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In Search of dolphins in Taiwan
2004 & May 2005
The whale watching season in eastern Taiwan runs from May to October. We encountered pan-tropical spotted dolphins, Risso’s dolphins and spinner dolphins during our first whale watching trip in the east coast. Some of the groups were so large that we just couldn’t tell how many there were, but we estimated that the pod reached as many as 200 individuals.
The waves in the vast Pacific Ocean which lies off Hualien, ran much higher than that of Hong Kong. As a typhoon happened to pass by the outer waters, the waves reached as high as one or two storey when it hit on the sea wall. Our boat was rocking fiercely in the sea and the horizon was nowhere to be found.
After an hour’s torture in the big waves, there came our long awaited dolphin friends. Small groups of dolphins appeared from afar and leaped out in synchrony. A streamlined body appeared next to our boat and come for a bow ride with amazing agility, just like what you see in documentaries. From the pattern on the body and a white tip on the beak, I can tell they are the pan-tropical spotted dolphins.


While everyone was paying full attention to the spotted dolphins, a manta ray appeared. According to our whale-watching guide, it is rare to find manta ray swimming right next to a boat. And that was only the second time she saw that.

In the afternoon, we found a small group of round-headed Risso’s dolphins nearby. From the dark grey colour, I could tell they were a pod of young adults as the older ones usually bear more white scars. Another characteristic about this dolphin is that they have a tall dorsal fin which could be spotted easily from a distance.
risso_1 risso_2
After a while, a slim body suddenly spinned up from the water at high speed and fell back into water with a big splash. No doubt, they must be the spinner dolphins! This incredible somersault which does not follow any law of physics, is very typical of the spinner dolphins. Even world champions of high board diving cannot be compared to them. We then found ourselves surrounded by groups and groups of spinner dolphins and we were all busy looking at different directions. The spinner dolphin “show” was really amazing!

Why are there so many cetacean species at Hualien?
The high diversity is attributable to the complex interaction between the coastal waters and the warm Kuroshio Current from the tropics, resulting in a highly productive ecosystem where an abundance of nutrients has attracted a lot of fish, and hence dolphins and whales.
Apart from the spotted dolphins, Risso’s dolphins and spinner dolphins mentioned above, other cetacean species recorded included Fraser’s dolphins, melo-headed whale, sperm whale, orca, false killer whale, bottlesnose dolphin and short-finned pilot whale. Yet, it is more common to see smaller cetaceans in this place.

Dolphin watching information at Hualien (2004 and 2005)
Tour: roughly TWD1,000 (Discounted for the tourism year: TWD800, roughly HKD190)
Website:http://www.turumoan.com.tw/ (Chinese only)
Itinerary: roughly three hours (briefing and transport in the first half and hour)
Transportation: From Hong Kong to Taipei by flight (~ 1 hour 15 minutes); Get on domestic flight to Hualien from SonShan Airport (~ 40 minutes, airticket from TWD 1100 to 1500) or by train from Taipei to Hualien (~ 3 hours, ticket around TWD445)

NB. I went to Taiwan again in 2005 for dolphin watching at both Ilan and Hualien. Iland lies between Taipei and Hualien on the train route. I encountered some not very active spinner dolphins at Iland. I then went to Hualien. I saw less dolphins this time, probably because of the earthquake. But I still encountered some spinner dolphins and shy Fraser’s dolphins.