Along with palm trees and sunsets, dolphin sightings provide some of the most iconic images to Florida residents. There are very few things more exciting than spotting a dolphin in the wild – and the Sarasota area offers some of the best opportunities to do just that. There are several species of dolphin that call the waters surrounding downtown and Siesta Key home. In this article, we discuss the Sarasota Bay dolphins and share a few little-known facts about these beloved creatures.

Bottlenose Dolphins in Sarasota Bay

Sarasota Bay is known as the “Dolphin Capital of the World,” as it provides a habitat to a large resident population of bottlenose dolphins. These intelligent and friendly marine animals are often spotted in the Bay and have been studied for over 50 years by the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. During the spring and summer months, mother dolphins and their calves are often seen in these shallow waters – the babies enjoy an abundant diet of pinfish, pigfish, and striped mullet. The coastal waters also offer safety for the youngest dolphins, protecting them from potential predators in deeper waters.

Sarasota Bay’s dolphins live in an established and permanent community, and they remain within specific geographical boundaries. The research program has tracked their family lines, favorite companions and frequent hangouts, as well as what they like to eat. There are currently approximately 170 dolphins living full-time in Sarasota Bay.

Did You Know? Through research and educational outreach, Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium provides invaluable insights into our resident dolphins’ behavior and brings awareness to the need for conservation.

5 Fascinating Facts About Sarasota Bay Dolphins

Dolphins are fascinating to observe in their natural habitat, but there are many more incredible things to know about our most popular residents.

  1. Do dolphins recognize each other? Yes, they do! Bottlenose dolphins are highly intelligent, and they recognize themselves and members of their group as individuals with separate identities. They each have a recognizable signature whistle that functions as a “name.” These abilities are very rare within the animal kingdom.
  2. How do dolphins find food? Bottlenose dolphins love the mullet found in Sarasota and Siesta Bey waters but also prefer pinfish, pigfish, spot, toadfish, ladyfish & sea trout. Dolphins have the ability to locate their prey simply by listening. Many of the dolphins’ primary prey species make some type of sound — whether the pinfish grinding its teeth or the mullet jumping into the air and creating audible splashes. Amazingly, dolphins can even hear and track prey as they contract their swim bladders when moving through the water.
  3. Are dolphins good parents? Although dolphins tend to stay with the same group – and can recognize one another – only the female of the species is interested in their young. Juvenile dolphins stay with their mom for up to 6 years, while their father does not participate. Dolphins also do not mate for life, so the baby dolphin is only raised by its mother. Babies are most commonly born in May and June – but because of their close relationship, you may see mother and baby pairs throughout the year.
  4. How do dolphins swim so quickly and gracefully? Dolphins’ tails comprise over 40 percent of their overall body length. Horizontal tail flukes utilize up-and-down strokes to propel the dolphin through the water. Pectoral (side) fins help the animal steer, and dorsal (back) fins stabilize them as they race through the Bay.
  5. How long do dolphins live? The lifespan of a dolphin can reach 50 years or more. The oldest living documented dolphin was a female known to researchers as Nicklo. The dolphin, who lived in Sarasota Bay, reached 67 years old.

Seeing Sarasota Dolphins in the Wild

Dolphins are often spotted playing off the coast of Siesta Key Beach or cruising through residential canals. Many people have seen dolphins while kayaking through our waters – and because there are so many documented dolphins living in Sarasota Bay, that is a fantastic place to look for them.

Call Ride and Paddle today to learn more about our Sarasota Bay kayak tours.