After 50 Years, Dolphins Return to Lisbon

Dolphin watching brings happiness to the Portuguese.

Aug 5, 2020

Nature is coming out to play in Portugal. That’s because pods of dolphins are visiting Lisbon, a seemingly new destination for this playful mammal. Watching a family of dolphins leaping in the water is putting smiles on the faces of the Portuguese. 

Lisbon is home to the Tagus, a 600-mile-long river that flows into the Atlantic just outside the Portuguese capital. Dolphins, who usually swim in the deep sea, enjoy exploring the Tagus River.

A pod of 20 common dolphins, first spotted in the river on February 28, brought their friends, with many dolphins now seen swimming in the waters. Other marine life that are also seen here include bottlenose dolphins, orcas, sperm whales, and fin whales.

Marine biologist Francisco Martinho, who is a dolphin specialist, writes on Lisbon Dolphins that the dolphins swim some 25 miles up the river, then return to the ocean. He explains that they like to swim in deep areas, and the Tagus, the deepest river in a 1,200-mile radius, is an ideal choice. This river reaches depths of up to 200 feet.

Although some attribute the dolphins’ new appearance to the fact that the waters are quiet, Martinho says it is all about fish. Dolphins feed on sardines and mackerel, and with so many fish to be caught in the rushing outflow of the Tagus River, dolphins are having their fill.

Martinho tells of old Portuguese folklore recalling dolphins swimming off the coast of Lisbon as far back as the 16th century. Dolphins were also featured in paintings from this era. Although they have been spotted over the centuries, they have not been sighted since the 1970s. That is, until now.

The dolphins are creating lots of excitement in Lisbon and one organization is ensuring they get the respect they deserve. ECCO Ocean Educational Research Center, operated by scientists from Lisbon, aims to protect the ocean species as well as educate the public. The founder was inspired by the children’s book and animated TV show, “The Magic School Bus.”

True to “The Magic School Bus” style, he operates nautical tours to watch the dolphins. Tours educate the public in biology, geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, oceanography, and prehistory. The dolphins, of course, are the main focus and inspiration.

ECCO’s dolphin research is subsidized by the revenue of these tours. Although tours stopped for a few months, Tourism Portugal recently gave ECCO Ocean the green light to reopen. Lisbon Dolphins, the tourism arm of ECCO Ocean, now takes people out in their open “magic boats” that comply with recommendations from the Directorate-General for Health.

The people of Lisbon are now able to see these incredibly intelligent animals up close as the pods frolic in the water. And since these playful mammals are making daily appearances, they are bringing Portuguese folklore back to life.

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NICOLE NATHAN BEM, CONTRIBUTOR
Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.