Maldives Dolphin ID Project: 2024-2025

Check out the project page first, for a background of the types of dolphins (and other Cetacean species) sighted in the Maldives, and enjoy our updated diary entries and photos, below.

marine biology internship Maldives Matt (14) dolphins [1080]

Pilot whales … serenely beautiful 📷 aerial drone, Kuda Huraa (2024)

Dolphin Diary 2024

JANUARY 2024

At Four Seasons Resort Landaa Giraavaru during January, we conducted 10 spotting excursions, and sighted 255 Spinners plus four pods of Bottlenose and one pod of Risso’s dolphins, in encounters averaging 22 minutes duration. We have uploaded our ID photos for later analysis.

At Kuda Huraa this month, we conducted 14 dolphin cruises and will be processing our ID photos in the coming weeks. As part of our project studying dolphin-boat interactions, we are actively reaching out to other dolphin-spotting vessels, to encourage standardised behaviours that will better serve both tourists and dolphins. We have recorded instances of “bad boat” behaviours (e.g. rushing, milling) that lead to avoidance by dolphin pods, so we promote slow-paced encounters with minimal engine revving.

‘Dolphin Evasiveness’ Study

At Kuda Huraa, we have started a new research project in conjunction with our Reefscapers colleagues at Sheraton Maldives (also located in North Malé Atoll). Our ‘Dolphin Evasiveness’ study will collect data on specific parameters regarding boat conduct and dolphin evasiveness.

The presence of dolphin-spotting boats can have a significant impact on the social and feeding behaviours of dolphins. With the increasing numbers of boats that we encounter that are surrounding and following a single dolphin pod, the pods can become defensive and alter their social activity.
We plan to collect data on the behaviour of dolphins when they are in close proximity to boats, and we will analyse their behaviours (for example: longer diving, sudden change in direction, tail slapping near boats).

We hope to find quantitative evidence to support our hypothesis that boats do adversely influence natural dolphin behaviours. We then plan to develop new guidelines for boat conduct in the Maldives, to help restore more natural behaviours in dolphin pods, and to reduce the chance of injury from boat propellers.

Dolphin spotting excursions Maldives ID database

We are continuing our quantitative study on dolphin behaviours by recording a ‘Social Index’ of observed social activities.
Our ‘Bad Boat Index’ records any boat conduct that could potentially affect the social behaviour of dolphins, causing them to become more evasive:

  • milling – turning in response to dolphins
  • rushing – quickly accelerating towards a pod
  • charging – driving through the centre of a pod
  • circling – ‘donut-ing’ the pod to create waves

FEBRUARY

At Landaa during February, we sighted 311 Spinners plus nine Bottlenose, across nine guest excursions.

At Kuda Huraa this month, we held 17 dolphin cruises and sighted Spinners in pods of up to 300 individuals.

The characteristic spinning behaviours in cetaceans is often seen as playful, but it’s thought that rotating actions might help to rid any annoying suckerfish and body parasites.

MARCH

At Landaa during March, we conducted 12 excursions with 79 guests, and recorded 470 Spinners, mainly around Reethi Beach Lagoon. One dolphin cruise to Voavah also sighted a reef manta ray (Mobula birostris), and an individual manta was spotted feeding on Landaa House Reef during the last week of the month.

APRIL

At Landaa we conducted 11 Dolphin Cruises during April, encountering Spinners and Bottlenose dolphins, plus a small pod of 6 Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus) basking at the surface close to Landaa.

Dolphin spotting trips Maldives Marine Savers

Cetaceans Of Malé: Behaviours of Odontocetes (‘toothed whales’)

🗓️ During the first four months of the year, our Kuda Huraa team guided 58 dolphin cruise excursions, accompanying 632 guests encountering 4 cetacean species. An estimated 6,300 spinner dolphins were sighted in the vicinity of the Resort during this period, along with more elusive Odontocetes including bottlenose dolphins (visiting our team on the House Reef) and small pods of pilot whales (migrating northward along the Eastern boundary of the atoll).

Interactions with wild megafauna are always exciting experiences, but it’s sadly quite common to witness other boats behaving poorly (moving to close to and speeding through pods, scaring the dolphins away). The need for national dolphin-watching regulations becomes more evident, especially speed limits and maximum number of boats per pod. To this end, our team is in the process of contacting relevant stakeholders to promote respectful encounters.

Where Is Home? Spinner – Bottlenose – Pilot – Risso’s

🐬 Studies into cetacean spatial ecology reveal how behaviourally distant some species are from each other. Data from our dolphin cruises provides small-scale insights within the context of North Malé Atoll here in the Maldives. Resident small-sized dolphins like spinners (Stenella longirostris) and bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus) repeatedly visit the same reefs and foraging grounds. Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus) and shortfin pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), however, are only ever sighted in deeper waters and (in the first months of the year) travelling North.

🕑 Spending long hours at sea has allowed our team to witness a variety of behaviours, from the common jumping and ‘head-slapping’, to the rare ‘spy-hopping’ by curious pilot whales. Most notably, Risso’s dolphins were observed repeatedly jumping and breaching, giving us valuable insights into this elusive species, which is otherwise considered shy and evasive. Observing natural behaviour in wild undisturbed pods will also be crucial in assessing the effect of boat traffic on their activities and patterns of movement.

📝 Out of 134 spinner dolphin individuals uniquely identified so far this year, only approximately 20% were classified as first sightings. This reinforces the high sight fidelity and philopatry (returning to the same area/s) of spinners, further highlighting the need for local protection measures.

Dolphin & Cetacean spotting Maldives Marine Savers
Dolphin & Cetacean spotting Maldives Marine Savers

More ? > Project Page & Dolphin Diaries

Pilot whales ... serenely beautiful