From the moment Wildwatch’s boat, the Eco Explorer, leaves the Portimão Marina and heads out to sea, the excitement starts to build up onboard. The promise of interaction with dolphins, one of nature’s most intriguing creatures, resonates in the mind of both the passengers and the crew, leaving a feeling of anticipation that’s more akin to that of small children on Christmas Eve.

The passion with which the crew members speak and instruct the passengers about the dolphins or the wonders of the sea shows that this is not their job, it’s their life. André Dias, owner and founder of Wildwatch and also a skipper on the trips, started fishing at the tender age of 14. His connection to the ocean led him to study Marine Biology at university, while still carrying out activities onboard boats and working at various scientific tourism companies in Lagos and Portimão.

Having reached the end of his studies and wanting to pursue his passion, he successfully applied for the ProMar support programme to help him start his business, and since November of 2012, the owner has been working to make Wildwatch an innovative and more personal alternative to the competition.

Throughout the course of the trips, which cost between €35 and €65, he and his crew provide information about the different dolphins’ habits and patterns, as well as the natural characteristics of the Algarve coast. An example of one of these natural hidden wonders is the underwater Portimão fault line, which serves as a haven for sea life and attracts numerous species to its depths with its vibrant habitat.

Birds also play a part in the quest to find the dolphins. Most sea-birds are opportunists and take advantage of their flying abilities to swoop in on a dolphin’s hunt for fish and have a feast of their own. Therefore, they are sometimes used as “guides” to the location of the sea mammals. However, the sight of these birds may lead to some frustrating moments, when the hopes of a triumphant discovery are dashed by false alarms.

Throughout the trip, passengers may be surprised by the relaxed and informal atmosphere instilled by the crew. “It is easier to get the passengers’ attention and teach them about these fascinating animals and the sea if they’re surrounded by a friendly environment,” said André Dias. Rolf van der Lans, skipper on the Eco Explorer, had worked for 10 years for several other boat trip companies before joining André’s venture. Still, he believes there is something that makes Wildwatch stand out from the crowd. “I was faced with a decision which forced me to choose between remaining at my job or following my heart. I followed my heart.”

The genuine complicity and joy of the crew members puts on a show of its own and makes you feel at home, even when you’re nearly 30kms from the coast. Nevertheless, nothing can really compare to the excitement felt onboard when the first sign of a dolphin is sighted. The 12-seater boat abruptly changes its course and roars to the location, in the hope that the dolphins won’t be afraid of the vessel. Even more awe-inspiring is the fact that the dolphins welcome the visit. Almost racing the boat, the mammals accompany the Eco Explorer’s route at the same time as they show off their acrobatic skills. One could almost think these dolphins were trained to be entertainers, but it is just part of their natural playful personality.

Hoping to take the perfect picture of the wondrous creatures is an unmatched thrill and definitely justifies bringing along a camera for the ride. After a while of interacting with the animals, it’s time to return to shore. The Wildwatch dolphin-watching centre in Ferragudo is the final destination, but first, a quick stop is made at the Portimão Marina to hop aboard their casual ferryboat and take a relaxed trip to the small town. “I chose Ferragudo because I have lived here from a very young age. It has an authentic atmosphere like no other place I know and its fishing traditions are still very much alive. It is my home,” said André as the ferry reached his town.

At the centre, passengers can learn more about the trips they embarked on and the species they saw while being offered complimentary beverages and typical regional treats in the process. The crew also displays the videos captured on the journey, showing the underwater perspective of what was just experienced out in the deep blue sea, alongside an environmental instructional presentation. But there’s far more to Wildwatch than just dolphin watching. Although the company shines the spotlight on its dolphin watching, shark diving, coastal trips and bottom fishing are available, as are try dives and many other trips, making the company a versatile option for sea lovers.

Also available is a ferryboat service, in partnership with the restaurant O Sueste, which connects the two banks of the Arade river from 9am to 11pm, or 2am if reservations are made beforehand (€3 for a one-way trip and €5 for a return trip). Clients of the restaurant and children up to 12 can use the service free of charge.

Prices for activities start at €10. www.wildwatch.pt

Author: Inside Carvoeiro

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