My Favourite Cetacean Encounter – 2010

I do have another Whale Tale that I would love to share, which is probably my favorite ever encounter with a cetacean.

It was actually with river dolphins in Cambodia.

And so I went to Cambodia when I was 19. I just booked a flight in my summer holiday from from university. I worked two jobs. And I knew I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t England. And so I ended up going to Cambodia with my my partner, Daniel, who’s still my partner. And then we, we’d read in our guidebook that you could see river dolphins at this place in Cambodia. And so we decided we’d go it was kind of, we’ve done a little bit of independent travel, but at 19 you know, it’s all it was all very overwhelmingly epic.

And so the journey to get to where the river dolphins were was supposed to just be a couple of bus rides that added up to about 10 hours. The last bus never showed up. And so the bus people, the company said, oh, we’ll put you in a taxi to get you to where the river dolphins are. The taxi they put us in was a normal five seater Toyota Camry, and there was eight adults in the Toyota Camry. I spent seven hours kind of pressed against the window and I was like, I really want to see these river dolphins! It really was a long way kind of from anywhere.

And I got to this place. And then we organized next morning to go before dawn to where the river dolphins were seen. And so we got a rickshaw really early in the morning to the riverbank, hired about just for ourselves. This was 2010 so the grand total to rent a boat for yourself and the driver was $8 US.

And so we headed out and we’d we picked the driver on the basis that we talked to a couple of them about how they would behave around the dolphins. And that was really important to me that I wanted to go out with somebody who at least understood the idea of being kind of, you know, responsible. And that’s difficult with the language barrier.

Luckily or not luckily the colonial language of that’s been imposed on Cambodia is French and I can speak French. So we managed to get somewhere with that. And we were the only people there.

So we had went out into the river. And I had decided if I saw one in the distance it would be a win. And then we went out to the kind of rapids where they were most often seen the driver cut the engine and immediately a group of three Irrawaddy dolphins appeared next to the boat, incredibly curious.

And I think you’re seeing dolphins in a few places at that point, but only ever in the sea or you think see dolphin and to see them in a river. You know, it was just incredible because it felt wrong.

But it was it was it was wonderful and the they were so calm it really natural behavior, very inquisitive. And I just think I just felt like I’ve won the lottery. This is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. And then a calf appeared and spy hopped, literally right next to me like obviously I wouldn’t, but I could have touched it if I wanted to.

And so the calf was, you know, is as interested in me as I was in it. And, you know, just Daniel and I and this lovely lad who was our driver who was incredibly respectful of the dolphins was also enjoying it and was telling me about how you know, he did this because he likes the dolphins, you know, all that kind of stuff. And it was just amazing. We had about an hour, sort of 40 minutes with the dolphins, we didn’t want to stay any longer than that. It was just us out in the middle of the Mekong River, completely silent and just dolphins all around the boat.

So that was the group of three and then the calf. And they were just so confident, so calm, and it was a pleasure, pleasure to to experience it.

And I think you know that that population has a lot of challenges that population in the Mekong River. And I’ve often thought a lot about what was the fate of that cough that I got, you know, they’ve they’ve had a difficult and you’re sort of the 13 years that have passed since I’ve been there. There have been lots of challenges. But a few weeks ago there there was a global River dolphin treaty was passed so countries with 11 countries came together to sign this kind of declaration of how they’re going to move forward with with protecting river dolphins this speak there’s sort of six extant species around the world. And so yeah, I feel like I can I can remember that as as a positive thing. Whereas often it’s come back to me and I’ve gotten older I almost don’t want to think about it in case either whatever, which may be the case but now it’s sort of like okay, there is hope again for the future and hopefully for river dolphins which are just weird things. They’re amazing, weird looking not going to win any contest but absolutely incredible. And just to experience them in that way was was really really magic.


This post was adapted from the 60th episode of the Whale Tales Podcast, listen here.

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