I’ve written about various dolphin programs, including the Dockside Dolphins program that my kids participated in last year at Hawks Kay Resort on Duck Key in Florida. While this short program was more about using signals to get the dolphins to do tricks, I recently had the opportunity to check out the Dolphin Explorer, a program on Marco Island, Florida that lets kids assist dolphin researchers with the ongoing 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project.
My husband, Dirk, and I checked out this program together and boarded a 30-foot catamaran for a three-hour cruise. Guided by two members of the dolphin survey team, we headed out into the Gulf and neighboring estuaries in search of dolphins along with 25 other excited dolphin-seekers.
Every 10 minutes or so we’d spot dolphins and those on the boat with us would rush to catch some photos. There was one dolphin named Sharks that followed us for some time, even splashing and jumping the waves just behind the boat along with his pal, Trixie (we learned that male dolphins pair up with a buddy once they’re around 10 or 12 years old).
We were provided with a Sea Excursions binder with documentation on dolphin sightings, as well as photos of fins so we could identify each dolphin by name. The binder also educated us on dolphin anatomy and areas where dolphins had been sighted as part of the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project.
The crew members, including a master naturalist / wildlife photographer, were extremely knowledgeable, and so excited to talk about dolphins. We’d come across one or two dolphins and they’d take pictures of the dolphins to document them. They’d also share fun facts about the dolphins, like whether they are male or female (you can’t always tell by the name; Trixie is, in fact, a male dolphin), who their buddy is, how old they are and how they like to catch fish.
Two hours into the trip, we made a stop on a secluded beach so everyone could get off the boat, play in the water and collect a few shells. Everyone received a mesh bag for collecting seashells and some of the kids on the trip got back on board with dozens of pretty shells.
Children on-board the boat were also given a Dolphin Challenge activity booklet. They simply completed the activities to earn a patch, along with several photos of dolphins seen on our voyage. It was a great way for the children to learn more about the dolphin project in a fun, interactive way, but it also provided them with a few souvenirs from the experience.
Overall, our trip aboard the Dolphin Explorer was a fantastic experience. We learned so much about dolphins, as did the children on board the boat. No wonder Keith Bellows of National Geographic Traveler included Marco Island in his book, 100 Places that Can Change Your Child’s Life.
Disclaimer: I was recently a guest of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau and received complimentary passes to check out the Dolphin Explorer. However, all opinions expressed here are my own.