Dolphin excursions are led by researchers. // © 2015 Erin Gifford
Feature image (above): It is common to see around 20 dolphins during the trip. // © 2015 Thinkstock
It’s hard to find a child who doesn’t love dolphins, and there are plenty of programs that allow kids of all ages to get up close to the animals. On Marco Island in Florida, however, budding scientists can actually help researchers catalog dolphins as part of 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project, a study of bottlenose dolphins in Southwest Florida.
Research participants are privy to a special experience — they climb onboard the 30-foot Dolphin Explorer catamaran for a three-hour cruise in the Gulf of Mexico and neighboring estuaries. Billed as “the finest ecotour in Southwest Florida,” the trip does not disappoint. Children “meet” dolphins by name as the creatures splash in the waves alongside the boat.
Guests can expect to see as many as 20 dolphins while cruising, and they’ll also spend time exploring the project’s Sea Excursions notebook, in which researchers document sightings and identify dolphins by their fins. As we cruised, the onboard naturalist snapped photos and shared what he knew about each animal, including their gender, age and how they preferred to catch fish.
At the end of the adventure, all guests bring home photos of the dolphins they spotted, as well as a Dolphin Challenge booklet with activities to complete in order to earn a patch. More important, though, participants walk away with a better understanding and appreciation for one of the sea’s cutest creatures. Prices begin at $37. Children under 2 years old are free.
Consider booking clients at nearby Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa, which offers a kids’ camp and a bakery tour for kids — complete with the opportunity to design their own chef’s hat.