Living Outdoors – The Dolphins of Captain Sams Inlet

Located just five miles from Kiawah River, Captain Sams Inlet is known by Lowcountry locals as a top spot for dolphin watching and place to spend a sunny, summer afternoon. As one of the friendliest marine animals, bottlenose dolphins are known for their graceful moves and playful personalities and can often be found in pods, chasing boats throughout the region’s waterways.   

Visitors and locals alike often visit Captain Sams Inlet to watch bottlenose dolphins engage in strand feeding. Unique to South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida waters, strand feeding occurs when a pod of dolphins chase fish onto the beach or mudflat and then launch their bodies out of the water, momentarily “stranding” themselves on the beach, to feed.  

A popular spot to witness strand feeding, Captain Sams Inlet separates Seabrook Island and Kiawah Island and draws its name from a Johns Island planter, Captain Robert Sams, who died in 1760. The inlet has a long history, with some maps dating back 4,500 years when the barrier islands were formed. Due to a relatively thin sediment layer, Captain Sams Inlet is easily moved by wind, waves and sand transport. The inlet, measuring approximately 300 feet wide, has moved over 2.5 miles throughout its history.   

As a beloved part of the Lowcountry, dolphins are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1971. Every year, the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network (LMMN) dedicates countless hours and dollars towards protecting the marine mammals in and around the region, including Captain Sams Inlet. Because Charleston is home to just 350 resident dolphins, the LMMN works to protect the local marine mammals through scientific research, educational outreach and partnering with local restaurants such as The Salty Dog Café, Bowens Island Restaurant and SANFU Brewing Co. to raise funds.  

In addition to maintaining a safe distance from the marine animals, visitors to Captain Sams Inlet can help by picking up trash, donating to the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network or participating in the Dolphin Count, an event hosted by the LMMN to count and track dolphins in the Lowcountry. The Dolphin Count is open to enthusiasts of all ages and participants can observe dolphins traveling, splashing, feeding, resting, courting or jumping.  

For other ways to spot dolphins, try Captain Sams Spit Dolphin Kayak Tour with Coastal Expeditions, which includes a four- to five- mile paddle with a well-deserved break on Captain Sams Spit. On the wildlife-rich land, walk the tide line for seaside treasures and enjoy birdwatching with a beachside picnic. Expect to see gregarious pods of bottlenose dolphins and a myriad of birds such as herons, eagles, roseate spoonbills and more.