Dolphins of Sataya

This is my dolphin story.

Everybody loves dolphins, but still, they can get further down under your skin and then you just love them even more. This happened to me after having an amazingly close encounter with a large pod of dolphins on one of the trips with Alex Mustard into the south Red Sea. We were lucky and in general, on all of these trips, there’s been great opportunities at Sataya Reef to enjoy their company.

For more dolphin photos take a look at my Dolphins and Whales gallery.

Spinner Dolphins

Spinner Dolphins are small, fast, and unpredictable.

The reason why they are called Spinner Dolphins is that they love to show off crazy acrobatics by spinning along their body length in water. But also in the air, up to 3 meters high.

They are carnivores and feed on small animals such as fish, squid, and shrimp. In general, they have a daytime and night-time routine. Feeding takes place mostly in the deep open waters, at night, while shallows in the day are for resting and fun.

They love sandy bottoms, against which they can visually detect the approach of a predator.

Dolphins sleep differently than humans as their breathing has to be done consciously and it has been observed that they sleep with one half of their brain alert while the other rests. So while they sleep, they also swim slowly and surface regularly to breathe.


All dolphins have a special hearing system that allows them to utilize sounds to “see” or determine the size, shape, density, texture, movement, and position of objects. Being able to hear frequencies 10 times the upper limit of humans is how they can do it. Practically, they use their tell-tale clicks which travel long distances and bounce off of objects. This is in general how sonar works which is used in submarines and other marine vehicles.

Additionally, dolphins will slap the surface of the water to communicate with other dolphins that there is food, danger, or that the school is moving somewhere new.


They live in large pods, from a few dozen to more than a thousand. The pod is important since these dolphins live in open and loose social organizations, typically family groups that reflect by grouping in pods when we see them around. It is not uncommon for them to travel and feed with other species such as tunas, humpback whales, and other dolphins.

Sataya Reef

Marsa Alam has two of the most important dolphin habitats in the Red Sea and the world. Samadai Reef, more commonly known as Dolphin House as well as the more remote but equally if not more important Sataya Reef. They are both homes to large families of spinner dolphins. These are locations where most of the people are snorkeling and not scuba diving in case you just want to hang out with dolphins.

Sataya Reef or Shaab Sataya, also known as the Dolphin Reef, is located at the south-eastern tip of the Fury Shoal diving area off Marsa Alam. The reef has a very specific oval shape and is more than 2km long. The reef features a huge coral lagoon with a resident pod of dolphins that are there all around the year.

Time for some action

Last time when at Sataya, it was a good 2 hours waiting for them to show up and then they finally did show up. It all started normal with a preparation, take off strobes, setting ISO to Auto, Shutter Priority at 1/500. And then waiting. And waiting. We launched RIB to go look for them. 15minutes. 30minutes. And finally, they came back to the reef. We quickly went to RIB and started approaching the pod. RIB operator took us straight into the pod and we were ready for the action. 3–2–1 … and I rolled myself into the water with a camera in my hands.

I actually rolled off directly in front of a huge pod of Spinner Dolphins heading toward me. And then a surge of emotions hit me. Chaos. Shock. Happiness. At that very moment, my brain switched to “camera operator mode” and I started looking for good shots.

It was unbelievable. Amazing. Like on NatGeo, just live and with me in it :-).

After we were done and started heading back to the boat I had put the greatest smile ever on my face, I still remember that moment well.

Interesting Facts

1. Dolphins are very intelligent. They are as smart as apes, and the evolution of their larger brains is very similar to humans.

2. The Killer Whale (Orca) is just a big dolphin.

3. Dolphins are extremely social. They live in larger groups where they hunt and play together.

4. Largest pods can go beyond a thousand members.

5. Images of dolphins have been found carved into the desert city of Petra, Jordan (Petra was established as early as 312 BC).

6. The blowhole of a dolphin is an adapted nose that has moved to the top of its head.

7. Dolphin sonar is the best and superior to bats sonar and man-made sonar.

Key Takeaways

If you would like to get some images of Spinner Dolphins, think about these things:

1. Sataya or Dolphin Reef in The Red Sea is a place where they can be found very often.

2. Please look dolphins in the eye and see for yourself that they are not just animals and that there is a high capacity for brain-crunching data in the background and thinking about you.

3. They are very fast so make sure you use very fast shutter speed to get sharp images.

4. Since you will limit yourself to a fast shutter speed in terms of exposure, consider using Auto ISO if your camera supports this option.

5. Get your fitness into shape a bit since taking close images of Spinner Dolphins requires some amount of fitness in terms of both swimming and free diving.

6. When swimming close to them, be loud and attract them to yourself since they tend to stick with “interesting ” people more.

The Cove

The Cove is an Academy Award® Winner for “Best Documentary of 2009” about the treatment of dolphins in Japan.

A team of activists, filmmakers, and freedivers embark on a covert mission to expose a deadly secret hidden in a remote cove in Taiji, Japan. By utilizing state-of-the-art techniques, they uncover a horrible annual tradition of unparalleled cruelty. A provocative mix of investigative journalism, eco-adventure, and arresting imagery makes this an unforgettable and courageous story that inspires outrage and action.


This article is also published on Medium.