Join the survey crew of the Dolphin Explorer and discover our underwater neighbors, the bottlenose dolphins of Southwest Florida.
We cruise the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in search of dolphins and explore the subtropical estuaries of the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge and the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
You’ll learn to know these marine animals on a first name basis! All of our dolphins have been photo ID'd, named by passengers and cataloged.
Photograph them jumping and playing in the wake of the boat. We'll also stop to wander and do some shelling on the beaches of the surrounding barrier islands.
On our expedition, you'll:
- Meet Simon and his mom, Halfway; Nibbles and her calf, Jason; our male pair-bond, Oscar & Sharks and many more dolphins, named by families from around the world.
- Name a dolphin if we sight a new one while on your cruise!
- Take the Dolphin Challenge!
- See many other marine mammals including manatees (May - September).
- Watch birds of prey and wading birds including eagles, osprey, egrets, ibis, great blue heron, pelicans, and more.
- Search for exotic shells on a Barrier Island.
Past participants say:
- "The best eco-tour I've ever taken!" - Gail
- "Thank you, Captain Chris and James, that was an amazing experience! Educational and fun" - Maka
What Is Not Included?
- A complimentary souvenir photo is included, as well as a shelling hunting bag.
- We provide complimentary beverages (water and sodas) on the Dolphin Explorer. You are welcome to bring along your own snacks and beverages as well.
- Do I have to purchase tickets in advance?
- Advance purchase is strongly recommended and our trips often sell out quickly. To maximize your chances of getting the day and time you prefer, please book well in advance. Tickets can only be purchased with a Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.
- Is there an age limit?
- No - any age is welcome to join us on board the Dolphin Explorer. However, all guests must have a ticket, regardless of age. Our passenger capacity is strictly limited by safety and comfort considerations, as well as by the US Coast Guard.
- What happens if it rains?
- Your captain and crew watch the weather forecasts closely and want to ensure your trip is safe, enjoyable, and a memorable experience. In the event that current or predicted conditions get in the way of that happening, requiring us to cancel, we will contact you as soon as possible so you can join us at another date/time. Be sure to provide a good local contact number when purchasing your tickets.
- What type of ticket should I buy if I'm bringing a very young child?
- Every guest, regardless of age, needs a ticket. For children ages 2 and under, a free "Wee One" ticket is available. Children ages 3 through 12 must have a "Child" ticket.
- Is gratuity included in the ticket price?
- Gratuities for your Dolphin Explorer crew are not included in your ticket price. If you have a great time and wish to recognize the contributions of the crew, you're welcome to give any one of them a tip to be shared by all. We are occasionally asked what a good tip is - it's entirely up to you, but 15% is common.
- Are group discounts available for the public tours?
- Yes, purchase 10 or more "Adult" tickets and you'll automatically receive a 10% discount off each "Adult" ticket in your group. Group ticket purchases do not included gratuity.
- What wildlife do we see on the trip?
- We see dolphin every day and you'll be helping us with our 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project survey of bottlenose dolphin. We also see a wide range of marine life and beautiful sea birds in their natural habitat, including osprey, pelicans, white egrets, blue heron, and more. We regularly see manatee from May - Sept.
- Are drinks or food served on the trip?
- We provide complimentary beverages on the Dolphin Explorer, including water and various sodas. You are welcome to bring along your own snacks and beverages as well. Alcohol is permitted on board, and feel free to bring a small cooler or picnic basket.
- Can I bring a cooler, picnic basket, or other large items?
- Sure, you can bring coolers, but try to keep them on the smaller side (like a picnic basket)!
- How much time do we spend on the beach?
- During the trip, we'll stop at one of the Barrier Islands' beaches for about 45 minutes. You're welcome to hunt for shells, swim, or just relax in the sun. We'll provide you with a complimentary shell hunting bag.
- Do we get to go shelling on the trip?
- Absolutely! Every guest will receive a complimentary shelling hunting bag and will have an opportunity to explore the beaches on Barrier Island and search for exotic shells.
- Are there restrooms on board?
- The Dolphin Explorer is equipped with a unisex "marine head" that is below deck and can be accessed by a ladder. Unfortunately, this head is not wheelchair accessible. (There are, however, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms at the marina).
- What exactly do we do on the Dolphin Study trip?
- We'll be heading out to the Project's Area I study locations, located along the coast North of Marco Island. With your help, we'll be locating and observing our bottlenose dolphin. Activities include photo-ID'ing and recording specific activities including how they travel in pods, mill, play with the boat, and recognizing mother/calf pairs. We'll also see plenty of other wildlife and take a 45-minute break on an island beach.
- What is the dolphin challenge?
- Families with children 12 and under can be a part of our Dolphin Explorer Club and take our Dolphin Challenge. This fun activity involves a series of questions and games that will help your family learn all about dolphins, our ecosystem, and more! At the end of our trip every participant will get a special souvenir to take home (shh...it's a surprise!).
- Do you provide pictures?
- Yes! We have an on board digital printer that will provide complimentary photos of the trip and your loved ones, as well as of the dolphin. Each group will receive at least one souvenir photo of their trip.
- What is Marco Island?
- Marco Island is the largest and northernmost island of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands. On your trip, we'll see numerous mangrove islands all around plus we'll stop at one island's beach for some shell hunting and exploration.
- What should I wear?
- Be sure to bring your bathing suit if you plan on going swimming during our beach stop. Also, wear sun block! The sun is much stronger on the water. It may also be a good idea to bring additional sun block with you to reapply. You'll want to wear soft soled rubber shoes or sandals on the boat and while walking over the sea shells on the beach. Other useful items might include a hat with a large brim and an *inexpensive* pair of sunglasses (you'd be amazed how easily sunglasses slide right off sunblock-covered noses and kerplunk into the water as you peer over to watch the dolphin!) During the cooler months, you may want to bring a jacket or fleece.
- Will I get wet?
- Only if you want! We do stop at a beach about an hour into the trip and spend an hour on the beach. The boat will pull right up to the beach, and then our guests will climb down the ladder on the side to get on land. We do advise that you wear shoes that you don't mind getting wet (or you can always descend barefoot). You can also choose to stay on the boat during our stop. Otherwise, aside from the occasional misty breeze you should stay dry during most of the trip.
- Is there any shade on the boat?
- The Dolphin Explorer is partly covered by a sturdy awning which provides shade over a good portion of the boat and cockpit areas. You'll be able to enjoy the sun or shade at your choosing.
- Is the Dolphin Explorer stable?
- The Dolphin Explorer is a 33' catamaran with two hulls and two powerful outboard motors. Because it has two hulls, it is smoother and offers a steadier ride.
- Are life jackets available on board?
- Life jackets for all passengers are provided on board.
- Will I get seasick?
- Our guests usually find the Dolphin Explorer to be a very steady vessel. However, we advise that you consult with your doctor about taking preventative measures beforehand if you are prone to motion sickness.
- Is the Dolphin Explorer handicap accessible?
- Yes, the boat is handicap accessible. We leave from a floating dock, so boarding the boat should be no problem. Do keep in mind that the restroom on board is not wheelchair accessible, and guests in wheelchairs will not be able to get off on the beach because of the staircase required to descend. You are welcome to stay on the boat and spend time with our very entertaining crew!
- Do we really get to help name a new dolphin?
- Absolutely! We uniquely identify our dolphins by the markings on their dorsal fins (the ones that stick up out of the water). These individual markings are caused by other dolphin and encounters with other wildlife (including man). If we spot a new dolphin on your trip, you help us name it!
- Do we see mothers & babies?
- While we cannot guarantee who we'll see, we have identified more than 15 mother/calf pairs and see more after each mating season. Mothers and calves spend many months together giving us several chances to see them. They often travel in "maternity groups" of four to twelve dolphin.
- Will we see a manatee?
- These peaceful, slow-moving gentle giants migrate around Florida throughout the year and come to our area between May - September. During those months, we are more likely to see them on any given trip.
- How far away are the dolphin from the boat?
- While we never "chase" our dolphin, we will move within a respectable limit to observe them. Oftentimes, though, they will spot us and come right up to the boat. They especially enjoy playing and frolicking in the wake of the Dolphin Explorer, created by the powerful outboard motors. We are in line with regulations and will not come in direct contact with, feed, touch, or harass the dolphin.
- What can you tell me about the Dolphin Study?
- The 10,000 Islands Dolphin Study is a five year project that was launched on February 1st, 2006. It focuses on the abundance, distribution, movement, association patterns, and behavior of bottlenose dolphin in southwest Florida. The project is the only on-going study of wild dolphin in southwest Florida and the only study that invites the public to join in on a daily basis in the US. This study is modeled after the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program and the Mid-Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin Study. The objectives are 1) to provide data for the status of stock and trends in population, 2) to provide information of value to local, state, and federal resource managers and 3) to increase public awareness of marine life, the environment, and conservation. The study is underwritten and managed by Sea Excursions, Inc.
- Are gift certificates available?
- Yes! Gift certificates are great for any occasion. To purchase a gift certificate directly from the seller, please click on the "Contact DolphinTours" link to let us know what you are interested in.
- Can I book a private trip or charter?
- Yes! We offer private trips, too. We can accommodate a variety of special requests. Please use the "Contact DolphinTours" link to inquire further about your options.
- Do you offer team building events?
- Yes! Our trips are perfect for team building and corporate events. If you are interested in hearing more about our special offers for team building, please click on the "Contact DolphinTours" link and let us know what you're interested in.
- Non-refundable, cannot be rescheduled.
- Once purchased, tickets cannot be refunded and cannot be rescheduled because your space is being guaranteed at the event.
- Activity may be cancelled due to severe weather.
- Activity usually runs in rain and moderate weather, but the seller may cancel the activity up to an hour before start time in the event of severe or unsafe weather conditions. In the rare situation the seller must cancel the event prior to departure, ticket-holders will be allowed to reschedule tickets (subject to availability), receive credit for a future event, or receive a full refund.
Sea Excursions, Inc.
Launched in February 2006, the Study is the only continuing study of dolphins in the area and collaborates with marine research organizations and universities in the U.S.
In 2008, we were:
- Selected by The National Geographic Society as one of 400 Ecotourism ChangeMakers on the globe.
- Featured on the PBS Documentary "Discover South Florida".
- Featured on the Peter Greenberg (THE TODAY SHOW's Travel Editor) Syndicated Radio.
The Dolphin Explorer , a USCG Certified 33 foot catamaran powered by two 225 HP outboards, is the perfect vessel to view and study marine life. Her design and power attracts many dolphin who love playing in our wake! It is extremely stable and sails in gentle waters.
The Dolphin Explorer is professionally crewed by USCG Master Captains and Crew of Naturalists, Biologists, Marine Scientists and/or Wildlife Photographers.