Europe has 34 facilities where visitors can interact with dolphins in captivity, although not all parks extend to swim with dolphin programs. Because of widespread concern about removing cetaceans from the wild, three-quarters of dolphins in European parks are born in parks rather than taken from the wild, with a European Council Directive requiring they be kept in conditions that meet their conservation requirements.
Dolphins in the Wild
“The Guardian” recommends Dolphin Connection in the Azores for its emphasis on educating guests about the marine environment. Visitors take a week-long trip that teaches confidence in the water followed by five boat trips, each lasting around three hours, for swimming with dolphins. Excursions depart every Saturday from May to October, with accommodation in island eco-hotels. Participants will need their own snorkeling gear and wetsuit, if preferred, and enter the water with a guide to interact with dolphins in the wild. Bear in mind that although the Azores are part of Portugal, the islands are 950 miles west of the Iberian Peninsula in the mid-Atlantic. Nevertheless, Frommer’s calls the trip one of the best dolphin experiences on the planet.
Dolphin therapy has been used successfully to treat Down Syndrome and autism in children and adults. The International Institute of Dolphin Assisted Therapy occupies a base in Turkey on the island of Kusadasi, part of Adaland, the largest waterpark in Europe. Courses run from March to November. The Adaland center is also used throughout the year for recreational dolphin encounters, where groups of up to seven, wearing lifejackets, spend 20 minutes with the dolphins in the pool, which has a maximum depth of nearly 20 feet. At 2 p.m. every day, the park also hosts its dolphin and seal show, lasting approximately 45 minutes.
Visitors to the Mediterraneo Marine Park in Malta can swim with dolphins year-round and enjoy dolphin and sea lion shows also. Groups can swim with the captive bottlenose dolphins under the watch of an experienced guide, or take a dry encounter lasting 15 minutes in which visitors touch the dolphins and learn the necessary hand signals to communicate with them. The site is on the coast at White Rocks in Bahar ic-Caghaq, and has five adult dolphins and three calves.
The Dolphin Emotions program at Zoomarine in the Algarve, Portugal, starts with an educational talk about the bottlenose dolphin, before transferring to the large saltwater lagoon in groups of 12 participants maximum, for a half-hour interaction in the water. The Exclusive option lasts 90 minutes, with just two participants accompanied by a trainer. As with most swim with dolphin experiences, participants will need to be competent swimmers, at least six years old, and remove all jewelry and watches beforehand. Visitors at Zoomarine are issued a neoprene wetsuit.