There are over 27 species of marine mammals that live in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Among the species that can be found in the Gulf are several different dolphins, manatees, baleen whales and toothed whales. While you may not see every one of these species during an aquatic tour of the waters near Panama City Beach, you have a very good chance of seeing bottlenose dolphins.
The Gulf of Mexico has the largest concentration of bottlenose dolphins found in U.S. waters.
There are lots of ways to seek out bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat during your visit to Panama City Beach. You can take a dolphin boat cruise or guided wave runner tour, or rent a boat and venture out on your own.
These curious creatures may even come looking for you as you snorkel or swim in the Gulf waters. However you find them, you can bet that seeing these beautiful animals in the wild will be a highlight of your vacation.
Here Are Some Interesting Facts About Our Friends in the Gulf:
Porpoises and Dolphins are Different
Porpoises, dolphins, and whales are all members of the animal classification order Cetacea. (The word Cetacea is derived from a Greek word meaning “large sea creature.”) These marine mammals share similar characteristics including their flattened tails, called flukes, and their cylinder-shaped bodies. The bottlenose dolphins common in the Gulf of Mexico are sometimes called grey porpoises. But, of course, they aren’t porpoises at all. There are no porpoise species that call the Gulf of Mexico home.
What’s the difference? Dolphins usually have a longer snout, or beak, and cone-shaped teeth. Porpoises have a more rounded face, and their teeth are flat. A dolphin’s body is usually more streamlined than a porpoise’s body. And, the dolphin’s fin is curved with a signature hook shape. A porpoise’s fin is just a rounded triangle. You might say that a porpoise is Richie, and a dolphin is the Fonz. Dolphins are just cooler.
Echolocation is all in a Dolphin’s Head
Most dolphins, including the bottlenose dolphin, have a slightly rounded, pronounced forehead. This part of their body is important for echolocation. Echolocation allows dolphins to use sound waves to locate items in the water. Dolphins operate this sonar system by emitting clicking sounds that travel through the water then bounce back after hitting an object. The dolphin’s large forehead and jaw capture these return sound waves and transmit them to the dolphin’s brain for analysis.
Dolphins Have Good Taste
Dolphins like to eat squid, octopus, and fish. On occasion, they may also nibble on krill or another crunchy crustacean. Dolphins often hunt in groups, called pods. They may surround a school of fish with a ring of bubbles or work as a team to herd the fish together. Dolphins have even been known to use their tails to fling fish onto the shore for easy pickings!
Dolphins Love to Have a Good Time
Bottlenose dolphins like to play and dive in the water. Often you will see a dolphin play on the surface of the water. When diving, dolphins will sometimes flip their tails—called flukes—out of the water. Dolphins like to play in the wakes created by boats and the currents created by passing whales. If you are lucky, you may even see a dolphin leap completely out of the water!
A dolphin may breach or leap out of the water for fun or while chasing fish. But if you see a dolphin leaping out of the water repeatedly and slapping the water with its tail or exhaling loudly (chuffing), it is time to leave the creature alone. These are all signs that the dolphin has had enough of your company. The wild dolphins around Panama City Beach are pretty used to us humans wandering around, but it is always good to remember—we are visiting in their home.
Let us Help You Visit the Dolphins When You Come to PCB
Here in Panama City Beach, we love our marine mammal neighbors and want to share their beauty with you when you visit. Our tour guides are trained to respect the dolphins and avoid disturbing them while still allowing you to observe them in their natural habitat.
Stop by one of our locations or book your tour online. We’ll make sure you have a memorable experience meeting our fascinating friends, the bottlenose dolphins.