13 Best Places to See Dolphins in the Wild
If you're wild about dolphins, you probably already know that the best way to see and appreciate these amazing mammals is to watch them in the wild, where you can spot hundreds or even thousands swimming and frolicking in the wide open ocean.
The California coastline between Santa Barbara and San Diego is home to one of the densest populations of dolphins in the world, according to the Dolphin Project. Bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and short-beaked “common” dolphins have been known to form megapods in the thousands. For best viewing, head out on a boat tour, or spend time on the Channel Islands, five islands off the Southern California coast that comprise one of America’s most remote national parks, often called the “Galapagos of North America,” where you’ll be able to spot the swimmers from a kayak or the shore. Dolphins are some of the smartest creates in the world (possibly only second to humans).
According to Flight Centre UK, the warm waters around The Azores, an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean 900 miles to the west of Portugal, are home to 11 species of dolphin. Pods here can reach up to 1,000, with the dolphins coming close to shore to feed, allowing you to see them without even setting foot in a boat.
Jumping, twirling, cavorting—if this is your image of dolphins, then head to the Hawaiian Islands, especially Maui and the Island of Hawaii, where Hawaiian spinner dolphins live. These small—about five to six feet in length—sprightly species travel in pods of ten to 100 and earned its name for its habit of leaping out of the water and spinning in midair. You can easily spot the spinner from land as they stay close to shore in shallow coves and bays during the day, according to the experts at the NOAA. One great beach to spot the spinners is on Lanai, which is also one of the most romantic islands in the world.
South Padre Island, Texas
The waters surrounding South Padre Island are year-round, native habitats for the bottlenose dolphins. Known for their intelligence and friendly appearance, these dolphins travel in social groups and feed on bottom-dwelling fish, shrimp, and squid. Several dolphin viewing tours are available on the Island, including Breakaway Cruises, Osprey Cruises, and The Original Dolphin Watch. All three tours boast a success rate of nearly 100 percent due to the sheer number of dolphins residing off the island’s shores.
Kaikoura, New Zealand
Kaikoura, in New Zealand’s South Island, is one of the best places in the world to see dolphins in the wild, says Flight Centre UK. The area is home to four different dolphin species, including Hector’s dolphin, one of the smallest and rarest dolphin species in the world. There are also dusky dolphins here, which boast an attractive pattern in shades of black, gray, and white and are incredibly playful, often jumping out of the water in pairs or groups.
Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
South Africa is a prime whale-watching destination, with hopeful wildlife-watchers heading to Plettenberg Bay and Hermanus from June to September, when humpback whales can be easily be spotted from the coast as they pass by on their migration route. Even if you are not lucky enough to spot a whale, the waters are also filled with bottlenose, common, and humpback dolphin often traveling in large pods. You may be able to see them leaping in unison among the waves from the shore, or catch a boat ride from the harbor to get a closer look.
Dolphins are synonymous with Florida, which even has a football team named after the friendly cetacean (the Miami Dolphins). The demand for dolphin interactions from visitors has resulted in a number of dolphinariums springing up in the state, but it’s a far better option to see free, wild dolphins frolic in the waves, says Flight Centre UK. We couldn’t agree more. One great option is Captain Sherry’s Wild About Dolphins boat tours, which provides educational trips to see dolphins in their natural habitat (extra bonus: Captain Sherry provides dog charters so you can set sail with your dog companion, too). Although you can see dolphins any time of year, April through October offers consistently calmer seas, warmer water, and better visibility.
In the warm waters off the coast of Lantau Island resides the distinctive Chinese white dolphin. Despite its name, this playful creature is actually a vibrant shade of baby pink due to the thermoregulating blood vessels under its skin. There are only about 200 dolphins here but if you get out on the water with Hong Kong Dolphinwatch—a group aiming to raise awareness of this rare species—you should be able to see at least a few splashing about in the waves.
Moreton Island, Australia
Over 95 percent of Moreton Island in Queensland is a designated national park and recreation area, meaning that its lakes, dunes, and beaches, plus their resident wildlife, are protected. It has just four tiny settlements, one of which is Tangalooma, famous for its wild dolphins and the informative Tangalooma Marine Education and Conservation Centre. The Centre offers many dolphin tours and supervises the daily dolphin feeding sessions which occur off the beach at the Tangalooma Island Resort.
Bohol Sea, Philippines
With their lush tropical beaches and calm seas, the Philippines are lovely places to relax for a week or two. Better yet, they are home to a hugely diverse collection of marine life, including whales and dolphins. Although they can be seen all over, the best place to spot them is in the Bohol Sea, where you might find Risso’s dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, and spotted dolphins in addition to melon-headed whales, dwarf sperm whales, short-finned pilot whales, Bryde’s whales, or even a blue whale if you’re lucky.
In the beautiful blue waters off Japan’s southern main island (near Nagasaki and Kumamoto), lives a pod of around 200 wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins who live far from hunting communities like Taiji. According to the Dolphin Project, the bottlenose dolphins here are present year-round due to the protection of a marine sanctuary and an abundant source of food. There are several dolphin watching tours operating from local ports to help you explore the local waters.
The crystal clear tropical waters of Bimini, located just 50 miles off Florida’s coast, and its miles of pristine beaches are a postcard-worthy setting for encounters with wild dolphins. The Dolphin Project notes that Atlantic spotted dolphins frequent the region, as well as Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. The spotted dolphins, in particular, are often reported to be curious towards humans, and sometimes playfully approach divers and snorkelers.
Vancouver Island, Canada
Did you know that dolphins and killer whales belong in the same family? Yes, that’s right, the iconic orca is actually the largest species of toothed whales, the oceanic grouping dolphins belong too. Reaching up to 26 feet long, with a dorsal fin of up to 6 feet in height, the Orca whale is a much sought after sight for tourists. For a good chance of spotting one, travel to Vancouver Island between June and September, where you might also glimpse the black-and-white Pacific white-sided dolphin and humpback whales. Head to one of these 10 beaches with the clearest water in the world, and you may be able to spot a dolphin or other aquatic life from shore.