Dolphins Rock – They Also Roll


Photo: Kelly Dean

Dolphins Rock – They Also Roll

By Kelly Dean

Dolphins do some amazing things in the water. Not only do the rock the waterline, but they often leap … and roll the surface.

Sighting a dolphin while on vacation in Florida is on most people’s short-list. These lovable creatures are endearing and everyone wants an opportunity to see them in their natural habitat, as opposed to being fenced-in at a theme park.


Photo: Kelly Dean

In Florida, it is very easy to spot a dolphin without having to go to great effort to do so. Frankly, if you go where the dolphins feed, they will come. (There must be a movie catch-phrase in that line.)

I can, without reflection, say that I see dolphins about 40 percent of the time when I go to the bay or beach. The reason is: most casual observers are simply too wrapped up in what they are doing to notice them.

So I’m going to make some bold declarations:  here is where to find dolphins, assuming you don’t have a boat and you’re watching from the shore:


Photo: Kelly Dean

At the beach

At the beach, they are normally just beyond the swim-line, that is, they are just beyond where people are swimming. This is often at a distance that is about equal to the end of a pier. They are attracted to this pier area because dead baitfishes are often tossed away by fisherman here. This is the same reason pelicans hang around crab boats – to get a crack at the castaway contents. Also, there is generally a depth drop-off here. Fish, or semi-whales in this case, love depth changes and like to hang out there.

That said, I once saw a tourist wading with her child in two feet of water and a mother and young dolphin swam right up to her feet. She didn’t notice and she was wearing earphones so I couldn’t tip her off. She was preoccupied with watching her child. I’ll bet she would have loved that.


Photo: Kelly Dean

At estuaries and bays

Near estuaries, they like hanging where clear water meats colored water. This is because they can trap bait there. They tend to hang on the clear water side and stalk. Also, realize that a mother must teach a young dolphin how to fish. So it is common to see mom’s giving the basics to junior in this fashion.

In estuary bays, they like to hang where the deep channels are adjacent to the shallow channels (in offshore waters — the same applies to reefs.) You obviously don’t have a depth finder, so look for crab pots, because this is where they are dropped as well: at depth changes. Their lined-up pot buoys mark the location quite obviously. Just watch that line, while you are eating your breakfast at your favorite bayside restaurant.

If you do have a boat in the bays, they sometimes follow your boat into clear water and play in the wake. They also roll. I don’t know why. This happens in the Keys and and on up the coasts, anywhere the water is very clear. This is cool because there is often more than one in this case.

I once saw dolphins playing volleyball with a fish one dolphin had caught. Back and forth, they tossed this ladyfish like it was a volleyball game. I kid you not. They can be quite entertaining. They have a mind of their own.


Photo: Kelly Dean

Dolphins and bull sharks

Dolphin sightings are often mistaken for bull shark sightings due to the similar dorsal fin coloration. To distinguish them, note that the dolphin’s tail is lateral and parallel to the surface, making it move more more up-and-down as it goes through the water. A bull shark has a vertical tail, so it will stay flat on the surface and often move somewhat side-to-side. The bull shark can skim the surface pretty evenly; the dolphin will eventually roll over the surface.

The bull shark also has a fin behind the dorsal fin which can often be seen if at the surface — the tail tip can bee seen as well at times. The dolphin’s dorsal fin is its only one and is also more crescent-shaped and backward pointed at the tip. The bull shark’s dorsal is quite triangular, with largely sharp lines.

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