Since 1995, Angie Gullan has been sharing the magical wonder of coming face to face with wild and free dolphins, pioneering the way in ethical, educational and responsible practice for tours with these sentient non-human persons whom she calls the "people of the sea."
Dolphin Encountours was born on the 28 December 1994, the day founders Angie & Steve Gullan came face to face with wild Dolphins. A mother and calf suspended in crystal blue hung motionless in the water, time stood still as tears flowed in acknowledgment and awe.
Founders returned often to Ponta whilst scuba diving and soon saw the potential that arose for creating a sustainable and education wild dolphin encounter program.
An initial baseline pilot study was undertaken to assess the frequency of cetaceans in the area and this was done by bringing regular tours to Ponta. Early visits found guests accommodated in post-war campsite chalets on the beach (there was nothing else) and encountours were facilitated out of the ‘luxury chalets’ that included five boat tours and pre-training in the way of a snorkelling course and dolphin friendly swim guidelines adopted from the International Dolphin Watch and adapted to the African coastline.
Everything had to be brought from Johannesburg, S. Africa - there was simply nothing available. We be-chased a special tv with built in vHs tape player to show dolphin movies - In the wild with Robin Williams had just been released and was standard viewing one night. Books we had managed to accumulate on dolphins and whales were available on loan to tour participants as was snorkelling gear and of course the food and drinks, most notably the prawns!!! Yes, we were in Mozambique and there were no LM prawns available down south… Ponta do Ouro was basically cut off after the war….
After a successful two year period founders could confirm regular sightings of bottlenose dolphins; a sheltered bay to facilitate in-water encounters thought the year and a want from the public to encounter wild dolphins. It was with this in mind, in 1997 that they approached campsite management and were able to obtain beachfront property to establish a permanent base that would later simply be referred to as DOLPHIN - a 40 bed beach camp with restaurant, bar, surf shop and educational dolphin center where guests would stay and participate in a 3 night 5 launch dolphin encountour.
Much has changed since dolphin and diving pioneers explored the southern shores of Mozambique during the early 1990’s. The local population was friendly and eager to rebuild Ponta do Ouro to its former pre-war glory and early visitors to the area welcomed the quiet that Ponta offered. Although accommodation was a tent, with run-down ablution facilities and amenities that were few and far between, visitors enjoyed dining on peri peri – chicken and prawns that were available from the seaside caravan and were happy to exchange modern-day vices for pristine beauty and the chance to discover marine wonders. Rustically constructed Mozambicano-style dive camps soon developed within the campsite, catering to the fast growing dive industry.
During the early years Angie met with and presented to various governmental bodies on the concerns of a growing dolphin-tourism industry that was not managed. Together with Dr Almeida Guissamulo from the Natural History Museum in Maputo and students from the University Eduardo Mondalane the photo id project was born and studies started into impacts of dolphins tourism.
The DolphinCare code of conduct was presented and promoted to those wanting to swim with dolphins in the southern reaches of Mozambique as evidence was emerging on the longterm negative impacts of swimming with wild dolphins as presented here:
Operators were informed that because of the sensitivity of the animals the activity would, in time, be restricted as would the amount of dive concession as a way of protecting the delicate resources. This would be done by means of a marine protected area. At this stage only 1 dolphin operator (DERC) and 5 dive concessions (African Water Sports, Simply Scuba, Blue Dive, The Whaler and Planet Scuba) were permanent in Ponta do Ouro. It was suggested that this remain unchanged in light of further concessions operating in Malongane and Mamoli Bays.
The media lapped up the opportunity to film, photograph and write about our work & close relationship with the Dolphins of Ponta which at that stage was proudly advocated as the areas only dedicated wild dolphin swim center. People started arriving from far and wide and with ‘business being business’ operators within the area started to capitalise on this exposure. Tourists soon started arriving with jetskis and boats to come and ‘swim with the dolphins’. Sadly - everyone had missed the point and the pressure was on for the dolphins.
By the close of 2008 there were 8 multi activity operations that took people to swim with dolphins and double the amount of scuba diving operations. The inevitable had happened - regulations had not been put into place and tourism was on the increase. Boats and jet-skis were regularly sighted swimming with dolphins and whales and the activity was reaching un-sustainable levels. Rogue operators were aplenty and the area was heading for disaster. A partial marine protected area was proclaimed in 2009 as a way of managing the growing tourism activities within the delicate marine area.
Given the vast amount of data and imagery that was being accumulated, the project expanded to include the volunteer program that saw international biologists supervising and co-ordinating research and volunteer efforts. February 2010 welcomed Mozambican biologist Diana Rocha onto the team who is responsible for the upkeep of the Dolphins of Ponta fin ID program. We were also interviewed by Derek Watts and Carte Blanche that month and then in the June 2010 the unexpected happened.
The great fire of 2010 saw our facilities and Angie's home, The Whaler and Simply Scuba dive camps burned to the ground after an all encompassing fire broke out at the entrance of the landmark that was Dolphin. Everything was lost in all but 30 minutes. It is not known what started the fire that destroyed the facility and saw an end of an era in Ponta do Ouro.
This was a turning point for tourism in the area, a few short months after we had relocated to a small wooden shack in the middle of the village square, Somente Aqua Dolphin Swims and Scuba rebranded to the Dolphin Centre, creating confusion in the market place.
With the loss of 100’s of beds in the campsite, accommodation venues boomed which meant marine based tourism boomed too, bad news for our local dolphins. As the Reserve, in 2011 implemented regulations and a code of conduct; drawn from the original dolphincare code, a new industry was born, that of the ocean safari. With scuba operators no longer able to take tourists to swim with dolphins, they could still view - from 300m away and take guests snorkeling. This saw an increase of commercial vessels within the inshore coastal area frequented by local dolphins.
During June 2017 both Angie and Diana attended and presented at the World Whale Conference in Durban South Africa where responsible and ethical marine mammals tourism in the region was discussed.