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Chasing dolphins in Goa—with kindness

LiveMint logoLiveMint 26-05-2017 Chryselle D’Silva Dias

dolphins, Goa

The summer sky is not yet blue when my husband, our eight-year-old son and I set out for Chapora Bay. We’re on an early morning quest to go dolphin spotting. In nine years of living in Goa, we have consciously stayed away from this popular tourist attraction. On north Goa’s busy beach belt, hundreds of small boats line up during the season, from October-April, to take tourists on a 45-to-60-minute ride to spot humpback dolphins. From friends who have been on these trips, we’ve heard of how the boats chase the dolphins, play loud music, and dump empty water bottles and plastic wrappers overboard. We had no desire to add to this chaos.

Then we heard that a new company called Terra Conscious was offering eco-sensitive dolphin-watching trips and decided to try it out. It is run by Puja Mitra, who was a senior programme coordinator for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) India, managing the Goa State Marine Programme. The tour begins at Chapora, about 9km from the busy Calangute beach.

We join other guests at the Marina Bay Resort to watch a 20-minute presentation about dolphins, the three different kinds found around Goa’s coast, their habitats, sounds, and other things to watch out for while on a boat trip. As we wait for the tide to come in, we sip coffee and soak in the delicious quiet of the still-waking village. Mitra, a champion of Goa’s fragile marine ecology, tells us more about her dolphin conservation work, which extended to ensuring that their use in circuses and entertainment venues was banned.

We get on to the 16-seater fibreglass boat and motor out to calm open water. “Look out for gulls and for fishing trawlers,” Mitra says softly. “Where there are fish, there are dolphins.” Everybody looks around at the miles of clear water; even the children are engaged and eager. A few miles in, we spot a dolphin fin. Instead of gunning the engine, Maneck, who is driving the boat, switches it off and the boat idles quietly in the water. Undisturbed, the dolphin shows off for us in the distance, leaping gracefully between the waves. Then it wanders off after a nearby trawler. Despite our excitement, we keep noise levels down, reminded constantly by Mitra that the mammals have to “talk over” extraneous noise, which disorients them, to communicate.

We have breakfast at sea. Maneck passes around poi bread with feta and vegetables, hummus and baba ganoush, watermelon slices and lemonade. Once the dolphins have left, some of us put on life jackets and jump into the sea for a swim.

Once the swimmers have been coerced back on to the boat, the boat heads back— but not to shore. Instead, we stop at a sandbank where everybody gets out to collect garbage, leaving it clean for the gulls that huddle around this beautiful little curve in the middle of the water.

Back on shore, I think about the magnificent dolphins and the other treasures of Goa’s biodiversity that could become the state’s calling card, rather than the rampant, ill-managed tourism that is crippling coastal towns and villages. Mitra’s work with boat operators includes educating them on the possibilities of a profitable, yet sustainable tourist-related business that does not harm animals and the environment. As travellers we can contribute by choosing the right kind of tours.

The Terra Conscious tour costs Rs1,500 (10 years or more), Rs600 (6-10 years). There is no charge for younger children. Infants are not allowed on board for safety reasons.

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Travel smart

Terra Conscious: Watch the playful humpback dolphins on Puja Mitra’s eco-sensitive trips

Wild Otters: Follow the trail of smooth-coated and Asian small-clawed otters in Goa with this unique conservation group.

Koi Asian Dining: This sustainable restaurant has LED bulbs, handwoven insulation for the roof, biodegradable disposal plates, metal straws, and a herb garden.

Canopy Goa: Spend a night at the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary; go on guided hikes, birding and herpetology trails with local experts.

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