Bottlenose Dolphins in the Matanzas River – 27/3/18

The Matanzas River is a beautiful saltwater waterway located in northeast Florida. Despite it’s name, the Matanzas River isn’t a true river, but is actually a long, narrow lagoon. Bottlenose Dolphins make their home throughout this waterway, and, with its mostly natural, marsh and mangrove-lined shores, the Matanzas River is a great place to photograph them.

The weather on the Matanzas on March 27, 2018 was perfect for dolphin watching. Sunny, gentle winds, and calm waters. Shortly after launching our boat at Bing’s Landing and heading northward, toward Matanzas Inlet, we saw two dolphins hunting in the mouth of Pellicer Creek. Throughout my visits to the Matanzas, I’ve learned that the local dolphins appear to favor the many entrances to Pellicer Creek as good hunting grounds.

After leaving the first two dolphins, we spotted another one mulling around near the shoreline of the west side of the north tip of Rattlesnake Island. We didn’t get much excitement from this individual, other than a few photos of it fluking.

The best part of the trip came later, after we had headed back towards Bing’s Landing once again. We had seen a large object in shallow water, and had pulled over to see what it was (it appeared to be a sunken tug boat). Just as we were leaving, I saw a large yacht cruising down the channel. This boat was big, and it was making a gigantic wake and creating a tunneling wave at its bow. I remember thinking, “Wow, a dolphin would probably love to surf that wake and ride at that bow.” Just as I was thinking this, I saw a dorsal fin appear in front of the wave at the boat’s bow. A few seconds later, a dolphin porpoised, then another appeared – a group of three dolphins were bow riding in front of this big boat! We were amazed and surprised, and, in our own boat, began to race alongside the large yacht, watching the dolphins ride at the bow. After a minute or so, the dolphins switched from the bow to the wake. Now, instead of being pushed along by the pressure wave at the front of the yacht, they were “surfing” the boat’s wake!

Usually, capturing photos of wild dolphins leaping and porpoising takes a lot of focus, experience, predicting, and fast reflexes, but in this case, catching those sort of photos was almost effortless!

Just like many human surfers, these dolphins would display various dolphin-surfing “stunts,” such as leaping, twisting, or even attempting to ride the wave with their peduncle and flukes in the air. It was an absolutely incredible sight to see!

After a few minutes, the dolphins dropped off of the wave and began casually surfacing in the middle of the Matanzas. We watched them for a few more minutes, then decided to leave.

Those few minutes racing beside the yacht were some of the most exciting ones I’ve experienced. The entire performance was much like a dolphin show at a marine park, except that this was at least five times more thrilling than any trained dolphin performance. What an amazing day it was – one that I’ll surely never forget!


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