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Everybody loves dolphins! With their smiley and charismatic faces combined with their famed intelligence, these animals are popular for obvious reasons. And the Gulf of Mexico is a great location for seeing dolphins in the Destin & Fort Walton area. Our guide below looks at the best spots to find these beautiful and friendly sea creatures, and we also have a few frequently asked questions that we answer to help you have an experience that is both safe and enjoyable for you and the dolphins.

Call us biased, but one great way of seeing dolphins in Fort Walton & Destin is by renting one of our double-decker pontoons and spending the day out on the water on the Emerald Coast. You can enjoy activities such as snorkeling and swimming in the crystal clear waters, where you can encounter dolphins and a lot of other sea life. This is a great way to see dolphins while also having lots of other entertainment options on offer from the boat, so you are not tied down to a typical dolphin-watching cruise or tour.

Animal Encounters with Gulfarium Marine Park

We’ve featured Gulfarium Marine Park in our blogs before, it is a local favorite. Gulfarium offers experiences with dolphins for 5-year-olds and up as well as a show. As personal interactions with dolphins are illegal, this is a great way to play with dolphins in a controlled and safe environment, ensuring that no dolphins come to harm. There are two main dolphin experiences at the marine park:

  • Dolphin Star – This is your chance to be an acting veterinarian, as you join the Gulfarium experts dockside during a segment of a show. You are allowed to touch and feed the dolphins – what an experience!
  • Discover Dolphins – For approximately 5 minutes, you can play and learn about the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, up-close and personal — a bucket list experience to savor!

Dolphin Spotting From Land

Although being in a Marine Park or out on a boat gives you the closest view, you don’t have to be in the water to spot these magnificent marine mammals. There are a multitude of ways of seeing dolphins, including some options where you don’t have to pay a dime for the experience –we do recommend a pair of binoculars or a camera with a decent zoom though. However, locals and tourists alike report seeing dolphins frolicking in the ocean with the naked eye from their high-rise seaview balconies when they feed early in the morning. Restaurants overlooking the waterfront also provide you with excellent dolphin-spotting opportunities, so keep that in mind when you head for lunch or dinner in the area.

If that feels a bit too far out, then why not head to Okaloosa Island Pier which extends far out into the Gulf of Mexico (almost 1000 ft.), giving you great views of marine life action. This is a popular fishing spot and many fishermen report bottlenose dolphins peeking above the water to say “hi!” as they fish, so you may not have to look too far out to catch a glimpse of them.

Another great spot to see dolphins is while standing on the beach! Henderson Beach State Park is one option where you can do some dolphin watching, especially as they come surprisingly close to the shore here along with other sea creatures such as turtles. Other popular beach spots in this part of Florida where you can do this activity include Crystal Beach, Eglin Beach Park and Miramar Beach, so get your camera out and try and snap that perfect acrobatic breach — a big challenge even for professionals.

Popular FAQs

The Gulf of Mexico is home to an incredible nine different species of dolphins, just like us they love the warm waters and abundant seafood in this part of the world. The most likely species of dolphin you’ll see is a bottlenose dolphin as there are around 10,000 of them in the area, so you should at least see that species.

Generally speaking, early morning is a great time to spot dolphins, but you can see them at pretty much any time of the day. Mid-afternoon to sunset is another popular time for catching a glimpse of them.

Undoubtedly summertime is the best time, but dolphins are here all year round thanks to the warm waters. Summer sees an influx of females visiting for the mating season, leading to greater chances of seeing them.

Dolphins have a reputation for both of these things and although it is true in the main, there are important things to be aware of. Dolphins are wild animals and apex predators, they can be aggressive towards humans if they feel threatened or receive a painful blow. Like most animals, they are likely to try to protect themselves and their families. Overall dolphins will behave friendly towards humans and the boats around these parts –just always remain respectful in your distance and behavior and you’ll be fine.

One thing that isn’t in any doubt is their intelligence, dolphins are considered to be the smartest creatures on planet Earth, only surpassed by primates and us humans. They call each other by name and communicate with each other by making a wide range of sounds. The sounds they make can help them tell the location, size, and shape via the echo and vibrations created. Moreover, they are emotionally intelligent too, often seen to be very caring for their family members and have also been known to help humans in trouble in the water.

This is actually a big no-no as it is illegal to feed or touch a dolphin in the wild, doing so will leave you with a hefty fine and a guilty conscience as it can be harmful to them. Activities including boating, swimming and snorkeling in their vicinity are permitted, but experts advise that you don’t directly approach them. Studies have shown it affects their ability to function successfully in the wild, especially when it comes to feeding, so please be respectful of the rules. If you wish to interact with a dolphin, then the aforementioned Gulfarium Marine Park or similar establishments is what you’re after.

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