While many visitors go to Key West for the party atmosphere, there’s plenty for nature lovers to enjoy there as well. If your primary goal is to see dolphins in Key West, it’s a good idea to plan your trip accordingly.
These highly intelligent creatures – which are closely related to whales – aren’t that difficult to spot once you’re in the Florida Keys. On the other hand, you have to know where to look. It also helps if you visit during the right time of year. We’ve put together this guide to help you seek out the best places (and times) to see dolphins in Key West.
Fun Facts About Key West Dolphins
As much fun as it is to watch dolphins swimming around, it’s even more interesting when you know more about them. Here are a few interesting tidbits about the dolphins that you’re likely to see in Key West:
The dolphin is part of the Cetacea family and closely related to whales and porpoises
There are five families of dolphins
The most common dolphin found in Key West is the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, characterized by a dark gray backside and lighter gray belly
Dolphins travel in pods of 10 to 30, but some pods may contain thousands
They use echolocation to hunt and gain other information about their surroundings
Tiger sharks, bull sharks, great whites, and other large shark species are their natural predators
They are highly intelligent and emotional animals who use squeaks, clicks, and tail flapping to communicate with one another
Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are often mistaken for porpoises
Since our Key West Sandbar Trip is a personalized excursion, you’ll have the opportunity to learn all about the wildlife – including the pods of dolphins – you’ll see along the way. A cruise along the sandbar, good friends, scintillating conversation, golden sun, azure sky – what could be better?
Don’t miss out on the chance to book our tour and see Key West from a whole new perspective.
When Is The Best Time To See Dolphins In Key West?
If you’re going to Key West on a dolphin watch, try to plan your trip for the months between May and October. That’s when the animals are most active, and therefore more visible.
What’s the best time of day to plan a dolphin tour? You can go anytime, but we would recommend aiming for the morning hours if possible. It will be easier to spot the dolphins in calm water.
Remember that hurricane season runs from June through November. If you’re taking your trip during this time, the threat of a major storm will be much higher than usual.
No matter when you visit, be sure to treat the dolphins with respect when viewing them in the wild. Don’t get too close, and never attempt to touch or feed them. If you really want to get up close and personal with the dolphins, we’ve offered a few suggestions below.
5 Best Places To View Dolphins In Key West And Beyond
Once you’ve decided when you’ll be heading for Key West, it’s time to start seeking out the best places to spot dolphins. You can either visit them in their natural habitat or stick to places like the Dolphin Connection, where you’re guaranteed to see the playful creatures up close.
Here’s our list of the prime spots for dolphin viewing in Key West:
1) Drop By Dolphin Playground
This area presents the best opportunity for visitors to see dolphins during their time in Key West. Located in the shallow waters of the backcountry, this feeding and breeding ground all but guarantees that you’ll spot at least one dolphin. Since they travel in pods, though, you’re bound to see more than one.
Dolphin Playground offers the ideal environment for feeding, as the water maintains a consistent depth of around 10 feet. It’s also surrounded by mangrove trees, which attract the juvenile fish that make up the bulk of a dolphin’s diet.
Here, the dolphins engage in a technique known as “mud plume feeding.” This means they work as a team to create plumes of mud in the water, then dart through the plumes to capture the fish they’ve stirred up. The behavior is fascinating to witness and well worth the trip to Dolphin Playground.
2) Be A Part Of The Show At Theater Of The Sea
For something a little more structured, plan a swim session with the dolphins at Theater of the Sea. You’ll have to travel to Mile Marker 84.5 in Islamorada to get there, but you’re guaranteed to see dolphins during your visit.
Swimming with dolphins in the wild can be problematic, as it’s inadvisable to approach the creatures too closely. During the dolphin swimming experience at Theater of the Sea, though, you’ll be able to snorkel alongside the dolphins and even get close enough to hug one. This is a marvelous option for families with young children.
As long as you’re taking the dolphin swim, why not make a day of it? Check out the parrot and sea lion shows before you leave. There’s also an excellent fish and reptile tour that will allow you to check a multitude of species off your marine life bucket list.
3) Embrace The Planet At Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder
To satisfy your urge to see dolphins and help the environment all in one go, contact the Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. This is a nonprofit that dedicates its profits to the rescue of stranded wild dolphins and whales in the Florida Keys. The outfit is located in Key Largo, a couple of hours’ drive from Key West, so you’ll have to make it a day trip if you want to visit.
Visitors can book dolphin swimming experiences at the facility, where they’ll also have the opportunity to watch the talented staff interacting with the friendly creatures. This is a learning experience as well as an enjoyable outing, and one that will give you numerous photo ops along with a renewed appreciation for dolphins and other marine life.
Since this is a unit that’s committed to preserving marine life and not just a tourist attraction, you’ll feel as if you’ve made a real difference by spending some time here.
4) Make A Splash At Dolphin Connection
For another opportunity to swim with the dolphins, check this place out. Situated on Hawks Key Boulevard on Duck Key, Dolphin Connection offers a well-rounded marine life experience, enhanced by the friendly and educated staff.
If the price for the swimming option seems high, be consoled by the fact that they’ll be snapping plenty of photos for you to pore through when you’re done. This will allow you the opportunity to treasure the experience for years to come. With the staff members doing the photography work for you, you’ll be able to focus solely on the dolphins you’ve come here to see.
5) Discover The Underwater World In The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
During your time in Key West, don’t miss out on the chance to check out the only coral barrier reef in the continental United States. It also carries the distinction of being the largest documented contiguous seagrass community in the entire Northern Hemisphere.
Over 6,000 animal species make their homes here, including the bottlenose dolphins that you’re here to see. Here are some of the other creatures you may encounter during your tour of the reef:
Loggerhead sea turtles
Numerous tropical fish, including parrotfish, mahi mahi, and hogfish
Along with the animals, the reef contains several submerged historical artifacts, making it a prime destination for scuba divers. It’s also an eye-opening learning experience and one that’s sure to fascinate the whole family.
Set A Course For Key West To Swim And Snorkel With The Dolphins
There’s no shortage of opportunities to snorkel and swim with the dolphins and fish that dwell in the waters off Key West. You can sometimes spot the creatures from the Mallory Docks or the sunset pier at Ocean Key Resort, but the best way to view them is from the water – or better yet, in the water.
If you’ve sampled a few of the destinations we’ve mentioned and are still hungry for more chances to see dolphins in the wild, we have you covered. Hop on board one of our boats for a Key West Sandbar Trip and enjoy the excursion of a lifetime!