One of the best ways to explore the marine ecosystem around Marco Island is with the Dolphin Study, a long-term scientific study of the behavior and movements of southwestern Florida’s bottlenose dolphins. Using photo ID of dorsal fins, tour participants have the opportunity to get involved in sighting, counting and confirming individual sightings, data which is then shared with the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

Passing around a heavy photo album of dorsal fins, naturalist Kent Morse points out bite marks and tears that will help you tell the difference between Ripples, Nibbles and Flag. While close enough to ID the different dolphins, the catamaran always keeps a respectful distance. Sometimes whole pods are sighted nosing around the mangroves or playing in family groups. If you spot a dolphin not already catalogued, you may even get to name it. Along the way, you’ll stop at some of the most remote and beautiful, unbridged barrier islands such as shell-tastic Keewaydin.

Tours last three hours and depart from Rose Marina.