Up Close and Splashable: Why do Dolphins Swim in Boat Wakes?

Dolphins splashing in a wake

The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel are revered as one of the top spots to have an up close experience with wild dolphins. Home to some of the friendliest and most daring porpoises around, the area hosts a wealth of offshore excursions that all but guarantee a sighting from ships. This claim is anything but outlandish. After all, sailors dating back to the ancient Greeks wrote about aquatic companions fearlessly approaching their ships. 

So, why is it that these captivating creatures so often swim and play alongside boats? What tempts them to show off for us landlubbers and surf in our wakes? While there may not be a definitive answer, a closer look at their unique personalities can explain this behavior. 

Most notably, dolphins are extremely curious and intelligent animals. When they notice an unfamiliar object moving along the surface of the water their inquisitive nature compels them to approach ships and determine the cause of the commotion.

Dolphins are also incredibly communicative. Anyone who studies sea life will tell you about dolphins’ complex system of speaking to one another. This may help explain the apparent joy they derive from hearing humans clap and cheer for them from onboard. Offshore tour guides note these charismatic animals will acknowledge and react to adoring crowds. From rolling over to leaping from the water, they’re always eager to perform for an audience.  

Fun fact: if you see a dolphin swimming alone, it’s more than likely male. Females typically swim in close-knit groups called pods.

Finally, the most likely explanation for why dolphins cruise our wakes is to catch a free ride. Much like a surfer dipping into the barrel of a wave, the strong kinetic energy created by wakes propels the dolphins along, allowing them to swim with far less effort than usual. Also not unlike humans, they seem to derive a great amount of pleasure from surfing, which may account for their seemingly permanent smile.

See a dolphin for yourself on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel! Rent a boat and see if a dolphin or two decides to catch your wake.

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