Hilton Head dolphins are as friendly as the people here. They show up in all the populated places – the Atlantic beaches, the sounds, and the creeks. Their graceful, silvery bodies never fail to catch attention as they arc through the waters or pop up to grin at you with their smiling faces.
It’s no wonder dolphins are so easy to spot. The Carolina coastline has a warm-weather population of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins estimated between 1,200 and 2,000, shrinking to around 600 in the winter. It’s still a mystery where the others go in winter, but they always seem to return to greet the tourist (and the shrimping) season.
Dolphins are friendly, but remember they are wild animals with teeth. It is also important to keep in mind that the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act strictly prohibits the feeding, touching and harassment of dolphins. Resist the urge to pat their heads or throw them a bite to eat. If reported, civil or criminal penalties could be imposed.
Federal laws still won’t stop them from following shrimp boats and waiting for an easy meal when the shrimpers cull their catch. These intelligent animals also know to hang around marinas where fishermen clean their fish; and a few old-timers that were in our waters before the feeding ban will still follow pleasure boats, remembering the days of legal free handouts.
You may be lucky enough to see dolphins “strand feeding,” a phenomenon documented and studied by Jacques Cousteau and other marine biologists. At low tide the clever dolphins will team up and herd a school of fish onto a shore and then beach themselves to enjoy a feast. If you are out on the water around sunset, try to find a shrimp boat anchoring up. If you can get close (but not too close), you’ll find dolphins hanging around the shrimp boats to feed.
Many tour operators on Hilton Head can take you out for a guided, narrated dolphin watch in boats ranging from large double-deck boats to small craft like a kayak.
The larger boats may not require reservations, but the smaller boats require them several days in advance in the busy season. It’s best to call ahead in any case.
All boats are U.S. Coast Guard inspected, and all operators are licensed and knowledgeable.
The larger boats offer amenities such as on-board rest rooms, snack bars, more legroom, climate control systems, and shaded seating.
Pontoon boats, hard-bottomed rafts, deck boats, motorized CraigCats©, Florida flat boats, and smaller sailboats and catamarans will seat fewer people, give you more personal attention with your guide, and get you much closer to the dolphins.
Kayaks put you right on the water, and your interpretive guide will be close by to assist you with your kayak, answer questions, and point out natural phenomena.
For more information, contact:
Bluewater Adventure HHI (843-422-9119)
Commander Zodiac (843-671-3344)
Dolphin and Nature Cruises (843-681-2522)
Dolphin Seafari (843-785-2345)
Daufuskie Difference (843-342-8687)
Flying Circus Sailing Catamaran (843-686-2582)
The Gypsy (843-363-2900)
The Holiday (Adventure Cruises) (843-785-4558)
Kayak Hilton Head (843-684-1910)
Live Oac Adventures (843-384-1414)
Lowcountry Wildlife Photo Safaris (843-524-3037)
One HHI (843-684-2004)
Outside Hilton Head (800-686-6996)
Port Royal Foundation’s Maritime Center (843-645-7774)
Saint Margaret Sails (912-695-2036)
Sky Pirate Watersports (843-686-5323)
Spirit of Harbour Town (843-363-9026)
Stars & Stripes (843-363-9026)
Sumo Charters (843-671-4386)
Vagabond Cruises (843-363-9023)