Folly Beach is a great place to see dolphins if you know where to look and your chances of a dolphin encounter will increase exponentially if you leave it to the experts.
Charleston Outdoor Adventures is one local experienced outfitter that knows where to find them for optimal dolphin watching.
They offer a 1.5-hour educational boat tour aboard their Carolina Skiff during which you can explore the inlets, creeks and marshes behind Folly Beach in search of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. The waters surrounding Charleston are home to more than 300 wild dolphins that live here year-round, according to COA.
This is wildlife in its natural habitat so nothing is guaranteed, but with the right expertise, they can usually be found within 30 minutes of departure in calm estuary waters.
The captain will discuss Folly’s natural ecosystems and wildlife, local history and dolphin fun facts while always operating the vessel in a manner that is safe and respectful of the dolphins.
You may even be fortunate enough to observe dolphins exhibit a unique hunting technique known as strand feeding.
This feeding technique is a team hunting strategy in which dolphins work together to herd a school of fish onto a sandbar or tidal mud flat and then propel their bodies out of the water on shore to feed on their trapped prey. Dolphins often hunt in pods of a dozen or more using echolocation, a process by which they send out sound waves that bounce off an object, allowing them to identify and locate it.
COA tours are held through the day and there are even sunset tours available. The boat departs from their location on Bowens Island and the tour is open to all ages.
They recommend bringing water, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and a camera to document your adventure. You can also bring a small cooler with drinks and snacks. The tour happens rain or shine, so remember to carry rain gear with you just in case, especially in the summer when thunderstorms are common.
Another excursion that combines dolphin watching with other fun activities is COA’s Morris Island Lighthouse Tour, where you wind through pristine tidal creeks and picturesque marshes to see Folly’s Morris Island Lighthouse, and stroll along the uninhabited and undeveloped Morris Island. The iconic lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Along the way, the captain will point out native wildlife, local history and the diverse ecosystems of the Lowcountry. This is a good area to spot the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, as well as wading birds, oyster flats and potentially sea turtles. You will have 45 minutes to explore the beach on Morris Island and search for shells and shark’s teeth.
Or, if you prefer to chance it on your own without a tour you can explore areas such as the tidal flats on the north end of Folly across from the aforementioned Morris Island Lighthouse, and see if you can glimpse a few dolphins from the shore.
Either way, Folly Beach provides you with ample opportunities to view dolphins in their natural habitat.
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