Let the dolphins lead the way

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Sunup to sundown, Fun Boats tours visit the marine beauty up and down the back waters of Siesta Key

By Jane Bartnett

A visit to Siesta Key just isn’t complete without spending some time out on the waters that

surround this special place. Catching sight of a frolicking dolphin or even a whole pod of

dolphins, jumping and playing in the water, is the stuff of which memories are made.

Josh Pickett, co-owner of Siesta Key’s only tour boat company, appropriately called Fun Boats,

knows a thing or two about helping visitors to the Key enjoy some time on the water to see dolphins and the magnificent wildlife that call these waters and shorelines home. The company launched in 2016 with sandbar trips and today it offers dolphin-themed and private tours on Siesta Key, as well as Anna Maria Island.

Fun Boats makes its Siesta Key headquarters in an old silver Airstream trailer at 1265 Old Stickney Point Rd. After hopping on one of the 38-foot skiff-style tour boats, the Fun Boat experience begins. Captained by seasoned U.S. Coast Guard master captains and trained mates, the boats head out daily for a morning, afternoon or sunset cruise to see dolphins and other wildlife in their natural habitat. Each boat is equipped with a bathroom and features shaded seating for the ride.

“We start the morning with our Dolphins and Donuts tour,” said Pickett. “It’s all about fun and helping our visitors to have a great time on their vacations.”

Those excursions depart every day from the dock at the Siesta Key Marina at 9:30 a.m. and return two hours later. Traveling south on the Intracoastal Waterway toward Midnight Pass, guests are treated to locally made tasty donuts and coffee. Soon, an endless array of wildlife begins to make its appearance on mangrove islands that are often filled with pelicans, herons, osprey, ibis and spoonbills who rest and nest there.

Bald eagles make their nests there in high trees and travelers often spot them flying gracefully through the air. Out on the water, it’s easy to forget that land is not that far away.

Once in Sarasota Bay to the north, dolphin-spotting begins. “Our captains know where the dolphins are,” said Pickett. “Sometimes we see them in Big Pass, sometimes they’re traveling in pods, and sometimes there are only two or three at a time.”

He added, “We’ve seen a lot of baby dolphins this spring and early summer.”

There’s a good reason for that. According to the Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research

Program, based at Mote Marine, the waters off Siesta Key have been the site of a true dolphin

baby boom. Researchers documented 22 new bottlenose baby dolphins that came into the

world. For many generations, bottlenose dolphins have made the waters off the coastline of Siesta Key their home.

“We see a lot of the same dolphins,” noted Pickett. “We get to know them.”

He estimated that in the Siesta Key waters, the dolphin population stands at about 200.

“A lot of people who take our trips have never seen the Gulf, or the Atlantic Ocean. Getting a chance to see these beautiful dolphins and the birds that we have here is pretty special,” Pickett said.

At certain times of the year, manatees also make a guest appearance.

Each day at 12:30 p.m., which is Fun Boat’s second trip of the day, the Dolphins and Drinks tour sets off. Complimentary beer and wine, as well as soda and water, are served on board. The boat travels north on a two-hour afternoon excursion through the Intracoastal Waterway to Roberts Bay and around the mangrove islands. A stop at the rookery gives everyone a chance to see the many pelicans, cormorants, anhinga, herons, ibis, osprey, and other aquatic birds that spend some time there.

At 3:30 p.m., Fun Boat’s Eco/Dolphin tour departs for a third two-hour trip. Visitors on board have a chance to learn about the unique ecology of the area and the local dolphins.

The separate cost for all three daytime cruises is $47.50 per adult and $27.50 per child, 10 and under.

The last Fun Boats excursion of the day is a time to enjoy Siesta Key’s celebrated sunset. Departing one-half hour before sunset, the crew sets the stage for the evening by playing some great tunes as the boat heads out. For those who dare, it’s also karaoke time!

As the boat makes its way through the Intracoastal Waterway, the mangrove islands of Roberts Bay pass by.

“Our captains say that this is a good spot to see dolphins,” said Pickett.

At Siesta Key’s northern tip, the Sarasota shoreline comes into view. Winding its way into Bird Key, a location that dolphins seem to enjoy, the boat moves onto Lido Key as the sun begins to set.

Daily sunset cruises adults for are $57.50 each. Children under 10 are $32.50 apiece. Check with Fun Boats for exact sunset tour departure times.

Book online at funboattours.com or by phone (941) 229-7842.

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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