Understanding the Spinner Dolphins at Home in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

  • Pedro Paulo Capelossi
  • 5 February 2010

Every year, people travel to Fernando de Noronha, a group of islands off the coast of Brazil, to meet some of the archipelago’s most famous residents: spinner dolphins.

Giving It a Spin

The spinner dolphin is a tropical oceanic dolphin that lives in groups numbering three to more than two thousand individuals. Of the 37 different dolphin species, it is the third most abundant in the world and is named for its tendency to shoot out of the water and complete as many as seven rotations whilst airborne.

The dolphins usually surface during boat rides, showing off their acrobatics skills as they leap out of the water and putting on a real show. The stunts they perform are more than simply fun; they’re an important form of signalling, drawing the attention of the boat, which, in turn, protects the rest of the pod from potential predators. The communication system consists of different types of jumps and beats made with the body on the surface of the water, producing turbulence when the dolphin completes its dive.

The daily routine for the spinner dolphins in Fernando de Noronha involves feeding, primarily during the night, followed by a morning relocating to the appropriately named Dolphins Bay. They arrive in the bay at sunrise and depart for various feeding areas in the afternoon.

Seeing and Understanding through the Spinner Dolphin Project

Dolphins Bay (Baia dos Golfinhos), located off Sancho Beach, is a top destination for dolphin spotters. The bay’s waters are the calmest and deepest in the entire archipelago, ranging from 0 to 25 metres but averaging about 15 meters in the centre. The floor of the bay is composed predominantly of volcanic sands with scattered rocks and can be accessed by a single trail that offers a good vantage point from which to observe the activities of the spinner dolphins. One ideal point from which to observe Dolphins Bay is Dolphin Lookout, set 55 metres above sea level. It can be reached via a one-kilometre-long walking trail that begins in a parking lot at Sancho Bay.

Sancho Bay, on Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, has what many consider to be one of the county's 10 best beaches

Sancho Bay, on Fernando de Noronha, has what many consider to be one of the county's 10 best beaches

Early in the morning is the best time to visit. Between 5:30am and 8am the dolphins can be seen entering the bay, sometimes engaging in communication activity. Monday through Saturday, from 5:30am until one hour after the last dolphin leaves the bay, researchers from the Spinner Dolphin Project (Projeto Golfinho Rotador) are on hand to help visitors understand the dolphins’ behaviours. They explain the importance of Dolphins Bay by answering questions, giving information and providing binoculars for a closer look (usually available from 7am).

The Spinner Dolphin Project was established in 1990 and strives to develop environmental awareness in the local population, train local teenagers to work in ecotourism, promote research of the natural history and behaviour of dolphins in Fernando de Noronha, study the interaction of the dolphins with nautical tourism, propose standards for the preservation of spinner dolphins and propose and implement actions aimed at conserving the area in general.

It is a wide-reaching partnership that includes the Aquatic Mammal Centre, which is a specialised centre for the study of marine fauna, the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation and the Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment. The centre is a non-governmental environmental organisation of Fernando de Noronha and is sponsored by the Petrobras oil company.

The spinner dolphin is common to the waters of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, and most famous for its acrobatic displays. Some have been seen completing 14 spinning jumps one after another.

The spinner dolphin is common to the waters of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, and most famous for its acrobatic displays. Some have been seen completing 14 spinning jumps one after another.

Local Tourism Involvement

Trip Noronha, my locally based tour company, interacts often with the Spinner Dolphins Project. We make every effort to promote their admirable initiatives whenever we can. My experience as a dive instructor has been utilised by the programme on several occasions to help maintain buoys in Dolphins Bay. As Fernando de Noronha is well known as a diver’s paradise and many of our tours use dive sites near Dolphins Bay, visitors need to know the correct way to behave underwater near dolphins. Our tour guides are therefore responsible for educating guests about these beautiful animals, not only for the sake of safety but also to increase awareness of the dolphins and the issues they face.

We are thrilled to have the resources of the Spinner Dolphin Project in Fernando de Noronha dedicated to actively spreading knowledge about the correct way to coexist with this amazing species. In the future, I hope to see more organisations such as this one becoming active the length of the northeastern coast of Brazil since the spinner dolphins are free roaming and should be protected in all of their habitats.


For more information about the Spinner Dolphin Project in Brazil and anything else in Fernando de Noronha, including accommodations, tours, activities and lots of insider tips, contact your local whl.travel connection: Pedro Capelossi and the team from Trip Noronha.


Visit the whl.travel Flickr photostream for a set of more pictures of Fernando de Noronha, including a previous Photo of the Week of eagle spotted rays.


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animal conservation, Brazil, local knowledge, marine conservation, oceans & reefs, South America,

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