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Dolphin and Dune Adventure

The Dolphin & Dune Adventure is our best program for dolphin watching, island exploring, and encountering the endearing Banks' Ponies. Departing from Beaufort,one of North Carolina's most charming seaports, we travel through the Newport River marshes en route to a prime dolphin watching location. Bottlenose dolphin, both adults and juveniles, are almost always sited feeding and playing in this area. Students will gain an understanding of these remarkable marine mammals and their cousins, the great whales.

As we travel towards Shackleford Banks, we usually pass by gigantic freighters tied up at the Morehead port. We will also view historic Fort Macon, the US Coast Guard Station, and usually observe locally built shrimp boats and other native crafts.

Shackleford Banks is one of the most interesting islands on the east coast.   Shackleford is known for its extensive maritime forest, tall dunes, Banks' Ponies, and for its historic long-abandoned settlements. Completely undeveloped, this 9 mile long island is part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore . We spend approximately two hours on Shackleford.

photo by Kieth Rittmaster

photo by Richard Bamberger


While on the island we do activities in two stations:   the tidal flats on the sound side as well as the ocean beach. The students explore the tidal flats by pulling nets and digging for clams. Shrimp, hermit crabs, and juvenile fish are usually collected. Searching over a man-made rock groin uncovers a habitat for sea stars, sea anemones, and other life usually associated with rocky shores. Topics discussed include food webs, seasonal transitions, the importance of estuaries, and population issues. Discussion also focuses on the economic importance of shellfishing and how pollution has affected this traditional livelihood.

The beachfront of Shackleford Banks provides a bounty of shell collecting and beachcombing. Students learn about these shells and other "evidence of life" found on this pristine beach. Other topics covered include the adaptation of coastal plants and loggerhead sea turtle nesting.

The hike to and from the beach takes group over soaring dunes with breath-taking panoramas of the island and surrounding waters. We also go by a watering hole, where the ponies have dug down into the sand to find water. Over 100 ponies roam wild on Shackleford Banks. Some of these Banks Ponies are usually seen, often up close, during a visit to Shackleford.   They make for an intriguing case study that covers biology, history, and social studies. An introduced species, they heavily damage the native plants of the island.   However, they are part of the local heritage and there has been much resistance to their removal. All this makes for an on-going, rich study for classes that visit the island.


Carolina Ocean Studies PO Box 550 Carolina Beach, NC 28428 Phone: (910) 458-7302 Fax: (910) 458-9333