Dolphins in the Outer Banks

"Porpoise or dolphin" (salt water ma...

Frolicking Dolphin

The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a dolphin-lovers paradise.

All About the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks consist of a strip of barrier islands that run parallel to the northeast coast of North Carolina. An area of natural beauty and long rugged beaches, these barrier islands are separated from the mainland by a series of large shallow sounds.

The Outer Banks are busiest during the summer months when the temperature reaches into the 80s (F). The spring and early fall bring really nice weather and less tourists. The more southerly islands are accessible only by ferry and are less developed. The Outer Banks are approximately 90 miles from Norfolk Virginia, 275 miles from Washington, DC, and 215 miles from Raleigh, NC.

Where do Dolphins Live in the Outer Banks?

Dolphins live up and down the Outer Banks’ coast and in the sounds separating the islands from the mainland. Researchers estimate there are about 500 dolphins that migrate to the Outer Banks in the warmer months (May through September) to give birth. There is a smaller year-round resident population of dolphins that live here as well. Once the fall comes around, many of the dolphins migrate further south.

You can see dolphins just about anywhere along the shore here. There are two places I especially like for dolphin watching. The first area, Corolla, is located on the northern tip of the islands. Dolphins are known to swim quite close to shore and frequent sightings have been made from the beaches here. They especially seem to like performing acrobatics. I am not the best photographer, but I did catch him\her in the air in this picture!

Outer Banks Dolphin Jumping

If you are up for an adventure, some of the best dolphin watching is from the off-road only beach in the most northern section of Corolla. You need to rent your own jeep or take an off-road tour in order to access this area. This is also where the wild horses are. See below for more info about the horses.

Our jeep in the Outer Banks

The second area is home to large pods of dolphins who live here in the warmer months. Roanoke Sound, located between Nags Head and Roanoke Island, is a wonderful place for viewing both adult dolphins and their young. A great way to visit with the dolphins is by getting out into the Sound by boat. You can rent your own boat or head out on a dolphin-watch tour from Manteo or Nags Head. Two such Outer Banks Boar tour operators are Outer Banks Dolphin Cruises  and Nags Head Dolphin Watch. The Nags Head boat is a good choice because you can help the dolphin researchers on board identify and study the dolphins in the area. Your chances of seeing dolphins here are quite good. Remember that many dolphin watch tours are operated only during May through September.

The Wild Horses of Corolla

Years ago large herds of wild Mustangs roamed the Outer Banks. Believed to have been descendents of the Spanish Mustangs who arrived here in the 1600s, a small number of these horses remain in the Corolla area of the Northern Outer Banks. After searching for dolphins in Corolla, try your luck at finding these wild four-legged creatures. You need a four-wheel drive vehicle to explore this area, as there are no roads and travel is along the beach. Be very careful because horses have been killed by cars in this area.

Come on, where else can you dolphin watch and horse watch at the same time!

Horse minding his own business

Several wild horses in the Outer Banks

It is very odd to see wild horses walking along the beach and grazing in people’s front yards!

Other Things to do in the Outer Banks

You can take a ferry that connects Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. Ocracoke Island is only accessible by plane or boat. The 40-minute ferry ride is quite scenic and gives you an opportunity to explore the 14-mile long island where Blackbeard the Pirate once lived. Very fun for kids!

While in the Outer Banks be sure to visit the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge for wonderful birding opportunities, and the remote Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Finally, don’t forget to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk. You can stand in the same spot where the brothers took their first flights.

Kitty Hawk first flight markers

 For more information on visiting the Outer Banks check out


About wherethedolphinsswim

I've been vacationing with wild dolphins for more than 20 years. You can do it too!
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4 Responses to Dolphins in the Outer Banks

  1. erin2012 says:

    I enjoyed your post about the dolphins swimming off the Outer Banks of NC–I spent my summers as a kid in Nags Head and saw many, many dolphins there. I went to the beach here in FL a month ago and saw some swimming and jumping very close to shore. You don’t see them that often here. It was a big thrill.

    • What a wonderful way to spend your summers! Our trip to the Outer Banks was amazing. Riding on the beach in a Jeep while watching wild horses and wild dolphins! Where else can you do that? It is a special place.

      I never get tired of seeing wild dolphins. I agree they are a thrill to watch. Thank you so much for visiting!

  2. Seasonsgirl says:

    My mom lives near NC and we went down there a couple years ago and went to Corolla. We took a jeep ride and the dog came along to see the wild horses. It was a great expereince.

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