Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary

  • Picnic Areas
  • BBQ Facilities
  • Toilets
  • Guided Tours
  • Canoeing
  • Fishing
  • Walking Trails
  • Bird Watching
  • Boating
PDF Park Brochure
Photo by Cristina Vicente
Photo by Sue Walsh
Photo by Cristina Vicente
Photo by Cristina Vicente
Photo by Alison Whyatt
Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary state map image

The Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary provides a home to one of Adelaide's best-loved creatures, the Bottlenose Dolphin. These wild dolphins come here to eat, play, socialise and live and can be seen most days from both water and land look outs.

The area is also popular for its natural wonders, birdlife and water activities, making it one of the best and most easily accessible Dolphin Sanctuaries in the world.

Tag your Instagram pics with #adelaidedolphinsanctuary to see them displayed on this page.

About

The Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary is one of the gems of metropolitan Adelaide. Including the Port River, Barker Inlet, Outer Harbour and North Haven marinas, reaching as far north as Port Gawler. Located only 20 minutes from the city, the area features a 10,000-year-old mangrove forest and over 40 resident bottlenose dolphins, while another 300 dolphins visit the area regularly.

These wild dolphins come here to eat, play, socialise and live. The mangroves, seagrass, saltmarsh, tidal flats, tidal creeks and estuarine rivers all provide vital habitat for the dolphins.Other wildlife that can easily be spotted are sting rays, long nosed fur seals and endangered Australian sea lions.

Why not come along and try your hand at fishing, dolphin watching, bird watching, kayaking and paddle boarding. The area is also a popular bird watching site and shares most of its northern coastal habitat with the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary.

Opening hours

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Contact details

Port Adelaide Visitor Information Centre

Address: 66 Commercial Rd, Port Adelaide
Phone: (+61 8) 8273 9100
Email: adelaidedolphinsanctuary@sa.gov.au

When to visit

Dolphin and other wildlife use the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary all year round. Because of the protection provided by mangroves and other vegetation, there is always a protected spot to enjoy the water, even in the days when weather is not that favourable.

The best time to spot the sanctuary dolphins are calm days with little wind, when you can see the dolphins on the water surface.

Autumn

The autumn months offer the most stable chances of light winds.

Summer

Summer is calving season in the Sanctuary and females with calves can be spotted, a special and unique sight.

Winter

During the colder months dolphins are found more easily in the inner port. Here you will be rewarded with an impressive view from the elevated points around the Port Adelaide water front. Winter also bring great numbers of long nosed fur seals to the Sanctuary.

Getting there

The Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary is an area of 118 square kilometres, located 20km north of Adelaide. It covers Inner Port, Outer Harbour, North Haven marina, and stretches north to Port Gawler.

The southern sections of the Sanctuary are easily accessible from Port Adelaide. Other access points re Garden Island, St Kilda, Snowdens Beach, Outer Harbour and North Haven

Pets in parks

You and your dog can enjoy this park providing you keep your dog on a lead and under your control at all times. Don't forget to bring your disposable 'doggie-doo' bag to clean up after your dog.

Facilities

There is kayaking hire, lookouts, boardwalks, self guided walks, boat tours, toilets, picnic tables and BBQ's located around the sanctuary.

About the dolphins

Three species of dolphin are found in South Australia: the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus), found in coastal waters such as those of the the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary; the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), which live along oceanic coasts and in the deep water off South Australia; and the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), which may be seen in the gulfs but usually inhabit deeper waters.

In the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary there are approximately 40 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins that are frequently observed, with more than 300 of various species recorded as visitors. Extensive research has been undertaken by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and Dr Mike Boseley, on the behaviour and life-cycle of the sanctuary animals and the adverse effects of human interference.

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins grow to around 2.5 metres in length, and weigh about 160 kilograms. They live for up to 40 years. Like whales, dolphins breathe through a blowhole on the top of their heads.

Dolphins can dive to depths of more than 500 metres, but they must surface for air every few minutes. Dolphins have excellent vision above and below the water.

Most bottlenose dolphins are highly sociable and often can be observed as part of a group known as a pod. These pods of up to 15 dolphins hunt, play and help protect each other. Most members of the pod are unrelated, although mothers may stay with their offspring for up to eight years. Adult males generally form separate bachelor groups of two or three, forming bonds that may last a lifetime.

Females usually become sexually mature between the ages of five and 12 and males usually become sexually mature between the ages of 10 and 12. Bottlenose dolphins may breed throughout the year, but they usually give birth to their calves in late summer. A female may be pregnant for up to 12 months and a calf may suckle for as long as 18 months, remaining with the mother for many years. Local females usually produce offspring once every three to four years.

A natural bond is formed between female dolphins and those pregnant or with calves. These groupings are called “maternity pods”. When dolphins are first born they are usually about 1 metre in length and dark in color. They tend to be born tail first and are able to swim and breathe within minutes of birth.

Human activities are threatening the survival of dolphins. Pollution, stormwater and rubbish represent a major threat affecting food supplies. Sanctuaries like the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary are vital to ensure the continued survival of these wonderful creatures.

Useful information

Pests and diseases

Caulerpa taxifolia

Caulerpa taxifolia has been identified in a number of areas in the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary. This is a highly invasive pest algae species with the potential to spread through the sanctuary and possible further to the Gulf St Vincent.

Its spread poses one of the most serious known threats to the sanctuary Habitat and the dolphins prey species.

Caulerpa racemosa

Caulerpa racemosa has been identified in the sanctuary and its potential impacts are not fully understood. It has quickly colonized degraded areas of the port river and barker inlet but is impact in other areas are uncertain

Traditional owners

The Kaurna Aboriginal People have lived and continue to live in the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary area. The area continues to hold important values for the Kaurna People. Historical and current associations are still in place and need to be protected. Several traditional stories are connected with the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary area including The Wanderings of Tjirbruke.

See and do

Walks

There are a series of walks that you can do to maximise your chances of seeing a sanctuary dolphins without the need to jump on a boat or kayak.

Port River Dolphin Trail

The Port Adelaide Council has developed a dolphin trail including some of the best spots to see dolphins in the area.     

Loop Path (3.5km)

The recently developed Loop around the inner port is also one of the best trails to spot dolphins, especially during the winter months.

Dolphin watching and tours

How to get the most out your dolphin watching experience:

  • Before you go, find out how to recognise Adelaide's dolphins.
  • Have access to binoculars and a camera with a decent zoom lens.
  • Bring your patience and a chair. Take your time and enjoy the beautiful natural environment you are in. They may take some time to appear but you will be rewarded with one of nature’s most beautiful scenes.
  • If you have a boat, respect both the dolphins and the law. You must be at least 50m away from dolphins and 150m if a calf or injured animal is present.
  • Never feed or harass a dolphin.

Boat tours

Two cruises, departing from Port Adelaide (next to the lighthouse square), have several trips a week (week days and weekends) from 1 to 4 hours with the opportunity to see the dolphins bow riding, travelling or fishing around the main channel of the port river. These boat tours also include interpretative information about the port river history

Kayak tours

A commercial company, at Garden Island, runs kayak tours specialised in dolphin watching. Most tours also include a visit to the historical Garden Island Ships' Graveyard. 

Volunteering

Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Action Group

The ADS Action Group is a community group that, in collaboration with the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, local NGO's and other agencies is actively involved in the management of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary.

On their website you can find information about the group, the volunteers, the volunteer projects and how to get involved.

Videos

Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary

Safety

Water

Commercial vessels

The main channel of the port river is a deep channel with steep banks and submerged hazards so caution must be used. The area is a busy port with thousands of commercial vessels per year. These big vessels have limited ability to manoeuvre around small recreational vessels therefore is important to follow navigational rules to avoid collisions.      

Tidal movement

The Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary is affected by tides, winds, swell and wild weather at times. Tidal movements can be extremely strong making kayaking and other activities difficult. Always check weather and tidal movements and ask for local advise before practicing any water sports.                            

Some sections of the barker inlet can be extremely shallow and is strongly advised that all power vessels stay within navigational channels and adhere to speed limits in the area.   

In the open speed limits sections, a limit of 15knots is recommendable for both the safety of users and the dolphins.         

Swimming

Swimming is not recommended in any sections of the sanctuary. Jelly fish and other sea creatures inhabit the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary.

Know before you go

  • Have access to binoculars and a camera with a decent zoom lens.
  • Bring your patience and a chair. Take your time and enjoy the beautiful natural environment you are in. They may take some time to appear but you will be rewarded with one of nature’s most beautiful scenes.
  • If you have a boat, respect both the dolphins and the law. You must be at least 50m away from dolphins and 150m if a calf or injured animal is present.
  • Never feed or harass a dolphin.
  • Swimming is not recommenid in any section o the sentuary.

Maps

Fees

Entry fees

Come and enjoy this park for free.

Parks pass

This park is not included in the park pass system. 

PDF Park Brochure