New efforts to protect Chile’s dolphins good news for tourists

The country’s northernmost city of Arica welcomes visitors who wish to learn about the natural habitat and lives of friendly underwater mammals.

Bottlenose dolphins are often seen by traditional fishermen off the coast of Arica. Photo by Pixabay.
Bottlenose dolphins are often seen by traditional fishermen off the coast of Arica. Photo by Pixabay.

Catching a glimpse of dolphins gliding effortlessly through the calm of the Pacific Ocean is a sight for sore eyes and something few would pass up on. Traditional Chilean fisherman plying their trade in the northern port city of Arica are lucky enough to view this spectacle during their daily work on the water, so too are the visitors who venture to the beauty of Chile’s northernmost city.
Arica is usually thought of as a brilliant location to watch sperm whales spending time just off the coast between December and February. These gigantic creatures of the sea also journey further south to the Norte Chico region and the picture-perfect settings of Islas Damas, Chanaral and Choros. However, a recent push to preserve and protect the natural habitats of the bottlenose dolphins in the area, as well as showcasing the region’s biodiversity, has led to the possibility of new tourist excursions.

A number of dolphin tours already exist in Arica but none specialize in promoting the mammal’s care and preservation — conservation groups and biologists from Universidad de Tarapacá are looking to change this. Anchovies provide dolphins with much of their required nutrition but industrial fishing practices are harming Arica’s Cetacean population. Scientists therefore want to raise awareness by showing locals and tourists what can be done to help.

“The northern part of Chile is characterized by intense pelagic fish species, mainly anchovy,” environmental scientist Renato Briceño told La Tercera. “Dolphins are attracted to boats fishing in the area and have been known to become disorientated, eventually getting caught up in the nets and dying.”

As a result, Briceño and a team of scientists, together with the help of Chile’s Navy, have been tracking the coastline and gathering information in a bid to better understand the habitats and lives of the dolphins in the region.

“Our goal is to chart the information and publish it in an educational text so the community can learn how to protects it, while gaining further knowledge of Arica’s biodiversity,” said Briceño.

Not all fishermen are to blame and those who operate small boats and fish using traditional methods, such as 61-year-old Horacio Andrade, take great pleasure from witnessing the dolphins on a regular basis.

“I have spent my life at sea and have seen everything,” he told La Tercera. “Sometimes I see 10 or 20 dolphins together in search of anchovy.”

Andrade also explained he was not surprised local dolphin watching authorities have started closely monitoring the mammal’s behaviour given they are such an important part of Arica’s marine wildlife.

Visitors don’t even need to take to boats to view the dolphins as they often swim as close as 60 meters to the shoreline, regularly entertaining those on the beach. Orcas and long-finned pilot whales have also been spotted off Arica’s coast so tourists in search of friendly mammals may well be in for a surprise.