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Dolphin Watching in Florida

Observe playful sea mammals all around Florida's coast

Best time: all year round (best in late May–August)

Florida is often associated with manatees; however, it is also home to thousands of wild dolphins that you can't miss at any sea excursion. Besides watching dolphins in the wild, visitors can go swimming with dolphins or take a snorkeling trip into dolphin habitat. With about 40,000 dolphins living in the Gulf of Mexico, there is a lot to see. Dolphin watching tours run all year round.

The warm and sheltered Clearwater is perfect for all sea mammals, which makes it one of the most famous dolphin watching spot in Florida. By the way, Clearwater is the hometown of Winter the Dolphin, star of the blockbuster Dolphin Tale. Clearwater Marine Aquarium was featured in Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2. One of the most visited attractions offers dolphin shows and swimming with the dolphins.

Dozens of cruises depart every day out of Clearwater Harbor. Some of the most popular ones include Luncheon Sightseeing & Dolphin Watch or a Sunset Dinner/Tropical Party Cruise. Most operators serve food and provide complimentary beer, wine, and rum punch. Clearwater Beach Marina offers classic dolphin cruises on one of the three-masted schooners. The 6-passenger cruise takes place in Clearwater Bay and the Gulf waters. There are also many options to rent a kayak, a glass-bottom kayak, take tube rides, —everything for a more personal encounter with dolphins.

Destin, located on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, offers many opportunities to meet the dolphins. The most common residents are bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, and Atlantic spotted dolphins. From late May through August, female dolphins from other areas flock to Destin for the mating season. What a perfect occasion for dolphin watching! The best places to spot dolphins are The Okaloosa Island Pier, Crystal Beach, Eglin Beach Park, Miramar Beach, and Henderson Beach State Park. Dolphins are most active in the morning, and after 2 p.m. Two-hour cruises with glass bottom boats depart from Destin Harbor into the Gulf of Mexico every day.

Panama City Beach is home to common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. They move in pods of about 10. Cruise options include a WaveRunner or smaller boats. They usually head to Shell Island and back.

Practical info

When is the best time to spot dolphins in Florida?

Florida's temperate climate usually allows for year-round dolphin watching. However, peak season is from late May to August, where female dolphins from other regions come to the breeding grounds. The most active times for dolphin watching is usually in the morning and post 2 pm. Show more

Where are the best places to go snorkeling with dolphins?

Visitors can get dolphin experiences through snorkeling in several locations throughout Florida beyond Clearwater. Specifically, Eglin Beach Park, Miramar Beach, Henderson Beach State Park, and Destin all offer snorkeling tours. Panama City also provides dolphin watching cruises that visit Shell Island and provide a great view of the dolphins in that area. Show more

What types of dolphins can you expect to see in Panama City Beach?

Panama City beach has two prevalent types of dolphins; you can see common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins traveling in pods with an average of ten dolphins. A trip can be made more exciting by the sightings of additional marine life such as sea turtles, stingrays, and porpoises as they cruise along the waters of Panama City Beach. Show more

Can you swim with dolphins in Clearwater?

At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium located in Clearwater, swimming options with trained dolphins are available. These dolphins are either marine animals that have been rescued or newly born dolphins that live within the aquarium's pools. The pools are kept warm, which makes them ideal for visitors seeking an up-close experience interacting with the dolphins. Show more

What other sea animals can one expect to see during a dolphin watching tour?

While taking a dolphin watching tour, sea creatures, including sea turtles, stingrays, and even porpoises, might be sighted. With Florida's warm waters, a wide variety of marine life abounds. If you desire a closer encounter with these sea animals, you might like to try out kayaking or embark on a glass-bottom kayak ride to get an even better view. Show more

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Authors: Olha Savych