Have a child who adores dolphins? Then South Carolina is the place for you.
The entire coast of South Carolina is home to significant populations of resident bottlenose dolphins, or dolphins who live here year-round. We also happily play host to migrating dolphins making their way up and down the Atlantic coast.
This makes South Carolina a great place to see wild dolphins in the their natural habitats: ocean, marshes, estuaries and coastal rivers. So whether you’re in Myrtle Beach, or all the way down on Hilton Head Island, you and your kids are in the right spot to see these intelligent, playful, enchanting creatures.
One of the easiest ways is to just get comfortable in your beach chair and watch the ocean. You’ll often see dolphins’ dorsal fins flash black against the blue waves on a sunny day. Up and down they bob as a pod or a solitary dolphin swims along the beach.
You also might see dolphins when out kayaking in the little creeks and streams that flow into the ocean. Dolphins love hanging out in these calm waterways, and kayaking in them is a great family exercise for kids of all ages.
And finally, there are many dolphin-watching tours to choose from. These tours use all of their guides’ local knowledge and past experience, as well as the latest technology to help you get a close as safely possible to wild dolphins.
We’ve got a list of some of our favorite dolphin-watching companies listed below, but before you book your trip, here are a few important things to consider when you’re planning your South Carolina dolphin family adventure.
How long do you want to go out on the water in search of dolphins? Some dolphin-watching tours are up to three hours long, while some are short and sweet at an hour. You’ll probably see a lot more on a longer tour, but three hours out on the water can be too much for some people. Babies and toddlers (and their parents) are probably going to be much happier on a shorter tour, while older kids and teenagers might wish they could have another few hours tacked onto the longest tour there is.
There’s more than one way to see dolphins in the water. Here along the SC coast, there are several different options, from large, well-equipped motorboats, to zippy Zodiacs (hard-bottomed, motorized rubber rafts) to sea kayaks you paddle yourself through the creeks and estuaries. Think about the type of boat you’d like to go dolphin watching in. Two hours in a kayak, hoping to come across some dolphins as you meander down a creek, is going to be a much different experience than two hours on a 30-foot long power boat with sonar and radio communications tracking down the latest sightings in the open bay. Both of those will be different than an exhilarating adventure in a Zodiac. One isn’t necessarily better than another, just different.
What kind of experience do you and your kids want to have? The calm serenity and the physical exercise of a kayak? The comfortable, shady seats and smooth ride of a big boat? The thrill of flying and bouncing over waves and the ability to get far back into salt marshes and tiny, shallow streams in a Zodiac? What type of ride would be most comfortable and most exciting for your particular family?
Operators offer different types of tours, varying not only in length but also in what activities you’ll engage in. On some tours, you’ll have the chance to jump out of the boat and wade to sandbars speckled with shells, sand dollars and birds. On some, you’ll get a history tour of the coast along with dolphin sightings. Some tours actually follow big shrimp boats all the way out into the open ocean, with the dolphins, sharks, pelicans and waves that go along with them. Make sure you call and ask about the different activities various tour operators offer on their dolphin-watching tours, and make sure they line up with what you and your kids want to experience.
Commander Zodiac, 843.671.3344
Island Explorer, 843.785.2100
Charleston Outdoor Adventures, 843.795.0330
Coastal Expeditions, 843.884.7684
Sea Thunder, 843.455.6389
Blue Wave Adventures Dolphin Cruise, 843.651.3676