Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kayaking with Irrawaddy dolphins

What an amazing experience. I did not think we could pull it off but we did. A couple of months back, thanks to Kenny, I came across FH20’s Kuching Kayak. The first thing that struck me was that FH20 hangs out in the same rivers and estuaries that I do. He paddles a kayak whilst I sit in a boat and watch dolphins, but both of us enjoy the same rivers, creeks and estuaries. And both of us have somewhat obscure hobbies.

It took me all of 2 seconds to realise what I wanted to do - combine our hobbies and go kayaking with Irrawaddy dolphins. From reading his blog I knew FH20 would be up for it. Thing is we needed the weather on our side but this year’s wet season has dragged on for ever. So things were put on hold, until yesterday.

And it was worth the wait. My first dolphin watching trip of 2006 was one of the best dolphin watching trips I’ve ever had in Sarawak. Sitting in a kayak, bobbing around the Salak River, with Irrawaddy dolphins popping up all around the kayak, is dolphin watching heaven.

Four of us went on the trip, myself, FH20, Kenny and Peggy who works for WCS, an environmental NGO. We set off around 9 am from a small beach near Pasir Panjang and headed out to the mouth of the Santubong River where all the fishing boats were congregating. The fish were obviously there so maybe the dolphins were too. I asked a fisherman if he had seen any “pesut” and he said that they were near the other fishing boats. The boats were some distance away and we were about to head to a nearby beach when Peggy spotted a small group of dolphins heading towards us. They where heading upriver so we followed them into the Salak River, keeping our distance so as not to disturb them.

I was on a double kayak with FH20 so he did most of the paddling while I tried to get some shots. We ended up near Salak Island where more groups of dolphins started to appear. There were 4 or 5 groups of dolphins in the river. It was quite difficult to tell exactly how many groups there were as dolphins were surfacing all over the place.

As the dolphins were all round we just stopped in one area and the dolphins swam towards us. Being in a kayak, instead of a boat, offers a totally different dolphin watching experience from what I’m used to. For a start you are on the surface of the water rather than a few metres above the water so you get a real different take on things. The “blow” of the dolphins is also much loader as you are closer to the water.

And you can get close, or more to the point the dolphins get close to you. I was a bit concerned about how to approach the dolphins in a kayak; I didn’t want to harass them so we paddled parallel to the dolphins, keeping our distance. The beauty of being in a kayak is that once you get near the dolphins, you can just stop paddling and let the dolphins come to you. There is no propeller noise, just silence and after a while the dolphins start to come closer to the kayak.

At the time I thought this would mean I’d get some great photos. But trying to photo an Irrawaddy dolphin from a kayak is not easy. When you watch dolphins from a boat you can move around the boat to take photos if the dolphins surface behind you or to your side. I tried to do this on the kayak, by twisting my body to the side to photograph the dolphins. Big mistake, FH20 quickly said ‘no, you’ll topple us over’. I didn’t think of that, I was too excited.

We were pretty lucky to see so many dolphins, maybe 20-25 in total, all swimming around in the same section of the river. To be able to kayak with them was great. What an amazing day on the river.


FH2O said...

Thank you Wayne!

This has been one of the most exciting and amazing kayaking experience I'd ever had! I'm now really hooked - line n sinker; and I really look forward to our next trip for another encounters with these amazing mammals! Thanks again Wayne for 'introducing' 'em to me! I feel so blessed and I'm truly grateful! Life is Sweet! :)

pesut said...

Good to have another Irrawaddy dolphin enthusiast in Kuching to spread the word. I look forward to our next trip, maybe we could try our luck with the finless porpoises at another location near Kuching.

FH2O said...

Now, now, now Pesut please don't get me going here! I'm excited enough already as it is over the irrawaddy dolphins!

Finless porpoises? Just say when! Anything else can wait! ;)

Hijackqueen said...

Do you know that Pangkor also can spot Dolphine? Lots of them. Anyway, nice discovery.

pesut said...

I did not know about Pangkor specifically but dolphins are found at various sites in Malaysia. As far as I aware Sarawak is the only place where there are commercial dolphin watching tours. I may be wrong. I've been to Pangkor Laut, beautiful place. I saw more hornbills there in one day than I've seen in Sarawak in 10 years. Kinda weird this being the land of the hornbills.

Anonymous said...

Hi wayne, saw kenny's blog and came across his entry on dolphin sightings at sarawak.. this is so cool. I love dolphins alot! Do hope to visit sarawak and see the dolphins myself. I would like to be in the dolphin loop, if any :)


Anonymous said...

Hey Wayne, I came across your blog after reading Kenny's.

I am planning to head for Kuching soon, and am interested in seeing the dolphins. Was wondering how did you guy get the kayaks? Is there a place to rent them?

pesut said...

You can rent kayaks from Francis at Kuching Kayak. Details at Its better to go on an organised trip, if you go on your own chances are slim that you will see dolphins. If you come over to Kuching email me at Cheers