There’s nothing quite like seeing wildlife in their natural habitat. Getting out in nature is one of my favourite things to do and seeing animals in the wild is one of the most rewarding travel experiences you can have. For me, one of the most magical wildlife experiences I've ever had was when I went dolphin watching in Iceland. Iceland is an incredible country, full of incredible landscapes, extreme weather and of course, fascinating wildlife. We knew we wanted to catch a glimpse of some dolphins so we booked a trip with Elding and crossed our fingers that we would spot something – and luckily we did!
We knew we weren't guaranteed to see dolphins on our boat trip outside of Reykjavik. Excited, nervous and crossing our fingers, we donned giant padded jumpsuits and clambered onto the top desk for the best view of the potential dolphin pods. The boat ride was absolutely freezing and ice cold tears streamed down my face as the giant boat picked up speed across the glass-like water. It felt like we travelled for hours, as I desperately tried to keep eyes open, scanning the horizon for a glimpse of a fin.
And then, my brother saw something. We thought he was imagining things but moments later, a shout of excitement came across the tannoy from our guide. Dolphins! We sped towards the distant fins as our guide started to give us more information about the dolphins we were about to meet; white-beaked dolphins. We were lucky enough to see a number of pods, totally unaffected by our boat, swimming, diving and leaping across the ocean. It was incredible to see them in the flesh and just as magical as you would imagine. At one point, the dolphins even swam under the boat, flashing their white and blank patterned flanks as they gracefully dived underneath us.
Heading out even further, we encountered yet another pod of dolphins who were feeding. The dolphins were using co-operative behaviour to ensure the whole pod was fed and it was simply fascinating to watch! Most of the pod swam on their sides and used their tails to bat the fish into a tight ball. Then each dolphin would take it in turns to leap above the water to push the fish down deeper into the ocean, where another dolphin would wait to dive through the ball of fish and fill its belly. It was incredible to watch the dolphins work together to ensure each member of the pod could feed, manipulating the fish as a group in an amazing display of teamwork. Our guide was beside herself with excitement and her joy at watching this unusual experience was infectious. It was one of the most incredible things I've ever seen!
Before we knew it, it was time to leave the dolphins alone and retreat back to land. We had infringed on their world for long enough. Finally, as we were heading back to shore and thought the drama was over, we were greeted by 3 porpoises to send us on our way and finish off a magical tour perfectly.
Part of the reason we chose Elding as our tour was because of their commitment to responsible tourism. With controversies like commercial whaling still rife in Iceland, we wanted to choose a company with ethical values and Elding follows IceWhale's code of conduct and has certificates for Vakinn, Blue Flag and EarthCheck. Our guide was a marine biologist and her passion for her job shone through, as well as her incredible knowledge. Responsible tourism is becoming a huge topic and something I’ve started to think about more in relation to my own travels. Recently, I’ve started to pay more attention on how my travel affects the planet and start to think more mindfully about my impact on the world. I’ve always considered where I visit and what industries I fund through my tourism – for example, I’ve never supported zoos – but I feel like there is more I can do to travel more sustainably. I’ve committed myself to three simple rules that I want to follow wherever I travel to ensure my experiences are responsible:
My Three Responsible Travel Rules
I’ve started carrying around a water bottle at all times, so I don’t buy plastic water bottles whilst out and about. It's a simple but significant change which reduces my plastic waste and ensure I stay hydrated. It’s also a good money saving tip as you don’t have to fork out for expensive water at the airport! I’ve also treated myself to a Stojo collapsible coffee cup and it’s a game changer. I can now use this instead of disposable cups at coffee shops and, after I’ve had my coffee, it folds up to fit easily in my bag – perfect for travelling.
It’s easy to research any wildlife experiences to ensure they’re ethical. When I recently visited Bali, I was enthralled by photos with the elephants at Mason Elephant Park and Lodge but, after research, I discovered that it was not approved of by Responsible Travel. A few minutes Googling meant I didn’t unintentionally support something unethical. If in doubt, don’t support it!
As we set off in our boat to try and spot some dolphins, our guide reminded us that we were about to step into the dolphins’ world and told us “it’s their home, not ours”. It’s so important to remember that we are entering their environment and to only do this in a kind and considered way. The experience you have will be so much better as a result - for both you and the animals!
Calling all wildlife travel fans! You can win an African safari with Audley Travel by sharing your best wildlife photograph or video on your social media channels. To enter write #AudleySafari and @AudleyTravel on your Instagram or Twitter post or share directly on the Audley Travel Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/audleytravel/. To find out more or enter via the website, visit www.audleytravel.com/social. Entries must be posted between 20th August – 23rd September.