Pin on the map of Florida showing the location of Destin

5 Wildlife Encounters on Your Destin, Florida Vacation

Bears, Birds, Bonnetheads...Oh my! Beachgoers received a surprise recently when a black bear cub was spotted swimming in the crystal blue waters of Florida’s Emerald Coast. CNN Video Report shows the bear cooling off in the crystal blue waters. Wildlife experiences such as this are possible during a Destin vacation. While seeing a bear on the beach is unusual, it is common to see lots of other wildlife during your stay in Destin and Miramar Beach, Florida. Here's a look at the top 5 animal encounters that are common in Destin, Florida:


Wildlife in Destin


The beaches of Destin and 30A are home to many birds, including seagulls, pelicans, blue herons, osprey, and sandpipers, among many others. One of the best places to view birds in the area is Norriego Point. Birds gather here due to its proximity to water and plentiful food supply of fish going in and out of the Destin Harbor. Any beach along the coast offers bird sightings. Seagulls are a common sight and ready to grab any tasty morsel you may have on hand so hide snacks and pack up food items after you’re done eating to ensure you don’t invite birds to encroach. Sit close to the water to watch groups of sandpipers come through hunting food in the sand or watch the pelicans fly in formation overhead. Ospreys are also common along Destin's shores and can be frequently seen diving into the Gulf for their next meal. Bald Eagles can also be spotted in the area, including forging for food in estuaries along the Choctawhatchee Bay. 

The area’s Leave No Trace project encourages visitors and locals to take part in the four-step plan: 1. Take only memories, 2. Leave only footprints, 3. Pitch in & clean up trash, and 4. Protect the natural environment. Learn more about each of these steps here. This project aims to protect the beaches and wildlife in the area.




The Gulf of Mexico is home to nine species of dolphins, but the one most commonly seen in Northwest Florida is the bottlenose. This species of dolphin can be anywhere from 6 to 13 feet long, and can sometimes weigh as much as 1,400 pounds, according to The bottlenose dolphins have a curvature on their mouths that appears as a smile, similar to the faces of most people who see them in the water. An important reminder is to view but not interact with dolphins if you see them in the wild. The law protects dolphins from being touched or fed, and doing so could result in a fine. You can, however, enjoy watching them swim in the wild. The best chance to see them will occur during the late morning and in the afternoon. Dolphins typically swim on the west side of the bridge and aren’t afraid of the boats. Hundreds of boats get lucky every day to have a dolphin swim right up to their boat and break the water’s surface. For an up close and personal experience, the dolphins at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park are full of personality and ready to interact and show you their best side for a photo. 


Bonnethead shark


Of the many shark species, Northwest Florida mostly contains Bonnethead, Hammerhead, Sharpnose, Lemonshark, and Bull Sharks (the most dangerous to humans). Sharks typically stay away from shallow surf and can be found past the second sandbar and the jetties near the Harbor. On occasion, a shark will swim in shallow water or through Crab Island, but their intentions are either transportation or searching for schools of fish. Sharks typically only interact with humans for two reasons: mistake or defense. Whether it is flashy jewelry or chaotic swimming/splashing, people can appear as a fish to the shark and they might encroach out of curiosity. Second, if a shark is cornered by a diver they may react out of defense for themselves. As a general rule of thumb, leave them alone and they typically do the same. It is also encouraged to stay within the first sandbar, as there are lesser concentrations of marine life. To safely view sharks in their natural habitat, consider a helicopter or boat tour or simply visit the Shark Encounter at The Gulfarium on Okaloosa Island. They offer events and encounters throughout the day for a range of animals, including sharks! 


sea turtle Gulfarium

Sea Turtles 

Of the seven different species of sea turtles, you are most likely to see two while visiting the panhandle: Green and Loggerhead. These turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act. While visiting the beach, it is important to keep the beaches clean, dark, and flat, especially during turtle nesting/hatching season from May through September. Before leaving the beach be sure to pick up your trash and flatten out any sandcastles or fill any holes in the sand. 

Additionally, late-night beachgoers are encouraged to utilize turtle-friendly flashlights, which are provided for free at a number of locations around Destin.  A sea turtle nest hatches on average 150-200 hatchlings and only a small percentage survive and make it to maturity. Follow these simple steps to help protect the lives of these endangered sea turtles. To see a turtle in the wild, your best chance is to rent or take a cruise aboard a boat in the Destin Harbor. Sea turtles typically swim away from chaos, so stop your motor and be patient. Similar to viewing sharks, if you really want to see a sea turtle, the Gulfarium's CARE Center is always a great option.

Another great way to support local wildlife and leave the Destin community better than when you arrived is to Vacation Forward when you visit the Emerald Coast.




Alligators have inhabited Florida's marshes, swamps, rivers and lakes for many centuries. These cold-blooded reptiles live throughout Florida’s wetlands and eat a variety of fish invertebrates, frogs and mammals. Floridians have learned to coexist with alligators but the potential for conflict always exists. Remember, never feed an alligator and keep your distance if you see one. Swim only in designated swimming areas during daylight hours. To safely see an Alligator, visit Fudpucker’s Gator Beach featuring 100+ Alligators including a rare albino alligator named, Pearl. Check out our School from Gator Beach segment with Drew the Gator Handler here.

Visit this link for more places to have animal encounters in Destin, Florida.


Jade East View

Plan Your Next Visit

To view these animals and more, plan your next visit to experience the wildlife in Destin, Miramar Beach, and 30A. View Newman-Dailey’s collection of Destin vacation rentals online or call one of our friendly vacation specialists at 1-800-225-7652. Ask our team for recommendations on premier properties near state parks, such as Jade East Condos near Henderson Beach State Park and Hidden Dunes Beach & Tennis Resort near Topsail Hill State Preserve.


See you @ the beach!