Swimming with Dolphins
An Emerald Coast Adventure You Should Try
A couple years ago during a mid-summer boat outing to St. Andrews park, we had just anchored in about 15 ft of water and were getting ready to jump in the perfectly clear turquoise water when a juvenile dolphin approached out boat. Stuck is head out of the water to get a better look at us, then turned around and grabbed a Cannonball Jellyfish and started playing with it right next to our boat. Basically, placing its head under the Jellyfish and pushing it upwards and let it roll towards its back, then rotate its body so the jelly would roll down its belly.
When the jelly would finally reach near its tail, he/she would slap it with its tail, and fling it in the air like a person would throw a softball… and then would go into a fast run while squeaking and squawking -- like a child laughing -- chancing that jelly down and then repeat the process. A few times almost landed the Cannonball Jellyfish in our boat. All this while its mother slowly swam in a large circle around the boat, just like moms keeping watch on their children as they play in the park. We were so engrossed on this entertaining show that we forgot to take any photos or video, although we often recall this encounter with great enjoyment.
Imagine spending your summer vacation on the glorious Florida Panhandle coast. You will love the warm weather, sandy beaches and the rare opportunity to swim with dolphins. Dolphins have fascinated people for hundreds of years. They are like humans in so many ways. They live in complex communities, are highly intelligent, nurse their young and breathe air. That’s why people want to connect with dolphins, touch them and be a part of their world, and they have interacted safely with dolphins for centuries. The Greeks tell ancient stories about dolphins rescuing shipwrecked sailors and carrying them to the shore. Swimming with the dolphins has become very popular around the world and of course, here in Florida, too.
Many tour companies in Florida advertise the wonderful experience of swimming with dolphins, but before taking advantage of these tours that enable you to swim with these loyal creatures, it is important to consider the welfare and safety of the dolphins. Swimming with the dolphins is an amazing experience but you must be careful not to harass or feed them. If you chase a dolphin not interested in interacting with you, it is considered a form of harassment. Dolphins have been given special protection to help conserve their populations. The coastal waters of Florida are filled with a few l different species of dolphins, the bottle-nose dolphin being the most common, is the species you’ll find in the panhandle coastal waters and bays. Their bodies are powerful and robust with blue and gray on the top and their bellies and sides are lighter.
An adult dolphin is usually six to twelve feet in length and eats in excess of twenty pounds of fish every day, can reach a weight of 1400 pounds and live more than fifty years. They are extremely intelligent, often cooperate in fishing and possess a wide vocalization range. They live in tropical and temperate coasts all over the world both offshore and inshore.
When swimming with them you may hear the clicking sounds made by the dolphins, it’s believed this is not a form of communication, but most likely their sonar systems used to find food, navigate the waters and avoid predators. Dolphins protect injured or sick and young members of their community from predators such as sharks. Some dolphins have been observed using their body length to pen schools of fish in shallow waters to feed. When a dolphin is defending their territory or looking for food, they can become aggressive, so keep in mind, that if the dolphin is not interested in you or your boat – don’t harass them by blocking their path. After all, these are wild animals and they can be unpredictable.
It’s against the law to feed a dolphin in the wild as they learn to associate humans with food, and this increases their risks of becoming entangled in the gear used by fishermen, becoming injured on boat propellers, and often makes them unwilling to forage for food, and may cause this behavior to be passed to the other dolphins and calves. Finally, this can cause issues with anglers as dolphins will try to approach their boats and take their fish from fishing lines. Lastly, if you feed them with food meant for humans, you may jeopardize the health of the dolphins. It is important to emphasize, do not feed the dolphins.
If you don’t feel like dealing with the Tour companies, renting a boat or don’t feel comfortable jumping in the water with dolphins; you can always observe these great creatures from a distance. Many of our guests truly enjoy watching dolphins playing in the shore line by using their binoculars from the balconies of many of our beach condo rentals. Sunrise Beach, Ocean Villa, Runaway Bay, Hidden Dunes are some of the resorts where guests have reported Dolphin sightings. It’s a ritual of many our guests to enjoy their morning coffee while enjoying these great creatures in the wild, so don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars.
When you’re here, just remember that harassing or feeding wild dolphins is against federal law, but you can swim with the dolphins safely without breaking the law. Just don’t chase a dolphin because it can be classified as harassment. Just swimming with them isn’t considered a problem because they are not in captivity and can simply leave whenever they are tired of us humans.
So, when you’re planning your next trip to the most beautiful beaches in the world, add swimming with the dolphins to your list. It’s a memory you’ll have for a lifetime.