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you may not want to swim with dolphins in natural habitat but just observe them

Paddleboarding With Dolphins – How To Respect Wildlife

One of the most invigorating yet relaxing sports of all, Paddleboarding has now become a mainstream water-based sport. Though always entertaining, paddleboarding hadn’t always had the largest audience. But with the recent boost in popularity, people are shifting their interest towards paddle boarding and other water-based sports. 

There are many reasons for its popularity as a sport and a hobby, but the number one reason is the vast affordability of the interest. The overall cost of paddleboarding is less than most sports, including both license fees for inland waters and relative membership programs. 

The sport is excellent for building core strength and overall muscle toning and conditioning. 

But when you add sightseeing of spectacular wildlife like dolphins to that, it gets much better. 

Table of Contents

What’s The Difference Between Tamed And Wild Dolphins?

Dolphins are one of the most intelligent beings in existence. But they are not always sweet. They are thought to be naturally very docile. This isn’t true. Dolphins are wild beings. 

diving with wild dolphins from a distance

Dolphins in aquariums are not the same as those in the wild. Dolphins in captivity are friendly and docile because of their training and frequent human interactions. Dolphins in the wild, however, are a different story. 

Based on the different behaviors of wild and tamed types, there are different codes of conduct for each encounter. 

When paddleboarding, you’re more likely to encounter wild dolphins. This means that you have to be very careful. 

Here are the basics 

  1. First and foremost, do not try to approach a dolphin. Stay still and let them come to you. Consistent persuasion can lead to dolphins becoming agitated. So, do keep a safe distance from them. 
  2. If you see a dolphin in your vicinity, try to maneuver yourself either parallel or slightly to the rear end of the dolphin. Do not attempt to meet them head-on.
  3. Do not, and I repeat, do not get off of the board. Stay on the board, especially if you see pods of dolphins.
  4. Try not to steer too close to mother dolphins and their calves as it can trigger their protective instincts. 

Remember: No matter how smart or friendly they can be, a wild animal is a wild animal. 

What Distance Should You Keep From Wild Dolphins When Paddling?

keep your distance so you don't find out how do dolphins protect themselves

As mentioned above, dolphins are majestic creatures. They are smart and docile and are even closer to humans in terms of social behaviors. But, even with lovely dolphins, you need to maintain a safe distance.

When paddleboarding with dolphins, you need to stay out of the “caution zone.” 

Now, what is the caution zone? It’s a zone surrounding dolphins pods. It’s called a caution zone because a vessel should not enter it and is about 500 feet (150 meters) in diameter. 

If you are approached by a dolphin, try to maneuver and maintain a distance of about 165 ft (50 meters) from it. If they come to you then, stay on your board and let them swim by. Admire their glory from a safe distance.

If you notice any difference in the behavior of dolphins, it is best to paddle away. Steer away slowly but steadily. Once there is a distance of around 1000 ft (300m) between you and the dolphins, you can return to your normal paddling speed.

Can You Feed Wild Dolphins?

Feeding dolphins is a big no-no. This is for both captives as well as wild dolphins. Moreover, dolphins fall under the protection of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Feeding wild dolphins is illegal. 

Currently, a fine of around $20,000 plus 1-year jail time is set for anyone who breaks the law. 

Captive dolphins have regulated and set times for feeding, while wild dolphins are more than capable of hunting for themselves. There is no need for you to feed either of them. 

Visitors feeding wild dolphins will condition dolphins in those areas to be dependent on humans for food which is not ideal. Wild animals need to be able to fend for themselves to survive

Organizations like the “Outside foundation” have dedicated themselves to educating tourists and showing them a safe and respectable way to admire marine life.  

Should You Be Scared If Wild Dolphins Approach Your SUP?

Here are 5 tips on what to do when a dolphin approaches your SUP.

  1. First and foremost, do not panic. Dolphins usually do not attack unless provoked or scared.
  2. Secondly, avoid making any sudden and aggressive maneuvers or moves. Loud noises and sudden gestures may set the dolphin off. 
  3. Do not get off the paddleboard.
  4. Do not try to pet the animal. While tempting, do not put your hands anywhere near it. This accounts for Level A of harassment as it may disrupt the usual social or migration pattern of the dolphin, according to NOAA Fisheries.
  5. Do not try to get the dolphin’s attention by throwing something at it or splashing the water around you. This may lead it to bump the board, potentially injuring both you and the dolphin. According to NOAA Fisheries, this type of conduct accounts for Level B of harassment with the intention of provocation. 

Tips To Respectfully Observe Dolphins While Paddleboarding

can you swim with wild dolphins like this paddleboarder

Now let’s regather the key points for a dolphin encounter while paddleboarding. 

  1. Do not feed the animal. 
  2. Maintain a safe distance between you and the animals, around 165 ft (50m). You can use binoculars for a closer look. 
  3. Try not to startle dolphins when around them, especially around pods. Sudden startles may separate calves present in the pod from their mothers. 
  4. If you see dolphins acting abnormally, slowly paddle away. Avoid making any harsh movements.
  5. Do not bother them. Do not try to pet them or approach them head-on. There is a chance you may disrupt their migration routes and cause them stress. 


Being closer to mother nature also brings about a sense of tranquility. Many beginners have talked about a gush of serendipity after their first experience paddling and being around marine life in the waters.

Be sensible and respect the creatures around you, and you too can experience that joy if you ever encounter a dolphin while paddleboarding.

Steve Frankland

Steve Frankland

Steve Frankland loves the outdoor life and getting out in nature. He loves writing and sharing knowledge. He's part of the team at
He’ll find any excuse he can to get out on the water and can often be seen on a SUP with his kids and dogs.