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Exploring With Dolphins in St. Augustine

(Larry Vaught Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT
ST. AUGUSTINE — Any wildlife tour has a large degree of uncertainty. There’s just no guarantee what wildlife you may or may not see.

Still, I was optimistic as always Friday — and it was sunny, gorgeous day in Florida — that the Florida Water Tours Dolphin Tour and Wildlife Adventure would be a success and we would see at least a couple of dolphins during our 90 minutes on the Tolomato/Matanzas River since the dolphins call the bay their year-round home.
Our boat had capacity for 36, was limited to 27 and only had 16 on board along with two crew members for our outing.

We were barely away from the dock when the first dolphins appeared. To me, that made the cruise a success already. Little did I know what was yet to come.

Our tour guide, Marcel van Gils,  told us he was a marine biologist who had studied whales and even conducted kayak tours here into the marshes.

Our professional guides are marine naturalists and make this a really fun and enjoyable experience for young kids and adults while you learn about the natural beauty these Florida waters have to offer. He told us his objective was to take us to spots “most likely” to have wildlife.

He was right. Not only that, he said we got “fortunate” because the dolphins were breeding and explained how males would sometimes work together to separate a female from her group. For us, the benefit was that dolphins were “frisky” and using a lot of oxygen that required them to come up for air more often.

We saw a lot of dolphins and they seemed oblivious to our presence. They moved and surfaced a lot. It was quite the show and our guide was terrific at explaining everything in terms even I could understand.

He thought he might be able to show us a manatee — an extra bonus — but we spent so much time watching so many dolphins that we ran out of time. However, no one was complaining because of all we learned watching more dolphins than I think anyone on board anticipated seeing.

We got to see an amazing number of pelicans that seemed to pose for us on dock that had been severely damaged by a hurricane and not yet repaired. He explained how that was the perfect spot for them and even how to recognize the leader of the group based on where he was perched.

While there are historic cruises (along with the popular sunset and wine tasting cruises), our guide did point some of the historical landmarks we saw in St. Augustine.
Marcel van Gils has also start the Florida Water Warriors. He’s the education and programming coordinator and is trying to bring students on the water for a different type of learning. Students help collect research by locating birds, dolphins, fish and more. He also has them collect water samples to test for temperature, pH, and analyzing microorganisms.

It certainly seems like the perfect field trip for St. Augustine students and other youngsters just like Friday

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