In Florida, dolphins can be seen off the coast, on boat trips and in aquariums where they perform spectacular tricks. They are even used for child therapy. In short, the Sunshine State would not be the same without its dolphins, and there are many ways to encounter these playful animals.
In this article, you will learn where you can see dolphins in Florida – whether in zoos or in the open ocean. We also present the best places to swim with dolphins in Florida.
There is a lot to learn about the playful mammals. Here are the most important dolphin facts in a nutshell:
Classification and Species
Dolphins are marine mammals that spend their entire lives in the water. They are part of the family of toothed whales. Unlike baleen whales, they have teeth, which can be clearly seen in pictures of dolphins. Among the 40 dolphin species, common and bottlenose dolphins are the most widely known. You might not guess it from their stocky built, but pilot whales are also part of this family.
Did you know? “Despite their name, killer whales are also dolphins – just like the bottlenose dolphins that sometimes fall victim to these predators.”
Weight and Size
Most bottlenose dolphins reach a weight of 330–660 lbs. However, there have been reports of dolphins that weighed up to 1430 lbs.
The animals usually measure 6.5–13 ft. in length. Despite their huge size, dolphins can jump up to 20 ft. high.
Dolphins can be found in different habitats all over the world – from arctic waters in the Atlantic to the tropical coasts of the Pacific. In addition to sea dolphins, there are also freshwater dolphins: for example, the Indian Ganges river dolphin and the very rare “Boto” that lives in the Amazon River.
The most common dolphin species in Florida are bottlenose dolphins. They populate all oceans and have even starred in films and series like “Flipper” and “Dolphin Tale”.
Food and Behavior
Dolphins have an enormous appetite: A grownup specimen can eat up to 20 lbs of muscles and fish a day. The animals are not picky, and their food includes squid, seals and even other smaller dolphins.
Dolphins are known for their social behavior. They mostly live in schools that can include up to 1.000 individuals. For underwater navigation, dolphins use echolocation and sound
More Dolphin Facts:
- Dolphins are highly social animals that care for each other when they are injured or sick.
- While dolphins can see and hear very well, they have no sense of smell.
- Each dolphin of a pod produces a unique whistling sound that serves as a personal signature.
- The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) lets people adopt dolphins. With these monthly contributions, the conservationists fund programs that help ensure the well-being of the species.
Even though the animals have been studied extensively, there is no specific information about the lifespan of dolphins. On average, bottlenose dolphins are estimated to reach 25 years. In captivity, however, the animals can get more than twice as old.
Mating and Dolphin Babies
For dolphins, mating season is all year round. After birth, dolphin babies are usually 25–41 inches long and weigh 33–66 lbs. Females mostly give birth to single babies that they feed for about one year. Three years can pass before the young become independent from their mothers.
Dolphin Watching in Florida
Silvery silhouettes gliding through the water are a common sight on boat tours in Florida. With its tropical climate and long coastline, the state is a perfect place for dolphin watching. The following spots are particularly worthwhile:
Dolphins are among the most popular animals in Miami – as can be seen by the name of the city’s football team. You can observe the animals at the Miami Aquarium, where dolphins entertain the crowd; or you could book a whale watching tour: Located only 20 minutes south of Miami Beach is Biscayne Bay – a refuge for dolphins and other whale species.
With their warm, tropical waters, Florida’s barrier islands are a prime spot for dolphins. If you want to see them, you should take a dolphin tour in Key West. On the three hour trip, you can observe dolphins in their natural habitat before going snorkeling in a coral reef. There are plenty of companies for you to choose from.
Fort Myers Beach
Estero Bay, which separates Fort Myers Beach from the mainland, is known for its huge population of wild dolphins. For this reason, the company GAEA Guides organizes kayak trips along the coast. These tours are perfect for seeing not only dolphins, but also alligators, otters and manatees. If you are looking for an eco-friendly and authentic way to discover Estero Bay, you should book this 3 hour tour for 50 USD.
The company Dolphin Explorer Tour on Marco Island promises guaranteed dolphin sightings. Guests take a 3 hour boat trip through the marine sanctuaries off-shore. Although the dolphins swim freely in the wild, they were all identified and named by conservationists. Each of the animals has a unique personality that visitors learn more about on the tour. Included in the price of 64 USD is a stopover at a small barrier island where you can look for beautiful sea shells.
For guests based in Cape Coral, Sanibel Island is always worth a trip – especially because the surrounding waters are teeming with dolphins. If you are lucky, you can spot schools of up to 1.000 individuals here, although 10-30 are the norm. Sanibel Dolphin Tours takes small groups of up to 6 people on boat trips to watch playful dolphins. These intimate and exclusive tours last 2 hours and cost 250 USD.
More Places to see Dolphins in Florida
Fort Pierce: The company Dolphin Watch offers boat tours on the Indian River, which is home to hundreds of dolphins.
Destin: A boat ride with the Southern Star provides ample opportunities to watch wild dolphins following in the boat’s wake. Little guests are even allowed to steer the vessel for a while.
Clearwater: Warm water temperatures all year round make this city a perfect place for dolphins. The animals love to swim in the Intercoastal Highways, but can also be seen from Sand Key Park.
Dolphins in Florida’s Zoos and Aquariums
Of course, you cannot only see the marine animals in the wild. If you are looking for a hundred percent chance of spotting dolphins, you should visit the following zoos and aquariums in Florida:
- SeaWorld (Orlando): At Dolphin Cove, the largest dolphin pool in the world, you can observe the animals above and below water.
- Clearwater Marine Aquarium (Clearwater): This aquarium is home to the stars of the movie “Dolphin Tale”.
- Gulf World Marine Park (Panama City Beach): This marine park is a top choice for dolphin shows in the north of Florida.
Swimming with Dolphins in Florida
Swimming with dolphins is an unforgettable experience for visitors in Florida. Thanks to their natural curiosity, dolphins are rarely afraid of humans, greeting them with friendly fin shakes, kisses and joyful chatter. Swimming with dolphins in the open ocean is forbidden. Luckily, there are many places that offer dolphin swimming in Florida
Dolphin Swimming in Miami
If you want to swim with dolphins in Miami, you can choose between two companies:
The Miami Seaquarium is known for its entertaining and educational activities. One of them is the Dolphin Encounter for 159 USD. Here, little guests learn more about the behavior of dolphins before plunging into the water with them. Dolphin swimming in deeper water is available for 220–240 USD and offers a chance to also feed the animals.
Miami Swim with Dolphins Tours
WA less well-known company is “Miami Swim with Dolphins”. They offer dolphin swimming for different age groups. You can choose between encounters in shallow or deep water, or combine both. Dolphin swimming starts at 220 USD, while shallow water encounters are available for 118 USD.
Dolphin Swimming in Marathon, Grassy Key
The Dolphin Research Center in Marathon treats injured sea creatures and is Florida’s most popular place for swimming with dolphins. Thanks to a wide range of options, you are guaranteed to find the right experience for you. The prices vary according to the activity and start at 25 USD for the “Meet the Dolphin” program. Here, children aged 1 year or older have the chance to pet a dolphin. For 60 USD, visitors get to play with the animals for 25 minutes. Dolphin swimming in Marathon costs 199 USD and allows you to splash around with a dolphin for half an hour. Grabbing on to their fin and letting them drag you through the water is a highlight of the program.
You can even paint with dolphins at the Research Center: The aquatic mammals are skilled artists and will spice up any shirt with colorful brush strokes – the perfect souvenir to bring back home from Florida. All the activities at the Dolphin Research Center are highly popular, so you should reserve well in advance.
Dolphin Swimming in Orlando
Orlando is not only known for its theme parks. The city also provides ample opportunities to swim with dolphins.
The Dolphin Lagoon at the Aquapark Discovery Cove is a perfect place for groups:
First, a trainer will give you entertaining lessons about the animals; then, everybody gets to pet a dolphin. Do you want to know what it is like to be a professional dolphin trainer? Then, you should book the activity “Trainer for a Day” that also includes dolphin encounters in deep water.
When visiting Florida’s most popular aquarium, you cannot only see dolphin shows, but also interact with these animals. Granted, there is no real dolphin swimming at SeaWorld Orlando. However, at the Dolphin Encounter you can pet dolphins on land, take a selfie with them and hear interesting dolphin facts from a trainer. The regular price is 49 USD for 15 minutes.
Dolphin Swimming in the Florida Keys
There is hardly a better place for dolphin swimming than the Florida Keys. The following spots are particularly popular:
Theater of the Sea
Your first choice should be the Theater of the Sea. Here, dolphin encounters take place in a natural saltwater lagoon. You can either play with dolphins in waist-high water or swim and snorkel with bottlenose dolphins in deep water. Painting with dolphins is also available at the Theater of the Sea.
If you are traveling with children aged 7 or upwards, you should visit the aquarium Dolphin Plus on Key Largo. Here guests are not limited to shallow waters, but can swim with dolphins in the ocean. The animals are free to dive down and swim away, so they can decide how close they want to get to people. The activity costs 210 USD. If you want to study the animals´ behavior underwater, you should book the snorkeling with dolphins.
Dolphin Swimming in Fort Lauderdale
When it comes to dolphin swimming in Fort Lauderdale, Dolphin World is a top choice. Transportation is included if you book your dolphin encounter through this company – perfect for guests without a car. In addition to dolphin swimming, they also offer encounters for children and non-swimmers.
Delfinschwimmen in St. Augustine
Are you visiting the north of Florida? Then, dolphin swimming in St. Augustine is a great activity for your whole family. Less known then the big aquariums in the south, the Marineland St. Augustine offers amazing bargains: For example, dolphin swimming only costs 211 USD for adults. If you want to encounter dolphins in shallow water, you will only pay 111 USD.
Delfine in Florida FAQ – frequently asked Questions
How old do dolphins get?
In the wild, dolphins usually reach an age of 25 years and rarely get older than 50. The oldest dolphin ever studied in the wild was 40 years old. In captivity, however, dolphins can reach an age of up to 55 years.
Where do dolphins live in Florida?
Dolphins populate Florida’s entire coast, where they can be seen the whole year round. The fishing grounds in the Gulf of Mexico are particularly attractive to dolphins. Other ideal spots are Marco Island, Naples and the Florida Keys.
What are the best places to swim with dolphins?
There are many places in Florida that offer dolphin swimming. Although the activities are very similar, the target audience varies: For example, at the Miami Seaquarium, the focus lies on learning more about dolphins; Marineland St. Augustine is known for its reasonable price policy, and Dolphin Plus on Key Largo lets you swim with dolphins in the open ocean.
How much does it cost to swim with dolphins in Florida?
If you want to swim with dolphins, you can expect to pay at least 210 USD per person. Encounters in shallow water are cheaper and better suited for small children and non-swimmers. These dolphin encounters usually start at 35 USD.