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Posted on 05/31/2021 in Wildlife and Nature

Florida Dolphin Tours Abundant on the Space Coast

Florida Dolphin Tours Abundant on the Space Coast

For years, dolphins have captured the hearts and minds of people all over the world. Their effortless glide with an endless smile has even gone on to inspire multi-million-dollar films such as Flipper and Dolphin Tale. Dolphin Tale is based on a true story from right here on the Space Coast when a fisherman found a dolphin, now named Winter, with her tail caught in a crab trap in the Mosquito Lagoon. Thankfully, Winter was rescued. Unfortunately, due to the crab trap entanglement, Winter ended up losing her tail.. Since her rescue, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium has housed Winter, even fitting her with a one-of-a-kind prosthetic tail that allows her to swim normally. Her story was immortalized in 2011 putting the Space Coast in a Hollywood film yet again.

Winter is just one of over 1,000 Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins that call the Indian River and its adjacent lagoons home. This dense concentration of dolphins in a relatively small area coupled with the fact they are accustomed to humans nearby makes the Space Coast one of the best places to experience dolphins up close in the wild. As exciting and delightful as it is to be so close to the dolphins in their natural habitat, there are laws that restrict interacting with them. It is illegal to harass, feed, chase and touch dolphins (and other marine mammals) in the wild. 

The Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, when fully grown, ranges from six to twelve feet in length and can weigh anywhere between 300 - 1400 pounds. These dolphins are mammals, not the fish called dolphin (which is often seen on a restaurant menu using the name Dorado or mahi mahi). 

While it is common to see dolphins alone or in pairs in our canals, their solo adventure is only a temporary departure from traveling in groups called pods. A pod of dolphins generally ranges between 10 and 25 dolphins that travel at speeds up to twenty miles per hour. They communicate with each other using whistles, clicks, and squeals and eat more than 20 pounds of fish and marine invertebrates every day. 

Though it’s not unusual to see a dolphin out in the distance in the Indian River or offshore in the Atlantic, it’s much more exhilarating to see them up close. The best way to do that is with a local guide who knows where the dolphins hang out and have a way to access the hang-out spots. Space Coast Dolphin ecotourism tours, available by boat, catamaran, kayak, or stand-up paddle board,  will lead you through diverse pockets of the river that are known to be favorite hangouts for our dolphins.

To the north, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a fantastic place to see Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins. With the protected waters of the Mosquito Lagoon (Winter’s original home)  teeming with wildlife, it is also not uncommon to also see alligators, otters, various species of birds, and even a manatee or two in the right months. If you are looking for a kayak or stand-up paddle adventure, Cocoa Kayaking has a great eco tour that is full of wildlife in the calm waters at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

On the central Space Coast, one of the best places to ensure a dolphin sighting is around Dragon Point. Dragon Point is the southernmost point of Merritt Island and ends just north of the Eau Gallie Causeway on the eastern side of the Indian River. Due to the lack of inlets between the Banana River and the Indian River, wildlife is forced to use the waterway by Dragon Point to go between the rivers. If you have access to a boat or kayak, the Eau Gallie Causeway Boat Ramp lies on the south side of the Eau Gallie Causeway and allows you to launch and park for free with an easy few minutes’ trip up to Dragon Point. Before you head up to Dragon Point, head on over to the shoreline just to the east of the boat ramp as the water depth gets quite shallow and makes finding a meal easy for the dolphins.

Just south of the Space Coast, Sebastian Inlet is a magnet for wildlife, especially Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin. With the inlet enabling many species of fish to swim in and out of the Indian River, it naturally draws dolphins to feed in the nearby waters. With multiple boat ramps, kayak launch points and coves Sebastian Inlet is a great place to explore dolphins and other local wildlife. 

Another popular spot to see dolphins up close is Honest John's Fish Camp in Melbourne Beach. With the mangrove islands and relatively shallow water the dolphins love to swim up into coves and around the islands. 

One question visitors often ask tour guides is, “Do dolphins sleep?”  The answer is “no.” Dolphins do not sleep. If they did, they would die because they are what is known as conscious breathers who voluntarily breathe when they want/need to. (Humans are unconscious breathers, which is why we can sleep and continue to breathe.) Instead of sleeping, they rest one hemisphere of their brain at a time.  

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