Dolphins – with their smiles, charisma, and smarts – have star power. “Flipper” was a ‘60s television hit for a reason. And with a thriving dolphin population, Destin-Fort Walton Beach is like an aquatic Hollywood Walk of Fame!
We’ve put together a few things to know about these local celebrities for the next time you visit.
There are nine species of dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.
The most common and the one you’ll likely spot jumping and frolicking in the water is a bottlenose dolphin. It has a curved mouth, making it look like it’s perpetually smiling. An estimated 10,000 bottlenose dolphins live in the Gulf. Other species prefer deeper waters away from land, though Atlantic spotted dolphins occasionally are seen.
Bottlenose Dolphins are big.
Bottlenose dolphins are 6- to 13-feet long, weigh 300 to 1,400 pounds, and live 40 to 60 years. Coloring ranges from light gray to almost black on top, and light gray to almost white on their belly. They can swim up to 20 mph, and surface two or three times per minute to breathe through a blowhole.
Dolphins are quite the foodies.
Dolphins eat fish, squid, and crustaceans, such as crabs and shrimp. Pods “herd” fish, then take turns charging through the schools to feed. Like cows, dolphins have two stomachs. The first stores food. The second digests it.
Dolphins are considered one of the world’s most intelligent animals.
A dolphin’s brain-to-body ratio is second only to humans. Not only do they learn quickly, but they also love to socialize and play, and can recognize themselves in a mirror.
They communicate and travel through echolocation.
Dolphins make up to 1,000 clicking noises per second. The sounds they make bounce off objects and prey, and the “echo” tell dolphins the location, size, and shape. They also communicate with each other with this range of sounds.
Dolphins have names.
Scientists have found that dolphins give each other names. They develop their own whistles to refer to themselves and can recognize theirs and other dolphins' names.
They care for others.
These caring creatures are often seen tending to the sick, the old, and the injured in their group, making them one of the most caring mammals in the animal kingdom.
Dolphins are protected by the law.
It is illegal to feed or touch a dolphin in the wild. Doing so is not only bad for dolphins, it can result in a hefty fine.
Dolphins in the Destin-Fort Walton Beach waters are here year-round.
They like warm waters and abundant seafood, too!
The best times to see them are at daybreak.
From 10 a.m. to noon, and 2 p.m. until sunset. With the naked eye or a pair of binoculars, you can catch a glimpse of dolphins from a hotel or condominium balcony. Some of the best places to see dolphins from the sand are Eglin Beach Park and Henderson Beach, State Park. They’re often swimming with the sea turtles around the Okaloosa Island Pier, as well.
To see them up close with the help of experts, take guided Fort Walton Beach dolphin tours or Okaloosa Island dolphin cruises, which offer everything from a glass-bottom boat to a wave-runner. You also can swim with dolphins at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach. The park offers a 20-minute “dolphin splash encounter,” during which ages 8 and up can play with and touch a bottlenose alongside a Gulfarium trainer.