Tips For Dolphin Watchers

Florida is a great place to go wild dolphin watching! I have been dolphin watching in Florida for over four years, and the experiences I’ve had have been incredible.


Intercoastal V.S. Offshore

In my opinion, Florida’s intercoastal waterways are the best places to go dolphin watching. Offshore is big and wide open, and dolphins can be harder to find out there, but in the intercoastal waterways, usually a pod of “local resident” dolphins will live in a “home range,” which they stay in year round – not to mention that in the intercoastal, the dolphins are in a way “contained” by rivers, channels, and land, making them much easier to find.

A photo from one of my most memorable intercoastal dolphin watching experience, in Placida Harbor, taken while doing some studies on dolphin behavior & community structure.

I’m not saying that offshore dolphin watching is not always worthwhile. I go to Cocoa Beach every year, and every time I go I can see dolphins in the open Atlantic Ocean from the balcony in the hotel. Twice I’ve watched dolphins surf the waves just off the beach, and twice I’ve seen dolphins out there just having a party, leaping and jumping like crazy. However, I also remember all the times I sat and watched for hours and didn’t see anything – something that’s normally never happens in the intercoastal waterways.


Best Times to Go Dolphin Watching

In most of Florida’s intercoastal waterways, there really isn’t any particular time that’s the best dolphin watching season, especially when a pod of local resident dolphins live in the area. However, I’ve been doing in the field research on dolphin behavior and community structure in Placida Harbor for over four years, and in that area I’ve found that the winter months seem to be the best time to go dolphin watching, as for some reason they are more active in the winter. I have also gotten this impression from the dolphins that live in the Matanzas River, too.

Rapid photo shoot of dolphin jumping in Gasaprilla Pass during the winter

I have also heard that dolphins get active when it rains, but I’ve never been wild dolphin watching in the rain before, so I personally don’t know if that’s true. I have seen the dolphins at SeaWorld get most active when it rains, but I don’t know if this applies to wild dolphins the same way.


Where in the Waterway?

Obviously, you won’t find dolphins in a Florida waterway that’s so far from the ocean that it’s turned freshwater – the closer you are to an inlet to the ocean, the more likely you are to find dolphins. However, Bottlenose Dolphins can be a little “adventurous,” and in the Halifax River on Florida’s northeast coast, Bottlenose Dolphins have been found in the Tomoka River and Tomoka Basin, over twenty miles from the nearest inlet. In some rivers, such as the Chassahowitzka River, the Homosassa River and Crystal River, dolphins will sometimes venture up into freshwater, but only for a short amount of time. In the Chassahowitzka, Homosassa and Crystal Rivers, dolphins have been seen venturing all the way up close to the springs, swimming through a forest in crystal-clear freshwater for a short while.