Don’t miss the boat! Dolphin watch adventure at the Jersey Shore
It’s a glorious late summer day at the Jersey Shore as our boat pulls away from the dock at Gardner’s Basin in Atlantic City. We’re off on a dolphin-watching adventure, and our captain is optimistic about our quest.
“The ocean’s perfect, there’s a nice breeze, and we do expect to see dolphins today,” says Jeff George, owner of the popular Atlantic City Cruises. The Dolphin Watch is one of four cruises offered during the summer season and this one continues through the end of October.
Now that beach season is over, it’s a chance to enjoy other pleasures at the Jersey Shore, such as taking a cruise that includes a search for dolphins.
They are spotted 90 percent of the time, said our captain. On the rare occasions when they’re not, everyone on board gets a free return ticket - with no limit on when it’s used.
One day, 35 dolphins were cavorting in the ocean off the coast of Brigantine, so the captain heads in the same direction today.
Our boat, the Cruisin 1, is a comfortable doubledecked 65 foot vessel. As we head out to the ocean from the bay, seagulls swoop overhead. Soon we see the Atlantic City skyline. Cameras click as we admire the outlines of casinos from this vantage point. The gaudy Taj Mahal, the sleek Trump Plaza and others - all look like fantasy rectangles against the sky.
Then the Brigantine beach comes into view, and we see sunbathers and swimmers. Others are enjoying kite boarding: they’re on surfboards guiding colorful kites.
But our main focus is dolphins, and as we cruise, Captain Jeff gives us some basic information. Dolphins are wild, he emphasizes.
“These aren’t like the dolphins at places like Sea World in Orlando. These are not tamed in any way.”
They stay at the Jersey Shore from May through October, when the ocean turns colder and they swim south. During the day, dolphins eat 40- 60 pounds of fresh fish.
“They have hearty appetites,” said our captain. And it shows: females grow to 400 pounds, and males are even heavier at 60 pounds.
A seasoned mariner and expert on dolphins, Captain Jeff has been working on boats since age 5. His grandfather started the business in Sea Isle City over 40 years ago. Captain Jeff, who is a native of Media and former teacher, now owns the family business and lives full time at the Shore.
As the boat heads farther out to sea, he urges us to be on the lookout. “You’re part of our research team, so tell us as soon as you see a dolphin,” he said. “If you see a dark gray fin rise and fall, that’s a dolphin. And they have to come to the top to get air. Then they disappear back into the water.”
Suddenly, on the starboard side, we see flashes of a fin coming to the surface. Then we catch a brief glimpse of the before it into the water.
“Oh, look!” passengers exclaim. “Look how close it came!”
We will soon see more, Jeff promises. He senses that there are lots of fish around, and that means the dolphins are enjoying their lunch.
He also knows they’ve been having “lunch” underwater.
“They take the fish, catch it in their teeth, and swallow their meal whole,” he said. “See all the birds? They’re getting the scraps of fish caught by the dolphins.”
Soon we see many more entire dolphin dips back that their flashes of fin. They’re cavorting in the water- coming up, and then darting down- and they’re on both sides of the boat. Jeff estimates that altogether there are about 50 dolphins underwater, although we won’t see that many.
“There are plenty of dolphins. They’re females with their babies,” Jeff said. He knows this because babies only swim with their mothers and aunts. He can even estimate that one baby dolphin is only a week old or less.
These Atlantic bottleneck dolphins keep flipping up and then diving back down underwater. Their tail fin is called a flipper, Jeff explains, because of how they use it to flip through the water.
He skillfully maneuvers the boat so those on both sides get good views as the dolphins come even closer. “Here they come, right on cue,” he says. Passengers young and old are delighted. The kids are absolutely gleeful.
Captain Jeff is pleased, too.
“I promised we’d see dolphins - and that we’d have an adventure- and I kept my promise!” he said.
After we’ve enjoyed spotting the dolphins and they are very fastmoving - it’s time to turn definitely back. On the return trip, passengers enjoy the calm water, the gentle swell of the waves, and the sea breeze. Although the excitement is over, enjoying the gentle cruise is another pleasure.
The passengers are a varied group, spanning all ages. Some are Jersey Shore vacationers who are on their first dolphin watch. But others are repeat passengers who come whenever they’re at the Shore.
Each trip is a new adventure, and there’s also the sheer pleasure of the boat ride and the chance to watch dolphins riding the waves.
Atlantic City Cruises offers its Dolphin Watch cruise daily through Sept 30 and then on Wed, Sat and Sun from October 1 to 29. For schedule and information, visit www.atlanticcitycruises.com or call 609-347-760 www.atlanticcitycruises.com