New Virginia Aquarium boat tour can help forge 'connection' with wild dolphins
VIRGINIA BEACH — Off Cape Henry, dolphins break the surface of the water in twos and threes every few seconds.
A couple of tourist families — one from Williamsburg and another from Pittsburgh — lean against the railing of the Atlantic Scout, a rigid inflatable boat, to get a closer look.
They’re already pretty close. The families are close enough to hear the throat-clearing sound of a couple of the marine mammals exhaling, before they gulp more air and disappear beneath the green waves.
Mike Mizell, of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, points out a dolphin mother and her calf as they emerge fewer than 20 feet from the vessel. Young passengers gasp and point.
The aquarium has hosted dolphin boat tours for many years, but the new Atlantic Scout offers a different experience. The older boat — the Atlantic Explorer — looms out of the water; eye level from the deck is about 10 feet. The Atlantic Scout is much lower to the water.
Mizell has worked on the boat tours for more than two decades and said the Scout provides a different kind of encounter.
“This is more of an immersive experience. … People may see dolphins from their hotel room or off in the distance, but there’s a chance here that they really get to see, hear, maybe even smell a dolphin, depending on what’s going on out there on the water,” he said.
The smell is largely absent from the sunny afternoon trip last week, but the dolphins were plentiful. Mizell hopes this kind of up-close exposure is more than just a thrill.
“We feel like any time someone can make a connection like that, they’re going to be interested in doing their part in conservation in general, but kind of focused on dolphins,” Mizell said.
Tours depart daily from the boat dock at the aquarium.