Up Close and Personal
Meet the majestic and curious creatures of the Outer Banks on a Dolphin Tour where you can come face-to-face with a loving animal of the deep
The sighting of dolphins along the Outer Banks delights and amuses many summer visitors. Many people view these chance encounters as a treasured highlight to a relaxing vacation and will happily spend hours observing the dolphins’ antics. What few people realize is that they are likely viewing the same group of dolphins, day after day and summer after summer. Some bottlenose dolphins will spend their summers in the waters of the Outer Banks and then migrate south for the winter only to return again in the early summer the next year. This early migration has led some people to call them the “Retirees of the Sea.”
While you might have a chance encounter with a dolphin while kayaking or sailing, one of the most certain ways to get “up close and personal” with a dolphin is to take a ride on one of the popular Dolphin Watch boat trips. While no guarantees can be offered on these trips, they usually have a better than 90% chance of encountering dolphins.
One benefit of a Dolphin Watch trip is to be able to get really close to the dolphins, since they usually swim right near the boat. If you look closely you might even be able to see that the dolphins’ fins (which appear smooth at a distance) are actually covered with nicks and scratches. Dolphin researchers use these marks to identify over 300 dolphins in the Outer Banks. The most famous of these is Onion, perhaps the easiest dolphin to identify on the entire East Coast. Onion and his family spend their summers in the Nags Head area, and their winters off of Beaufort, N.C.
Dolphins are social animals and spend their entire lives in the company of other dolphins. The pods of 3 or 4 (and up to 40) dolphins will range in age from newborns to 50 years old, and physically mature adults range in size from just under six feet to nearly 12 feet and weigh from 330 lbs. to 1430 lbs. Living together in the protective sound waters improves their chances of finding food, increases the likelihood of avoiding predators such as sharks, makes it easier to encounter a suitable mate and increases the learning potential of youngsters.
A close encounter with a dolphin in the wild is a thrilling and memorable experience. Who could remain untouched by the amazing agility of a bottlenose dolphin as it leaps into the air beside a boat or as it exhales a breath of air causing a cloud of spray to shoot 10 feet into the air before disappearing under the surface again, or a young calf breathing out of the water in stride with its mother, never missing a beat? These are the kinds of experiences that stay with people for the rest of their lives.