The South Padre Island Dolphin Research and Sealife Nature Center educates the public on the bottlenose dolphins native to South Padre Island and the Gulf of Mexico. Tours of the Sealife Center allow visitors to learn about the marine animals native to the area. Starfish, octopus, crabs, fish, and other rescued animals being rehabilitated here are on display in aquariums.
The Sealife Center has a touch tank, where visitors can feel and see the creatures up close and personal. Guides are present to help answer questions about the animals and educate guests on how to handle them properly. In addition to the Sealife Center, the facility provides boat tours to Laguna Madre Bay to see bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat. The 90-minute tours should be scheduled in advance, and each of the two boats can accommodate up to 6 people of any age. Sealife Center proprietor, Scarlet Colley, has been touring this area for 20 years aboard the Dolphinwhisper, and is very familiar with this inshore pod of playful dolphins and their habits. Inshore dolphins live in the shallow waters close to the island and are smaller than their open-water, 12-foot cousins, growing to just 7-9 feet in length. The dolphins, who may live for up to 40 years, are smart and very familiar with the tour groups in the area. This allows for up-close viewing, as the dolphins are very curious about visitors.
As a rescue center, the Sealife Center is also home to many non-native animals, such as iguanas and a popular giant tortoise, who are also on display. The center works closely with groups such as the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network to rescue and care for the wild dolphins in the area. As an eco-friendly guide service, they do not keep any dolphins in captivity, nor do they pull nets alongside their boat or remove healthy animals from the ocean. Tours are strictly observations of animals in their native habitat, and rescued animals can be seen onshore at the Sealife Center.
The Sealife Center is managed by the husband and wife team of Scarlet and George Colley. Originally from Germany, Scarlet attended high school and college in Texas, and landed in Port Aransas in 1994. In 1995, she was volunteering for the University of Texas–Pan American Coastal Studies Laboratory on South Padre Island when a tour guide for a visiting group didn’t show up. Scarlet jumped in to take on the tour and saw her first dolphins. A few years later, she met George, a retired fishing boat captain who was leading dolphin tours. In 1997, the two decided to begin their own dolphin tour operation out of a mutual love and respect for the wildlife of the Gulf. The couple originally operated just the dolphin tours, but expanded to the Sealife Center in response to what they saw as a need for more wildlife education in the community. The non-profit organization honors their mission of educating the local community about animals native to the area and the importance of treating nature with respect and care. The Sealife Center is known for operating ethically sound dolphin tours and for working to promote the same level of respect and understanding with other groups in the area as well.
Ongoing Programs & Education
The animals on display at the Sealife Center offer guests a glimpse of what’s in the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico. The center also shows a brief video about the local pod of dolphins that the Colley’s have now known for 20 years. The most popular exhibit is, of course, the touch tanks, where visitors can get hands-on familiarity with creatures such as starfish and crabs. Knowledgeable staff and volunteers are always on hand to teach guests about the creatures and to answer questions. More formal educational programs are available to groups, and can be conducted onsite or offered through the local school district. The center’s most popular educational program is the trip to see dolphins in the wild. The boat captains, the Colley’s themselves, are very knowledgeable about the marine world and this particular pod of dolphins. The dolphins are familiar with the center’s tour boat and enjoy getting close and are curious about the guests. Captain Scarlet has been observing this particular pod of 250 dolphins for 20 years and is often referred to as “the Dolphin Whisperer.”
Back to: Things to Do in South Padre Island
10 N Garcia Street, Port Isabel, Texas 78578, Phone: 956-299-1957
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