February through April or May in Socorro marks the best time to see oodles of dolphins. Given the large numbers and wide diversity of marine life that frequents Socorro and the surrounding Revillagigedo Islands, there’s always a good chance to see dolphins, but they’re here in far greater numbers and far more active in the spring. Local operators report that dolphins in the area have become increasingly playful and intrigued by divers. Where once dolphins would zip by, barely noticing the bubble-blowers, they now hang around and seem more interested. These completely wild dolphins are not coaxed with food or other enticements, so the experience is spontaneous and magical.
The Galapagos pops up on our lists a lot, which should tell you something: this place is pure magic. Dolphins frequent the Galapagos year round, and can easily be seen or heard on most dives, especially at the premiere Galapagos sites, Wolf and Darwin Islands. Even if you’re not lucky enough to see some while underwater, you’re nearly guaranteed to see some on the surface. On our dives there, we frequently heard dolphins’ telltale clicks and whistles, but only caught sight of them underwater occasionally. While they didn’t play with us underwater, they delighted us on every panga ride by jumping and playing nearby. And as if that weren’t enough, orcas are known to frequent the area as well.
Another top spot for seeing large marine life, Hawaii is home to pods of dolphins all year long. While there are captive dolphin trips available in the area, seeing them in the wild is far more rewarding. Not only is it better for the dolphins, but it’s also a much more fulfilling interaction, and a better story. Most of the islands offer dolphin watching and snorkeling trips, and seeing them while diving is pretty likely too. Spinner, bottlenose, and spotted dolphins are nearly guaranteed, but orca and pilot whales are pretty common as well.
Many species of dolphins are frequent year-round visitors to the Bahamas, and the islands are also considered home of more than a couple of pods. Whether you’re diving or snorkeling, there’s an extremely good chance to see the friendly fins of spotted, spinner, striped, bottlenose, and other dolphins. Wild dolphin sightings from the surface are nearly a sure thing as well. The amazing visibility, resident pods near Grand Bahama, and the many visiting dolphins all around the Bahamas make it a top spot for dolphin encounters.
Red Sea, Egypt
Hot, dry days and cool evenings aren’t the only things that the region has to offer. Dolphins frequent the Red Sea year-round to fish and play on the healthy reefs and dramatic canyons. The Red Sea is a premiere dive spot for many reasons, the multitude of marine life being just one of them. As with other spots on the list, there’s never a guarantee, but if you spend a few days in the Red Sea, your chances of getting some face time with dolphins are pretty high.
If there’s one spot on this list where you’re nearly guaranteed to see wild dolphins — it’s this one. During the annual sardine run in South Africa from May to July, you’ll see many different types of dolphins, including orcas, and possibly pilot whales. The sardine run draws marine life from miles around to Africa’s eastern coast as they partake in the mobile sardine buffet. Even if you miss the sardines, South Africa has several fantastic diving spots where your chances of seeing dolphins (and tons of sharks) are very high.
Pods of spinner dolphins have called the aptly named Dolphin Bay in the Fernando de Noronha archipelago off the coast of Brazil home for decades. The bay’s clear, calm, and deep waters draw the dolphins in every day like clockwork. So many dolphins hang out here that a research project was set up just to learn more about them and their habits. Thousands of people visit the islands each year just to spot or swim with these playful critters. Local dive shops teach tourists everything they’ve learned about these pods of spinners, including the proper underwater behavior for divers to protect the dolphins from harm or stress.
If orcas are your thing, then head to Norway’s Lofoten Islands. The Stromsholmen Dive Center sets up liveaboard trips in January and February to seek out the largest congregation of orcas in the world. As they follow the massive schools of herring along Norway’s coasts, orcas come together in groups by the hundreds to feed. The pristine, cool waters make visibility spectacular, but most of these trips involve snorkeling instead of diving so as not to scare off the dolphins with bubbles. If you use a rebreather, this is a great spot for you to showcase your less-imposing kit. Don’t worry, even if you only get to snorkel with the orcas, there’s plenty of good diving in the area where you can get your bubble fix.