Dolphins in Thailand

Dolphins Species in Thailand and Similan islands

Diving with dolphins is one of the most amazing experience a diver can have, even swimming or snorkeling with these creatures can be almost life changing. The impacts are so profound that contact with dolphins is even used in some therapeutic applications. Luckily, when visiting Thailand there are plenty of opportunities for dolphin encounters – Thai waters are rich in marine life and have a healthy population of various species of dolphin.
Dolphin species in Thailand
Thailand is definitely blessed when it comes to dolphins; there are several species of dolphins native to Thai waters and some of them are even incredibly rare.

What’s the difference between dolphins and porpoises?
Dolphins and porpoises are both quite similar and very intelligent.
There is 32 dolphin species and only 6 porpoise species worldwide.

  • The main difference comes down to their faces, dolphins have elongated “beaks” and con-shaped teeth while porpoises have spades-shaped teeth and smaller mouths.
  • Dolphins body tens to be leaner and the dorsal fin hooked or curved.
  • Porpoises have more bulky bodies and triangle shaped dorsal fin.
  • Another difference , this time in behavior is that dolphins are also more talkative than porpoises.

Source: NOAA

The Common dolphin

The Common dolphin Although the name may suggest otherwise, this is not the species of dolphin that most people have in mind. The ‘common’ dolphin in most people’s mind is a Bottlenose dolphin thanks to the television series Flipper. The Common dolphin is the most populous around the world, and is a relatively small dolphin. It was abundant in the Mediterranean and is heavily depicted in Roman and Greek art.
The Spinner dolphin
The second most famous of all the dolphins, the Spinner dolphin gets its name from it tendency to leap out of the water and perform acrobatic manoeuvres. They are small by dolphin standards and are found in offshore tropical waters around the world.

The False Killer whale

The False Killer whaleAs its name suggests, this dolphin resembles a killer whale although they are unrelated. They are one of the largest type of cetaceans, with females reaching 5.1 meters and males hitting a whopping 6.1 meters, and weigh as much as 2,200 kg. They are not frequently encountered but do have a large habitat range around the globe in tropical and semitropical waters. They are known for mass beaching events, where sadly many individuals have perished. Of more interest, which demonstrates how closely they are linked to dolphins, one mated with a bottlenose dolphin in captivity, and produced a fertile calf. This hybrid was named wholphin.

Fraser’s dolphin

Fraser’s dolphin One of the smallest of all dolphins, reaching only 1 meter long, it is also known as the Sarawak dolphin. It lives in the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, but also has some populations in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Because of its habitat preference it is rarely encountered by divers and snorkelers. They are so infrequently seen that the first complete body of a Fraser’s dolphin was not discovered till 1971, when one washed ashore on the Cocos Island.

The Humpback dolphin

The Humpback dolphin Another seldom seen dolphin due to its habitat, this relatively large dolphin grows to between 1.8 and 2.6 meters. As its name suggests it is characterized by a hump in front of its dorsal fin. They are a dull white color from their snout to their tail, while their sides are dark grey, and the stomachs are a lighter grey. A much lighter colored cousin of this dolphin encountered in Chinese waters is the Chinese white dolphin.

The Rough-toothed dolphin

The Rough-toothed dolphin This large dolphin inhabits quite a large range globally, with populations in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans. It can also be found in the Mediterranean. Adults reach between 2 to 3 meters, and can be distinguished by a pronounced dorsal fin. They are often misidentified with spinner, bottlenose, and spotted dolphins. They seem to be a purely pelagic species and sightings are invariably far offshore, beyond the continental shelf, in water that are at least 1,000 meters deep.

The Fin-less Porpoise

The Fin-less Porpoise These small creatures are native to Asia, and are regularly seen in shallow coastal waters. Although they can reach up to 2.27 meters in length, the vast majority are much smaller. They are very active swimmers and can be found in the mouths and estuaries of rivers, they are also known to have inhabited mangroves.

The Irrawaddy dolphins

Irrawaddy Dolphin Arguably the most famous of all dolphins found in Thailand. The Irrawaddy Dolphins are often referred to as pink river dolphins due to their color and the fact that they seem to inhabit rivers. This is not quite true since they are Oceanic dolphins that prefer to live in the waters near river mouths and estuaries. They are famous due to some unique behavior they exhibit. Traditional fishermen have co-operated with Irrawaddy dolphins, whereby the dolphins would drive fish into the fishermen’s nets and then would grab some of the discarded fish. These dolphins are considered to be critically endangered, due to the many threats and encroachment of their habitat.


If seeing dolphins is one of your dreams and you can’t wait to tick encountering dolphins off your bucket list, then Thailand has got to be one of the places you need to visit. Even if you are planning a regular visit, you should seriously consider adding a dolphin sightseeing trip to your itinerary.

What about Thai Dolphin Parks?

We do not like at all dolphin parks or any kinds or marine life enclosed space aquariums. Unfortunately, there are plenty of dolphin parks and aquariums in and around Thailand, particularly in the tourist oriented south area of the country. Although they have different care standards and stated aims, whether you choose to visit one or not is up to you but we would recommend you not too, these beautiful dolphins deserve to be in the wild and not a money making machine for greedy humans.

Should I visit a Dolphin Park?

This is a difficult question and has multi-faceted aspects. There is the ethical question of whether it is acceptable to keep animals as large and intelligent in captivity. In addition, you should consider whether the animals are kept in safe and good conditions with plenty of space to move and explore. The final thing you should consider is the treatment the animals receive at the hands of their handlers – are they forced and coerced to perform in shows? Overall, there are very few dolphin parks in the whole world that have great standards for their captives, so it is best to not support any such establishments.

Where is the best place to go to see dolphins?

Dolphins can be encountered in all Thai waters. However, there seems to be a better chance of encountering dolphins when diving in the waters off the east coast of Thailand. There are regular encounters in the waters around Kho Samui and Kho Tao. For encounters with pink dolphins there is no better place than Khanom, a small town located northeast of Phuket. In the water around the town with its river mouth and estuary there are quite a few dolphins to be found.

What to do if I encounter a dolphin during a dive?

Encountering a dolphin while diving can be a truly exhilarating experience, most divers can get overly excited and end up scarring the animal away or even placing themselves in jeopardy. The first rule to remember when you encounter a dolphin is to stay calm, and enjoy one of nature’s great experiences. The second thing is never to chase the dolphin or try to block its path. This will only serve to aggravate the animal and in all likelihood will make it leave, cutting your encounter short. A good idea is to stay still and let the dolphin control the encounter.