Discover the Mediterranean hot spots for dolphin and whale watching. Find out where you can see turtles swimming in the wild and maybe even join them.
Nature lovers will enjoy a Mediterranean yacht charter for the stunning scenery, but during the summer season there is the unexpected bonus of some spectacular marine life. We’ve selected the best places for you to spot dolphins, whales and turtles in the wild this summer.
Dolphins are not only the most Intelligent and sociable cetaceans in the Mediterranean, but they are also the easiest to find. Their penchant for jumping and playing will delight kids and adults alike.
Italy is a wonderful place to spot dolphins, with the highest concentration of them in the Ligurian Sea, the east coast of Sicily and the Gulf of Taranto in the Ionian Sea. The latter is one of the best “feeding grounds” in the world where the dolphins breed well and enjoy chasing boats.
They can also be spotted from the deck of a Sardinia yacht charter in the Golfo Aranci, close to the glamorous Costa Smeralda.
Spain is another great place for dolphin-watching, particularly in the Balearic Islands where they swim alongside boats and can be seen in coastal coves. Species found in Mallorca include the common dolphin, Risso’s dolphin (easily recognised by its unusual scratched, scarred skin), the bottlenose dolphin, and the white-sided dolphin.
The bottlenose dolphin is a common sight in the Aegean Sea and justifiably popular since it is one of the most acrobatic and playful dolphins in Europe. The large (up to 4 metres) grey animals will happily frolic in the bow wave of your yacht, following or diving underneath the boat. The striped dolphin is the most prevalent type of dolphin and particularly at home in deep water. It gets its name from black stripe along its body and is very gregarious, swimming in large groups and making frequent leaps out of the water.
Dolphins can generally be found everywhere in the Mediterranean from the French Riviera to Turkey, but it’s important to note that you should wait for them to come to you. The boat motor should be switched off or maintained in neutral and you shouldn’t stay with them for longer than 30 minutes at a time. It’s also important not to feed them or try to touch them.
The Mediterranean is not typically considered a whale watching hot spot, so you might be surprised to learn that there are eight different species of whale. The most famous of these include pilot whales, sperm whales and even killer whales.
The Strait of Gibraltar and the coast of Tarifa are ideal places to seek long-finned pilot whales on your next Balearic yacht charter. It is also the best place to see killer whales, a beloved family favourite recognisable to everyone. Killer whales chase the fishing boats around Tarifa in search of tuna throughout the summer, and they are spotted in the Strait in late August as the tuna starts to migrate back across the Atlantic.
Spain is one of the best places in Europe to see cetaceans in the wild, but to see the most diverse selection, head to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean where 30 species can be found in waters that reach depths of 2,500 metres. Tenerife is the best spot to see sperm whales because the deep sea is abundant in their favourite snack, giant squid.
Elsewhere, you can spot the 20m fin whale in the Ligurian Sea between the Italian Riviera and Corsica in the summer. The fin whale is the second largest animal that has ever lived on our planet (after the blue whale), so it is a real privilege to see them up close. They can also be spotted in the Peloponnese in Greece and elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean where as many as 2,000 of these whales live on a diet of krill (tiny shrimp). A top tip is to look for pilot whales, which can be distinguished by a visible, black, balloon-shaped head. These whales often swim near to much larger species, and if you see one there’s a strong chance you’ll also see much larger whales nearby.
To summarise, these are the main hot spots for whales in the Mediterranean:
- Strait of Gibraltar
- Andalucian Coast, Spain
- Ligurian Sea, Italy/Corsica
- Peloponnese, Greece
Turtle conservation is big news in the Mediterranean where rampant tourist development and net-fishing still threaten populations. The best places to find sea turtles is off the coasts of Greece and Turkey where they have lived for millions of years and are contemporaries of the earliest dinosaurs.
Iztuzu Beach in South-west Turkey is a narrow strip of sand separating the Dalyan River from the Mediterranean. It has been aptly named “Turtle Beach” since it is one of the main breeding grounds for loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) and has been protected for almost 30 years as a response to continued attempts to develop tourist resorts on the beach. The landscape of a river delta meeting the sea amid the mountains is worth visiting alone but the turtles make it all the more special.
The Kaptan June Turtle Sea Turtle Conservation Foundation has a done a great job of creating an eco-tourist attraction that is educational and interesting for travellers of all ages. It provides a safe summertime nesting ground for the hatchlings to make their moonlit journey to the sea guided by the glimmering reflection of the stars on the water. At one end of the bay, there is a sanctuary for injured turtles. Further along the coast, you may find yourself swimming amongst turtles in shallow waters like Oludeniz lagoon near Fethiye.
The same species of loggerheads can be spotted in Zakynthos, Greece. The turtles have large heads with a horny beak that is thicker than other sea turtles and are a golden brown colour. Most of the turtles are located across the bay of Laganas, which extends from the end of Cape Vassilikos to the end of Keri Cape. Turtles swim in the shallow water of the bay and you can watch from a boat. The best chance to see them is during June and July when they breed, but since they swim underwater and emerge at intervals of 2-45 minutes, luck plays a part in how many you’ll see.