that attempts to sever their spinal cord. Dall’s porpoises are killed using hand-thrown harpoons attached to ropes – this is the biggest slaughter of whales and dolphins in the world.

Where do dolphin hunts take place?

There are eight provinces in Japan which are involved in the hunts: Chiba, Aomori, Hokkaido, Iwate, Miyagi, Okinawa, Shizuoka and Wakayama. Currently, the drive hunts only take place in Wakayama, in the fishing village of Taiji. A second fishing village in Shizuoka prefecture, Futo, stopped the hunts in 2004, to a large extent after video footage revealing the cruelty of the hunts, in 1999, began an international wave of protest. However, the quotas remain in place and they could go hunting again.

Why does Japan catch so many dolphins?

Some supermarkets in Japan offer dolphin meat for sale, even though this meat is often heavily contaminated with mercury and other toxins. In order to increase consumption, the Japanese government has even distributed whale and dolphin meat to canteens in schools and hospitals - despite the health risks for consumers. Japanese fishermen also catch and kill dolphins because they believe they eat too many fish and so the slaughter is a form of pest control. Fishermen also catch dolphins to sell to aquaria and dolphinaria in Japan and elsewhere for public display and interaction programmes such as swimming with dolphins. Claims that these activities are traditional are also used to justify these hunts.

Does the Japanese public know about this?

The majority of the Japanese public do not know the extent of the hunts, how cruel they are or how highly polluted the dolphin meat may be. Some do not even know the hunts take place at all. The quantities of mercury in some dolphin meat exceed the Japanese recommended maximum of 0.4ppm (parts per million). Dolphin meat is also often mislabelled as whale meat, which is considered better quality.

But in other parts of the world we kill cows and other animals?

Although WDC cannot comment on the welfare of cattle or other animals slaughtered in the UK or elsewhere, whales and dolphins are wild animals living in distinct populations and in many cases little research has been carried out on their status or how these hunts may affect their survival. They also have complicated social structures and in some instances specific cultures. It is not known what effects the hunting or capture and removal of individuals from these populations has on the welfare and conservation status of the remaining animals. Also, unlike domestic animals which in most countries, including Japan, are subject to protection from inhumane slaughter methods and treatment, whales and dolphins have no such protection from regulations and laws regarding killing techniques that are cruel and painful.

What role do dolphinaria have in the drive hunts?

Dolphinaria make the drive hunts in Taiji lucrative. While demand for dolphin meat is small (approx. US$400 per dolphin), live dolphins, once trained, can be sold for up to US$150,000. In 2004, 23 bottlenose dolphins were taken from the Taiji dolphin hunts to become imprisoned in dolphinaria. 

Increasingly, more dolphins are being taken into captivity, revealing the role of dolphinaria in supporting these hunts. In 2009, over 100 dolphins were taken for aquaria, and in 2011, over 200 were taken alive into captivity from these hunts.

But don’t dolphinaria claim they are rescuing the dolphins from the hunts?

WDC believes that this is untrue based on the large sums of money paid by aquaria for individual whales and dolphins captured alive from these hunts. Instead of rescue, facilities are contributing to the perpetuation of these hunts that are incentivised by the large sums offered for live dolphins.

How do dolphins suffer in captivity?

In the wild dolphins can easily travel up to 100km a day, spend only about 20% of their time above water, and can reach speeds of up to 60 km/h. In captivity their movements and choices are significantly reduced, leading to boredom, stress and aggression between pool-mates and towards their trainers. The water quality in some dolphinaria can be so poor that they develop skin conditions and ulcers. They are fed dead fish and have to undergo fertility and medical treatment. Most captive dolphins are on a perpetual regiment of antibiotics and anti-anxiety medications. Life in the wild can not be recreated in captivity. In addition, dolphins are transported long distances between facilities, sometimes dying in the long process.

Is Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) useful?

More and more frequently dolphins are being caught for use in DAT programmes. Dolphinaria claim that these therapies can be used as a treatment for illness and disability but there is no scientific evidence to suggest any long-term benefits, and there are no standards to ensure the welfare of either the people or the dolphins taking part.

What would recognising the rights of whales and dolphins mean for recognising the rights of other species, such as cats, dogs, foxes etc?

WDC exists to work towards protecting whales and dolphins and so only addresses issues that affect these animals. Our arguments for the recognition of whale and dolphin rights are based on solid, emerging science. We can only argue for the rights of whales and dolphins to be recognised because our understanding has grown as scientific research has revealed how complex their lives are. This new knowledge demands that we re-evaluate how we see and treat whales and dolphins.

Why choose one group of animals over another – what makes whales and dolphins so special?

In simple terms, whales and dolphins are intelligent, live in complex social groups and we know this from the science. But they also have a very special place in many people’s hearts and have done for thousands of years.

How can WDC hope to achieve all the protection set out in the Declaration of Rights when some things are beyond even the control of individual governments (the effect of climate change for example)?

The Declaration is something to strive for and we accept that it can only be realised step by step. Adoption of the Declaration by political parties, nations and then inter-governmental organisations would raise the bar for whale and dolphin protection massively.

Do whales and dolphins see ships and boats as a threat?

Whales and dolphins live in a world of sound (they find food, communicate, navigate using sound) and, while we don’t know for certain what they make of ships, it is likely that they respond to the sound from the vessel, i.e. they “hear” an oncoming vessel, before they “see” it.

Why do whales and dolphins get struck by vessels?

Sounds obvious, but it is because they spend most of their time under the water. So, they are difficult to spot just below the surface, particularly at night or in rough seas.

Why don’t whales and dolphins get out of the way of an oncoming vessel?

There are multiple reasons as to why animals do not get out of the way of oncoming vessels.

  • They may not see the vessel as a threat, particularly in areas of heavier boat traffic where they are used to the noises around them.
  • They may be involved in activity more important to their survival than moving away from the vessel noise.  For example, when actively focusing on capturing prey or socializing, the drive to engage in those behaviours may be more important to the whale or dolphin than reacting to the noises around them.
  • In some cases, they may not hear the vessel until it’s too late.  Large ships cause something called a ‘bow null’ effect resulting in the engine noise (at the stern or rear of the vessel) being blocked by the bow.  Therefore, it’s very quiet in front of the vessel and the whale would not even hear the vessel until it has passed.

What kinds of vessels hit whales and dolphins?

Any vessels near whales and dolphins are a risk including, jet skis, kayaks, sailing vessels, motor boats and large ships.

What type of injury can ships and boats cause?

Whales and dolphins hit by ships or boats in the water can suffer blunt and sharp trauma.
Sharp trauma results in a cut in the tissue (or flesh) and is usually a result of the propeller striking the individual. Depending on the size of the propeller and speed of the vessel, an injury may occur that results in a series of scars, or even death where main arteries or the spinal cord are cut. 
Blunt trauma occurs when the vessel hull strikes the whale or dolphin . It can injure or kill  but is not always apparent by looking.  Blunt trauma can result in bruising or broken bones that may only be detected through necropsies (an internal post mortem examination).

Where do strikes occur most frequently?

Strikes can occur in any area where whales and dolphins inhabit and where there is a lot of traffic on the water.  The risk is increased in areas where there are lots of whales and dolphins, even if only a few vessels.  The data that is available currently represents the minimum number of collisions that occur as most incidents go unreported, the whales and dolphin body is often lost at sea, and most are not retrieved for the post mortem needed to determine the cause of death.

We know the east coast of the US, waters off California, and the Mediterranean are areas of concern and the seas around Sri Lanka and Hawaii are also problematic. But, this doesn't mean there are not other areas that might even be riskier, there may just be less reporting and documentation coming from them.

Why does it matter if a whale of dolphin is struck?

For small vessels colliding with a large whale, the danger to the vessel and persons on board is high. There are cases of people being injured or killed as a result of being thrown when the ship or boat abruptly stops.  Some collisions have resulted in the vessel sinking.
For large vessels, the whale or dolphin is unlikely to survive the ‘hit’.  For some species, these collisions risk their extinction.  In the case of the endangered North Atlantic right whale, boat and ship strikes account for approximately 50% of the deaths caused by humans, and threatens their survival.

What is the solution?

The only two solutions at the moment are:

  • Separate the ships and boats from the whale and dolphins. In some places, Areas To Be Avoided (ATBAs) have been established, suggesting that ships go around these areas seasonally to avoid whale populations.  Traffic Separation Schemes (TSSs or shipping lanes) have also been moved to reduce the overlap between ships and known whale habitats.
  • Slow down. Research shows that boats and ships that operate at slower speeds (10kts or less) significantly reduce the risk of mortally wounding a whale if it is struck.  Slowing down may also provide the animal with an increased reaction time to move away from the vessel.  Such a speed reduction rule was implemented on the East Coast of the US seasonally to reduce the risk of collisions with endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Why is rescuing a whale or dolphin quickly critical?

A live whale or dolphin beached on the shore is almost always in danger of its life. Whales and dolphins are helpless on land and usually die within a few hours or days if not appropriately attended to.

Are there different types of stranding?

Strandings can be divided into several different categories:

Single Strandings

This is where live (or freshly-dead individuals) are probably found on the shore because they are old, sick, injured and/or disorientated. Dead individuals washing ashore could be the result of a natural death or, perhaps, were drowned in nets (bodies sometime carry the characteristic marks of nets or even have pieces of rope or netting attached).

Multiple Strandings

Live (or freshly-dead) individuals of the same species coming ashore in a group are usually the type of species that have a “lead animal” and live in very tight social groups. Pilot whales are a good example. Usually when they strand it appears that either a lead individual has made a navigational mistake, or one individual has become sick or wounded and led the rest of its pod onto the shore.

If species other than whales and dolphins are also involved, for example fish or marine invertebrates, or if many different species come ashore together, an acute event such as a chemical spill or explosion may be to blame.

Why do they strand?

We still have a lot to learn about whales and dolphins and why they become stranded. It maybe that the individual is old, sick, or injured. Sometimes the animals may seek to help a sick or injured individual and become stranded themselves as a result.

Whales and dolphins can also be deliberately driven ashore in a group, as in the case of the cruel pilot whale hunt in the Faroe Islands.

Disease can also cause animals of the same species to come ashore.

If groups of animals of different species strand together, this might be due to some form of major disturbance out to sea affecting a wide area and driving animals ahead of it to then strand. This could be as a result of underwater noise (high powered military sonar, seismic surveys for oil and gas deposits using noise ‘guns’) and seemed to be the case in the Canary Islands a few years ago when a stranding of beaked whales of several species coincided with naval manoeuvres offshore.

Dead whale and dolphin bodies coming ashore in unusual numbers - either as one species or more – can often be due to entanglement in fishing nets or gear (known as "bycatch").

Navigational errors can cause a whale or dolphin to strand. Some types of shore and some particular coastlines are more prone to strandings than others. Shallow, sloping shores made of soft sediments may confuse the animals and the echolocation they use to find their way around.

One theory to explain some strandings is that they may be navigating using the earth’s magnetic field. Crystals of magnetite - which react to a weak magnetic field - have been detected in the brains and skulls of some whales and dolphins and a magnetic “sense” could be an important navigational aid, especially in the deep oceans. An analysis of strandings around the UK has found that live strandings occur more often on those unusual shores where lines of equal magnetic force meet the coastline perpendicularly. In other words, the dolphins or whales are disoriented by these strange occurrences and follow them ashore.

What happens after they strand?

It is important that live animals are responded to quickly and in the right way. In many cases, they may be in distress and too badly injured or too ill for recovery. Rescuers need, therefore, to be prepared for the worst, as some animals may need to be put to sleep.

It is also important that dead bodies, wherever possible, are subjected to a full post-mortem. Stranded animals, both dead and alive, can give important indications of the state of the population offshore.

Where can I see whales and dolphins in the wild?

Almost everywhere! The 80-plus species of whale, dolphin and porpoise are found across the world’s oceans, major tropical rivers and estuaries. Latest figures show that over 13 million people take a trip each year in around 120 countries worldwide. From Canada to Chile, Australia to the Arctic, Scotland to South Africa.

Do I have to go along way out to sea to find them?

No, some species live close to shore, whilst others live far out to sea.  There are trips to suit all tastes.


Do I have to go out on a boat?

No. In fact, some of the best whale watching experiences take place from land – good examples of this are Chanonry Point and Fort George, in the Moray Firth, Scotland where you can often see bottlenose dolphins very close from vantage points on the shore; or at Hermanus, in South Africa, where you may even be lucky enough to watch southern right whales from the cliff tops or maybe even your hotel veranda as you eat your breakfast!


When is a good time to go?

This depends on where you are going and which species you are hoping to see. Most whale watch trips operate during the summer months, with some places enjoying a relatively long season, whilst others have only a short season. The latter is particularly likely if you are hoping to see a migratory species like a blue whale or grey whale for example: in this instance, the ‘window of opportunity’ to see them in a certain location might be just a few days or weeks each year.

Are you guaranteed to see whales and dolphins if you take a boat trip?

No. The main thing to remember is that these are wide-ranging wild animals that travel many miles in just one day, and so their movements and whereabouts cannot always be predicted. We are visiting their world – and this element of unpredictability makes a good sighting all the more precious!


Does it matter which operator I choose?

Yes, it matters a great deal! Whilst the majority of operators are responsible and thoughtful, there are others who are less respectful of the needs of the whales and dolphins being watched and may disturb them whilst they are trying to rest, hunt for food or nurse their young. Thankfully, in most parts of the world, there are appropriate regulations or codes of conduct governing whale watching. In New Zealand, for example, whale watch operators must be licensed, and must observe regulations which forbid them from travelling too fast, approaching too closely, or staying in the area too long. Some locations enforce ‘no-go’ areas, where vessels are prohibited and/or ‘rest breaks’ when vessels are banned at certain times of day to give the animals a break from boat traffic.

How can I choose a responsible operator?

We recommend that you do some homework before you go, so have a look at local operator websites and also tourism websites for your selected region. There may be a local operator training and accreditation scheme, which would usually indicate that accredited operators have reached a certain standard; for example, the DSP (Dolphin Space Programme) in the Moray Firth, Scotland, or the DolphinSMART and Whale Sense schemes in the US. These schemes differ, but a good one will offer ongoing training and monitoring of accredited operators to ensure that they continue to offer good quality trips. We’ve also produced an information sheet: What to look for in a good whale watch for more advice.


Can WDC recommend specific operators?

Unfortunately, we are unable to recommend specific operators at this time. There are several thousand operators around the world and it simply isn’t possible for WDC to monitor all operators in order to ensure that they are all managing their businesses responsibly at all times. Our aim is to offer as much information as we can to potential whale watchers in each region, in order to allow them to make an informed choice when they select an operator.

What if a whale or dolphin comes up to the boat?

Dolphins sometimes like to swim alongside the bow (‘bow ride’), but they do not always wish to do this and boats should never be driven at them to try to force them to do this.

Some larger whale species may also closely approach your vessel and may accompany it for some time. Hopefully, your skipper will be thoughtful and will handle the boat slowly, and steadily, whilst the animals are in the vicinity. It is important not to make any sudden changes in speed or direction as this may startle the animals and may even result in a collision. It is also important not to separate a mother from her calf, or to split up a pod of dolphins, so the skipper and crew will need to be careful and observant at all times, until the animals move away from your vessel.

What do I do if I have concerns that my whale watch boat was not handled responsibly during the trip?

If you witness a specific incident which alarms you – for example, if your boat, or a neighbouring one, appears to be chasing dolphins at high speed, or travels right through a group of mothers and calves, then you should consider reporting this. Let your skipper know that you were concerned: it may be that he can reassure you but in any case, it does no harm to let operators know that their passengers are educated about responsible boat handling! If you remain concerned you should ring the local police station (ask to speak to the Wildlife Liaison Officer if in the UK), giving as many details as you can. Please also let WDC know, we can advise you on how best to make a complaint.


What does ‘rights for whales and dolphins’ mean?

WDC is campaigning for the basic moral rights of whales and dolphins to be recognised, such as the rights to life, freedom and wellbeing. We then want these rights to become international and domestic law.  This will then mean that it will become illegal to keep a dolphin captive, or kill a whale for food on the basis that it is against their rights as intelligent and complex individuals.

What sort of rights is WDC hoping to establish?

WDC believes that whales and dolphins should have their fundamental rights to life and freedom granted, that they should not be held captive for our entertainment, or caught  and killed in fishing nets, that they should not be killed for food or removed from their natural habitat, that they are not the property of anyone and that they should not be subjected to cruel treatment in any way by humans.


Has this been tried before with any other animal/species?

The Great Ape Project has made some good progress towards having the moral rights for whales and dolphins recognised, but there is still a great deal of work to be done on this campaign and as yet the Great Apes have not had their legal rights recognised (not even in Spain as some people may think).

Who can give rights to whales and dolphins and what would happen if these rights were then violated?

It isn’t a case of we humans ‘giving’ rights to whales and dolphins, but if they are recognised by international and domestic laws then these rights will be protected. If so, it would become a legal offense to violate these laws and the penalty would be dependent upon the severity of the violation. In some countries there is already legislation which prohibits humans from harassing whales and dolphins and to do so is punishable by various fines, so it would be an extension of what is already developing.

What role is WDC playing in all of this?

WDC is acting as the Secretariat for the Helsinki Group, the group that drafted the original Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: whales and dolphins (see, and we are working with a number of other groups and individuals to progress this campaign using science, philosophy and law.

What can I do to help?

Simple - please sign the declaration and share this with your family, friends and colleagues

What do we mean by 'sentient beings'?

In short - individuals with the capacity to feel and perceive the world around them, and the capacity to suffer. Research demonstrates that bottlenose dolphins can recognise themselves in a mirror, this tell us that they have a sense of self. Many different types of animals fit into the category of sentient, but beyond sentience, WDC believes that whales and dolphins are also ‘sapient’ – in other words that they can understand different types of behaviours and make appropriate judgements about how to respond.

What do we mean by 'non-human person' and how do whales and dolphin qualify?

Complex one this! Basically, personhood can be described as being aware; having the ability to experience positive and negative sensations (pleasure and pain); having emotions; being self-aware; having self-control; and a range of other intellectual abilities (including learning, solving complex problems and communicating with others in a way that suggests thought).

What makes whales and dolphins so special?

In simple terms, whales and dolphins are self-aware, very intelligence, live in complex social groups and we know this from the science. But they also have a very special place in many people’s hearts and have done for thousands of years

Can I have hands on experience with dolphins?

WDCS does not "keep" any dolphins at our offices, and actively campaigns against the keeping of cetaceans in captivty. Our volunteering opportunities are more administration based, for example helping with entering data into our system or helping us to prepare campaign mailings for dispatch, and it is extremely unlikely that you will ever have any hands on experience with a live dolphin while volunteering with us. Opportunities occasionally arise to study the activities of wild dolphins from our shore line.

Regrettably we are unable to offer field based opportunities. Although we have around forty world-wide projects, the researchers and volunteers who support these projects are often local people as this helps ensure the continued success of the project.

Practical work experience with marine mammals is extremely difficult to obtain.  Many university courses in marine biology involve a period of practical experience in the field, but this is not usually an option for non-degree students.  If you live near a 'Sealife Centre' or other respected UK aquarium, you could apply for weekend or voluntary work, although these facilities tend to concentrate upon fish and invertebrates. There is a Sealife seal sanctuary at Gweek, in Cornwall.  It is important to state here that there are no whales or dolphins kept in captivity in the UK at the moment.  WDCS is very much against the keeping of whales and dolphins in marine parks and dolphinariums, as we strongly believe that these animals are not suited to the captive environment.

Can I help with the Dolphins

WDCS does not "keep" any dolphins at our offices, and actively campaigns against the keeping of cetaceans in captivty. Our volunteering opportunities are more administration based, for example helping with entering data into our system or helping us to prepare campaign mailings for dispatch, and it is extremely unlikely that you will ever have any hands on experience with a live dolphin while volunteering with us. Opportunities occasionally arise to study the activities of wild dolphins from our shore line.

Regrettably we are unable to offer field based opportunities. Although we have around forty world-wide projects, the researchers and volunteers who support these projects are often local people as this helps ensure the continued success of the project.

How old do I need to be to volunteer?

WDCS Volunteers need to be at least sixteen years of age. WDCS Volunteer speakers need to be at least eighteen years of age.

Do you pay my expenses?

Yes. WDCS will cover any out of pocket expenses (eg travel) that you may incur by volunteering with us.

If I Volunteer can I have a reference?

Depending on the type of volunteering that you do, WDCS may be able to provide a reference to any job applications or further volunteering oppertunities, providing that you have been volunteering with us for at least [six weeks].

How many hours can I volunteer?

WDCS asks our volunteers to donate as much or as little time as they can afford to give, be this one hour a week or three full days a week.

Our Chippenham office is open from 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday. There may also be the opportunity to volunteer at events or fundraisers outside of these hours.

What training will I get as a Volunteer?

Depending on your existing skills and abilities, and on what type of volunteering you undertake, WDCS will provide full training and assistance throughout your time with us. Much of what you learn will be applicable in other areas, such as data handling and communication practices.

You will also undertake a full induction and Health and Safety briefing at the beginning of your volunteering with us.

Can I Volunteer at Weekends

Our Head Office is open from 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday, and most of our volunteering opportunities take place during these times. On occassion, opportunities may arise to volunteer at events or fundraisers.

Can I do my Duke of Edinburgh with you?

WDCS can offer volunteering placements to students who are working to complete the volunteering aspect of their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Please note that we can only offer volunteering placements to students from Hardenhuish School in Chippenham, Sheldon School in Chippenham, and Abbeyfield School in Chippenham.

WDCS believes that making enquiries and applications is an important skill for young people to learn, and subsequently we encourage queries and applications that are made by the person who will be undertaking the placement. We do not answer applications that are made "on behalf" by schools or parents.

What types of man-made pollution can have an effect whales and dolphins?

Litter and marine debris, chemical spills, oil spills, sewage, PCBs and noise pollution can all have an effect on whales and dolphins.

What sort of things will I be doing on my work experience?

During your work experience, you will work in our Supporter Relations department, helping them with a wide range of duties, including data entry and secure destruction, organising our incoming and outgoing mail, answering telephones and emails, and helping to collate and conduct research for campaigns. 

How Many Weeks Work Experience Can I Do?

Our Work Experience placements are a week long, running from Monday to Friday. 

What Time of Year Can I do Work Experience?

Although our office is open all year round, we are only able to accept Work Experience placements between April and September. 

Can I Volunteer Overseas

Regrettably we are unable to offer field based opportunities. Although we have around forty world-wide projects, the researchers and volunteers who support these projects are often local people as this helps ensure the continued success of the project. 

I want to work in Marine Conservation. What options should I take at GCSE / A Level?

Ideally, you should opt for as broad a range of subjects as possible at GCSE level - but certainly choosing to study biology, ecology, environmental science and other science subjects is preferable. 

At 'A' level, you should opt to study predominantly science/environmental subjects, (especially biology) although maths may also be useful.

I want to work in Marine Conservation. What options are available to me at University?

If you are considering university degree courses, there are many excellent and relevant courses on offer these days.  This wasn’t the case even a decade ago!  Good grades at A level in several science subjects are essential.  You should aim for a degree in Marine Biology, or another biological science (e.g. zoology) if you can, although there are some excellent environmental science degrees on offer nowadays.  Marine biology and other environmental science degree courses at Liverpool, Bangor (North Wales), Greenwich, Aberdeen and Swansea Universities are particularly well respected.

It is also worth stating here that many positions within organizations such as WDC do not go to marine biologists, but may actually go to candidates with other appropriate qualifications.  For example, noise pollution is currently an important and much researched issue within the area of cetacean conservation, and our own expert came to us not with a marine biology degree, but with an engineering degree in acoustics.

What practical work experience is available?

Practical work experience with marine mammals is extremely difficult to obtain.  Many university courses in marine biology involve a period of practical experience in the field, but this is not usually an option for non-degree students.  If you live near a 'Sealife Centre' or other respected UK aquarium, you could apply for weekend or voluntary work, although these facilities tend to concentrate upon fish and invertebrates. There is a Sealife seal sanctuary at Gweek, in Cornwall.  It is important to state here that there are no whales or dolphins kept in captivity in the UK at the moment.  WDC is very much against the keeping of whales and dolphins in marine parks and dolphinariums, as we strongly believe that these animals are not suited to the captive environment.

What sort of person works in Marine Conservation?

If you are interested in working for an environmental or conservation organisation such as WDC, Friends of the Earth, etc., you do not necessarily need science qualifications.  As previously mentioned, while biologists are employed by these organisations, other members of staff working in campaigning, marketing, fund-raising and other departments may offer skills and qualifications more directly suited to one of these areas.  Qualifications in information technology (IT), business studies and administration, marketing, journalism and other practical communication skills are much in demand for these positions. Good writing skills and knowledge of one or more foreign languages can be extremely useful to an environmental organisation.

Although jobs in these types of charity tend to be few and far between, if you could afford to go and work as a volunteer for a charity for a few months, this would put you in a stronger position if a paid vacancy came along.  Many people started at WDC as volunteers and many staff members don’t have a marine biology degree, but can demonstrate useful skills, such as accountancy, management and personnel, fund-raising, marketing, editing skills and other useful experience.  When applying for positions after graduation, one of the most important things will be the amount of volunteer work undertaken, even if this is not cetacean based or field work, as it still demonstrates a dedication to the charity sector.

Some helpful addresses are:

Greenpeace UK                 Marine Conservation Society      Marine Education & Research Ltd

Canonbury Villas              9 Gloucester Road                           17 Hartington Park

London                                 Ross-on-Wye                                     Bristol

N1 2PN                                 Herefordshire                                    BS6 7ES

HR9 5BU                                              

If you would like to be considered for a short term placement with our admin, marketing, communication, policy or science teams; please completed the enclosed application and return with a CV to the Volunteer Manager. Unfortunately we are not able to guarantee that returning an application will secure you a placement. Placements will be in our Chippenham office and will be office based. We are not able to help with living cost or accommodation.

We also have summer voluntary positions at the WDC Scottish Dolphin Centre in the Moray Firth, Scotland. These placements are between March and October and you need to commit for the full six months. These positions are always advertised on the WDC web site.

What are the differences between whales, dolphins and porpoises?

Collectively, whales, dolphins and porpoises are known as cetaceans. Cetacean species are divided into two groups;

(1) Baleen whales – these are the “great whales” and as their name suggests they all have baleen plates that are used to filter their food (which consists of plankton and small species of fish).

(2) Toothed whales (otherwise known as odontocetes and including all species of dolphin and porpoise) – which as you would expect, have teeth, and eat larger prey items, including at times, other marine mammals. The main differences with porpoises are that they are usually smaller than other toothed whales and instead of cone-shaped teeth they have flat, spade-shaped teeth.

As a general rule of thumb, baleen whales are larger and slower (except the fin whale which is known as the “greyhound of the sea”) than toothed whales.  Additionally, ALL baleen whales have two blowholes whereas toothed whales only have one.

Humpback whale
Humpback whale

(3) Difference between a dolphin and a porpoise.

The biggest difference is size, with all species of porpoise being that much smaller than their dolphin cousins. Porpoises don't have the pronounced beak that most, but not all dolphins have and they also have different shaped teeth. Porpoise teeth are spade-shaped whilst dolphins are conical.

Harbour porpoise © Charlie Phillips
Harbour porpoise © Charlie Phillips

A dolphin has a hooked or curved dorsal fin (except for those species that don't have a dorsal fin) whereas a porpoise has a more triangular dorsal fin, and generally speaking, dolphin bodies are leaner, although porpoises’ are a little more chunky. 

Dolphins are also more "talkative" than porpoises. The whistles made by dolphins are produced through their blowholes and although porpoises do not do this, possibly due to structural differences in the porpoise’s blowhole, they can still be pretty noisy as they "puff" the air out when they surface. 

Short-beaked common dolphin
Short-beaked common dolphin

Dolphins and porpoises also have many similarities, one of which is their extreme intelligence. As research evolves, it is likely that more (or perhaps fewer) differences between dolphins and porpoises will be revealed.

More facts about whales and dolphins or have a look in our whale and dolphin species guide.

How many species of whales, dolphins and porpoises are there?

There are currently 89 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. This is composed of 14 species of mysticetes (otherwise known as baleen whales) and 75 species of odontocetes (otherwise known as toothed whales and includes all species of dolphin and porpoise). If however you were to include sub-species and sub-populations then that figure would rise to 118. 

Find out more in our species guide.

How do whales, dolphins and porpoises communicate with each other?

Communication amongst whales and dolphins is achieved in several ways. They create sounds, make physical contact and use body language. Large whales can communicate over huge distances (across entire ocean basins) using very low frequencies. Dolphins and porpoises however, usually use higher frequencies, which limits the distance their sounds can travel.

In general, dolphins make two kinds of sounds, “whistles” and “clicks”. Clicks are used to sense their surroundings through echolocation, while they use whistles to communicate with other members of their species and very likely, with other species too. It is also thought that each dolphin has a unique whistle called a ‘signature whistle’, which is used to identify an individual.

What are the different fins on a dolphin used for?

The tail fin, or fluke, is used for propulsion through the water.

The pectoral fins (on each side) provide directional control and the dorsal fin (in those species that have one) provides stability whilst swimming.

Many individuals however have been documented without a “complete set” of fins (likely as a result of incidental entanglement in fishing gear, being hit by a boat’s propeller or a lucky escape from a predator) and therefore they can sometimes adapt quite well to losing part or all of a fin.

Dolphin illustration
Dolphin illustration

More facts about whales and dolphins.

What is echolocation?

Dolphins and other toothed whales use a sense called echolocation to navigate and hunt underwater, in addition to having extremely good eyesight (except the river dolphins who are bordering on being blind). They emit clicks and use a part of their body called the melon to focus these sound waves on objects around them. Using special cavities in their jaws, they then detect and interpret the echoes that bounce back off. This allows them to build up a picture of their surroundings and can help in locating prey, for instance when it might be hiding under the sand. 

Sperm whales also use echolocation to find their way around the dark depths of the ocean and to help with hunting for squid. Though only very brief, the clicks they make are the loudest sound in the animal kingdom.

More facts about whales and dolphins.

Illustration showing how dolphin echolocation works.

How do whales, dolphins and porpoises hear?

Whales do not have ears on the outsides of their heads. Instead, they generally hear sounds through special structures in their jawbones.

More facts about whales and dolphins.

Do whales, dolphins and porpoises have a sense of smell?

No – they lack an olfactory nerve and associated lobes and therefore it is believed that they have no sense of smell. They do however have a keen sense of taste, showing a preference for specific types of fish and seafood.

More facts about whales and dolphins.

What do dolphins eat?

Dolphins are carnivores; they eat other animals. Dolphins eat a variety of fish, squid, shrimps, jellyfish and octopuses. The types of fish and other creatures dolphins eat depends on the species of dolphin, where the dolphins live and the wildlife that shares their habitats.>

There are more than forty species of dolphin and they live in environments ranging from fresh water rivers, estuaries, coastal waters to deep sea open oceans. Most dolphins are opportunistic feeders, which means they eat the fish and other animals sharing their homes.  All dolphins eat fish and those living in deep oceans also eat squid and jellyfish.

Bottlenose dolphins are found worldwide in temperate and tropical seas and the types of fish they eat, is dependent on where they live and what time of year it is. Bottlenose dolphins living in the Moray Firth, Scotland, favour salmon when it is available in the spring and summer months. In the winter, salmon is scarce, and so they eat herring and mackerel. Bottlenose dolphins living elsewhere eat their favoured local fish which can be mullet, mackerel, catfish and more tropical species of fish. All dolphins have teeth but they don't chew their food, they just, grab, bite and swallow!

Amazon river dolphins are known to eat more than 40 different species of fresh water fish and they also eat fresh water crustaceans. Spinner dolphins eat fish, jellyfish and krill. Dusky dolphins eat shrimp, squid and various fish, including tiny anchovies. Rough-toothed dolphins live in deep water oceans and eat mostly squid. Commerson’s dolphins feed on small fish, crabs, octopus, and small crustaceans in kelp beds close to shore and near the seabed. New Zealand dolphins feed on species of small fish and squid in shallow coastal waters.

Orcas are the biggest members of the dolphin family; resident orcas in Northern British Columbia, Canada eat only fish – their favourite is salmon. Other orcas specialise in eating much bigger prey including seabirds and mammals such as sea lions, dolphins and whales. Orca diet depends on what food is available to them where they live and what techniques they have learnt from their elders to hunt their food.

Dolphins hunt using their highly-developed echolocation, which means they can find food no matter how murky the water might be. Not only that but they can even use it to identify any prey that might be hiding, such as under the sand!

What do dolphins drink?

Dolphins get all the water they need directly from the food they eat. Their main prey (fish and squid) contains large amounts of water. Dolphins don’t lose water by sweating, like we do, and so they need less water than us in their diets.

More facts about whales and dolphins.

Bottlenose dolphin Zephyr with salmon
Bottlenose dolphin Zephyr with salmon

How do dolphins sleep?

Dolphins sleep in a very different way to the way we humans do.  Humans have prolonged periods of unconscious sleep and we are not aware of  our surroundings for periods of time while sleeping. Humans have a breathing reflex and when we sleep or become unconscious, we continue to breath automatically.

Dolphins cannot sleep in this way, they have to remain conscious, even when they are sleeping. This is because their breathing is not automatic, it is consciously controlled. In other words dolphins have to actively decide when to breath, and so they must be continually conscious to breath. If like us, dolphins went into a deep unconscious sleep, they would stop breathing and suffocate or drown.

To get around this, dolphins only allow one half of their brains to sleep at a time; the other half stays alert to enable the dolphin to continue breathing and look out for dangers in the environment. Dolphins only close one eye when they sleep; the left eye will be closed when the right half of the brain sleeps, and vice versa. This type of sleep is known as unihemispheric sleep as only one brain hemisphere sleeps at a time. Dolphins alternate which side is sleeping periodically so that they can get the rest they need without ever losing consciousness. 

When sleeping, dolphins often rest motionless at the surface of the water, breathing regularly or they may swim very slowly and steadily, close to the surface. In shallow water, dolphins sometimes sleep on the seabed rising regularly to the surface to breath.

More facts about whales and dolphins.

Atlantic white-sided dolphin
Atlantic white-sided dolphin

Do whales and dolphins sneeze?

No - A whale or dolphin already exhales far faster than humans and other land mammals do. A human sneeze is about 100 mph ... whales are even faster than that at their normal breathing rate ... so it's possible that they have no "need" for sneezing in the traditional sense.

More facts about whales and dolphins.

Do whales, dolphins and porpoises have hair?

All mammals have hair at some point in their life and cetaceans are no exception. Although lost before or shortly after birth, tiny hairs are found around the tip of the rostrum. The only exception to this is the boto, which doesn’t lose these hairs and maintains them throughout its life.

More facts about whales and dolphins.

What is baleen?

Baleen is made out of keratin, the same protein that makes up our fingernails and hair. A baleen whale, such as the humpback whale below, has about 600 baleen plates in its upper jaw, which act like a strainer as it feeds. Like humans, whales cannot drink saltwater. Hairs on the baleen plates catch the fish or plankton, while the saltwater washes through and goes back into the ocean. Some whales eat about one ton (2,000 lbs.) of fish each day.  You can tell if you see a baleen whale by their blowholes. All baleen whales have two blowholes visible on the top of their heads.

More facts about whales and dolphins.

Baleen in mouth of humpback whale

Who to contact in the event of a stranding?

England & Wales

If you find a LIVE stranded or injured whale, dolphin or porpoise on the beach or in the shallows, you must act quickly. The appropriate emergency numbers to call in such an event and which can be used 24 hours a day are:

1. 01825 765 546 (BDMLR - British Divers Marine Life Rescue)


2. 08705 555 999 (RSPCA - Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)

Please try to give as accurate a location and description of the stranded animal as possible.

DEAD stranded cetaceans and seals (in any condition) can also be reported, to allow the bodies to be examined to try to determine causes of death and collect other important information. If possible, secure the carcass above the high water mark, and take as accurate information possible about the location and description of the animal.

Then you can call the UK Strandings Hotline (freephone number) on 0800 652 0333 or visit


The appropriate emergency numbers to call and which can be used 24 hours a day are:

1. 01825 765 546 (BDMLR - British Divers Marine Life Rescue)


2. 08707 377 722 (SSPCA - Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Hotline)

If the animal is DEAD then contact the Scottish Strandings Co-ordinator at the Scottish Agricultural College on: 01463 243030 (or 01463 791915 outside of office hours).

Northern Ireland & the Republic of Ireland

The appropriate emergency numbers to call and which can be used 24 hours a day are:

Northern Ireland - 08 0232 381251

Republic of Ireland – 021 904197 or 021 904053

If you find a live stranded seal contact the Irish Seal Sanctuary on:
01 8354370 or mobile 087 2333406


If you are concerned about an animal, please call your local stranding hotline.

How do dolphins breathe?

Dolphins are mammals and breathe air into their lungs, just like we do. Dolphins cannot breathe under water like fish can as they do not have gills. Dolphins breathe through a nostril, called a blowhole, located right on top of their heads. This allows them to take breaths by exposing just the top of their heads to the air while they are swimming or resting under the water. After each breath, the blowhole is sealed tightly by strong muscles that surround it, so that water cannot get into the dolphin’s lungs.

When a dolphin surfaces for air, he breathes out (exhales) first and then breathes in (inhales) fresh air; it only takes a fraction of a second for the dolphin to do this.  If you are close by, it is easy to hear a dolphin’s ‘blow’ at the surface; in fact you will often hear a dolphin before you see him!  The blow is the sound you hear, and the spray of water you see, when the dolphin forcefully breathes out and clears away any water resting on top of his blowhole.  The water spray is not coming from the dolphin’s lungs; it is just water sitting on top of its head around the blowhole being blown away before he inhales.

Dolphins do not breathe through their mouths in the same way as people can, they only breathe through their blowholes. In this way, breathing and eating are kept entirely separate in dolphins so that they can capture prey in their mouths and swallow it without the risk water getting into their lungs. However, in 2016 a paper was published that reported on a dolphin that had learnt to breathe through its mouth.

Dolphins are able to hold their breath for several minutes but typically they breathe about 4 or 5 times every minute.

More facts about dolphins 

Bottlenose dolphin at surface
Bottlenose dolphin at surface