Whale Watching: Ataúro as a Whale Heritage Site

Ombai-Wetar Strait Designated Whale Heritage Candidate Site

The Strait of Ombai-Wetar spans the critically important and biodiverse waters of Indonesia and Timor-Leste. It represents a critical corridor for the migration of cetacean species. The area is a part of a protected site that the government has committed to support on the “Atauro Island Sustainable Tourism Strategy”.  Timor-Leste and Ataúro have been very active in forging protected areas both on land and sea, protecting a vast array of creatures and communities that span these spaces. 

One of the greatest recent achievements for Timor-Leste was thanks in part to the Asosiasaun Turizmu Koleku Mahanak Ataúro (ATKOMA)’s recent application to designate Ataúro Island and the Ombar-Wetar Strait as a Whale Heritage Site. The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) recently designated us as an official candidate Whale Heritage Site. This significant achievement speaks to the destination’s work in ensuring sustainable dolphin and whale watching tourism. In this blog we will highlight what kind of animals can be seen in the waters of Ataúro, the conservation efforts we are pursuing to protect them, and showcase several ATKOMA members offering whale and dolphin tours for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Whale Watching in Ataúro 

whale watching conservation heritage

With the most diverse waters in the world, Ataúro is a perfect place for spotting whales and dolphins. Every year from September to December, the island becomes a paradise for cetacean lovers that come from around the world for a chance to watch and swim with the whales. Some of the whale species that can be spotted on our waters are

  • Short-finned Pilot Whales
  • Melon-headed Whales
  • Blue Whales
  • Beaked Whales
  • Humpbacks
  • Sei whale
  • Pygmy killer whale

Dolphin species observed in the region include Risso’s dolphin, Fraser’s dolphin, spotted dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, and spinner dolphin.

The diversity of cetacean species that pass by the island is due to the fact that during these months, the region converts into a “highway” for migrating whales. Every year we are blessed with the opportunity of spotting these rare magnificent whales that are, in many cases, endangered. This is a one-of-a-kind experience that you can live when visiting the island. 

whale watching conservation heritage

Other Whale Conservation Wins for Timor-Leste

Through living in this extremely biodiverse place that is Ataúro, we have learned to respect and care for the environment that surrounds us. For example, whales and dolphins are celebrated in Timorese festivals and folklore. This resulted in a high engagement in conservation projects aiming to protect the oceans. In 2019, the Ombai-Wetar Strait and waters of Ataúro Island also won designation as a Mission Blue Hope Spot. According to Mission Blue, the definition of a Hope Spot isspecial places that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean”. To be nominated as a Hope Spot is a big win as it represents a step further in marine protection. 


To be selected as a Hope Spot, Ataúro had to demonstrate it met a number of criteria, such as abundance or diversity of species, a number of rare or endangered animals, potential to reverse damage from negative human impacts, presence of natural processes such as major migration corridors, significant historical, cultural or spiritual values or economic importance to the community. Anyone can nominate a place to become a Hope Spot. Once you submit all the supporting documents, the destination or area will go through rigorous analysis and once approved the ‘spot’ will be displayed for a wide audience. To Ataúro and Timor-Leste this represents a big win as it is not only rewarding our conservation efforts, but showing the world how hard we work towards improving the environment and life quality on the island. 


Identifying and embracing the fact that the health of our waters will benefit not just us but the entire planet, Timor-Leste have worked towards building voluntary certification programs on responsible tourism and ocean ecosystems protection. We are hoping it will build more trust on tourists to come and experience our whale watching tours and also certify that the tourism operators in the island are qualified to operate the tours and protect the oceans and the whales. 


Want to know more?

By becoming a Hope Spot and candidate Whale Heritage Site we have committed to achieve economic growth allied with environmental protection. Because of this, Ataúro has invested greatly in ecotourism, including whale watching tours around the island. Did you enjoy learning about whales and our ecosystems? Three of ATKOMA members have whale watching tours available! Contact Compass Diving, Beloi Beach Hotel or Atauro Dive Resort to experience this amazing once in a lifetime opportunity and contribute to Ataúro’s efforts of conservation. You can also contact us on [email protected] and request more information about itineraries, accommodation and volunteer opportunities. Check out our members’ instagram pages to know how whale watching season has been going. Here is a sample of what you can experience:


whale watching conservation heritage
@compassdiving on Instagram


whale watching conservation heritage
@ataurodive on Instagram


atauro island, atkoma, nature conservation, tourism development, Whale Conservation, Whale Heritage, Whale Watching

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