Florida has an abundance of marine animals that you can spot while on the water or walking along the shoreline. This includes several dolphin species that are found in Florida’s coastal waters. The most common dolphin you might see is the bottle-nosed dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). Bottle-nosed dolphins have powerful, blue-gray bodies and are known to be highly intelligent. They have a wide range of vocalizations and cooperate to catch fish and care for each other.
Dolphins that live in Florida’s inshore or estuarine waters live in small social groups of about ten individuals. If a group lives in an estuary, they typically spend most of their time in that estuary and will not generally travel to offshore waters.
There are several community science programs in Florida where researchers ask people to report sightings and dolphin interactions. This data can be used by scientists for research. The first is the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Harbor Branch Dolphin Spotter program, and the second is the Mote Marine Laboratory Dolphin-Fishing Interactions reporting program.
Dolphin Spotter Program
The FAU Harbor Branch Dolphin Spotter program is a community science project where volunteers take pictures of dolphins they have spotted and submit them through an online form. This program is a land-based community science program, so you do not need a boat to participate. To participate, simply fill out a registration form, watch a training video, take photos of dolphins from land with your camera or cellphone, and submit those photos through a Sighting Form. The FAU Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Stranding and Population Assessment team will use photos submitted in their research.
Dolphin-Fishing Interactions Reporting
The Mote Marine Laboratory Sarasota Dolphin Research Program has a new community science program asking boaters and fishermen to report dolphin-fishing interactions while fishing. This project is looking for help in monitoring the frequency and impact of interactions with anglers, fisheries, and dolphins. The researchers are testing a new online reporting system to better provide data to prioritize outreach and mitigation efforts. The Florida Sea Grant Bite-Sized Science webinar series recently featured the researchers involved in this program. You can get involved and report interactions you see by enrolling in the program at https://dolphin.report. Reporting can be done right from your phone.
One last thing to remember is that dolphins are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is against federal law to feed or harass dolphins. Human and dolphin interactions increase the risk of dolphins getting injured by boats, becoming entangled in fishing gear, and decreasing their willingness to forage for food on their own. Keep your distance from dolphins and enjoy watching them behave naturally in their environment.