Skip to content
Find a Park > Adelaide

Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary

  • Picnic Areas
  • BBQ Facilities
  • Toilets
  • Guided Tours
  • Dogs on Lead
  • Canoeing
  • Fishing
  • Walking Trails
  • Bird Watching
  • Boating

About

The Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary is one of the gems of metropolitan Adelaide. Located only 20 minutes from Adelaide, this marine park is home to around 30 resident bottlenose dolphins, with another 400 transient dolphins that visit at various times. These wild dolphins come here to feed, play, socialise and nurse their calves.

Inside the Sanctuary you will find a 10,000 year-old mangrove forest, as well as seagrass, saltmarsh, tidal flats and tidal creeks, which all provide habitat and food for the dolphins.  The Sanctuary is a part of South Australia's largest port, and has a number of Aboriginal and European cultural and historical places of interest.

The area is also a popular bird watching site and shares most of its northern coastal habitat with the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary. Other wildlife that can easily be spotted within the Sanctuary are sting rays, long nosed fur seals and endangered Australian sea lions. There are several locations that offer a great vantage point to observe wildlife by land.

Why not come along and try your hand at dolphin and bird watching, kayaking, paddle boarding, and fishing?

Opening hours

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Contact details

Natural Resources Centre - Eastwood

Phone: (+61 8) 8273 9100
Email: adelaidedolphinsanctuary@sa.gov.au

When to visit

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

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

Autumn

The autumn months are usually the best time for calm winds; so pack your camera,  a jumper, and head on down!

Summer

Summer is the dolphin calving season in the Sanctuary, so it is the pefect time to spot a female with her newborn calf, a special and unique sight. It's also the perfect time to spot migratory shorebirds feeding within intertidal zones.

Winter

During the colder months dolphins are often found around areas of the Inner Port. Here you will be rewarded with an impressive view from the elevated points around the Port Adelaide water front. Winter also brings great numbers of long-nosed fur seals and even endangered Australian Sea Lions to the Sanctuary breakwaters.

Getting there

The southern end of the Sanctuary is located only 20 minutes’ drive from the city of Adelaide and is easily accessible from the Historic Port Adelaide. Other access points to the Sanctuary include Garden Island, St Kilda, Snowdens Beach, Outer Harbour and North Haven marina.  

 

Assistance dogs

Assistance dogs are permitted in most public places and are therefore welcome in South Australia’s parks and reserves. Assistance dogs must be appropriately restrained on a lead and remain under your effective control at all times while in a park or reserve.

As per the dogs in parks and reserves policy, if the dog is not an accredited assistance dog, they must be trained to assist a person with a disability to alleviate that disability and meet standards of hygiene and behaviour appropriate for a dog in a public place. However, refusal may be given if the person with the disability is unable to produce evidence the dog is an assistance dog with the appropriate training.

Before taking your assistance dog into a park that does not normally allow dogs, it is highly recommended that you contact us so we can provide you with the latest information on any potential hazards within specific parks that may affect your dog. Please contact the park via the contact details provided under the contact tab or call the information line on (+61 8) 8204 1910.

Dogs allowed (on lead)

Dogs are welcome in this park.

Please ensure you:

  • Keep your dog under control and on a lead no more than two metres in length.
  • Stick to designated walking trails.
  • Bring disposable bags to clean up your dog’s faeces (please be aware there are no bins in national parks).

Discover other parks you can walk your dog in on our find a park tool or read 12 dog-friendly walks in Adelaide Parks by Good Living for inspiration.

Facilities

Along the shoreline boundary of the sanctuary there are numerous, council and privately owned, facilities that might be useful to visitors.

Picnic area/BBQ
•Garden Island
•Snowden's Beach
•Largs Bay Foreshore
•St Kilda

Boat ramps
•Map of boat ramp locations in South Australia

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

Plants and animals

Bottlenose dolphins can be found in the sanctuary all year-round. Over the past 20 years, sightings of dolphins have increased, which signifies the importance of this area for the species. In the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary, there are about 40 resident dolphins, but up to 400 visitors have been recorded. These visitors likely use areas adjacent to the Sanctuary, such as the metropolitan coast. Some of the Sanctuary's dolphins even travel as far south as Glenelg, and can be often seen swimming in the Patawalonga Lake. 

But dolphins are not the only marine mammals within the Sanctuary. Long-nosed fur seal and endangered Australian sea lions haul out on the Sanctuary's breakwaters after they have spent several days at sea foraging for food. It is important not to disturb these animals as they require lots of rest before they return to sea.

The mangroves and saltmarsh within the sanctuary provide vital habitat for juvenile fish. Their roots offer protection from predators and provide a nursery habitat. Stingrays are often found inhabiting the shallow waters and commonly seen species include eagle rays, smooth rays and fiddler rays. Sharks also swim into the Sanctuary on rare occasions.

The Sanctuary is home to many species of birds including some rare and endangered species. Sea birds often seen include pelicans, cormorants, terns, oyster-catchers and ospreys. Between September and March, the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary National Park in the northern parts of the sanctuary becomes an important feeding ground for migratory shorebirds. Many of these migratory shorebirds travel from as far away as Siberia and Alaska, passing through up to 22 countries as they travel the East Asian-Australasian Flyway to reach the coast of Gulf Saint Vincent.

Flora and fauna species lists

To download flora (plants) and fauna (animals) species lists for this park, use the 'Create Simple Species List' tab under 'Flora Tools' or 'Fauna Tools'  in NatureMaps

Pests and diseases

Caulerpa taxifolia

Caulerpa taxifolia has been identified throughout the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary. This is a highly invasive pest algae species with the potential to spread through to Gulf St Vincent.

There are a number of ways you can help stop the spread.

Traditional owners

The Kaurna  People have lived within Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary area for thousands of years. 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

Rangers recommend

Further inspiration:  

  • See migratory birds who visit from as far away as Alaska and Siberia at the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary. Between October and April, up to 27,000 shorebirds from more than 50 species call this crucial habitat area home.

Dolphin watching

Dolphins are present within the Sanctuary all year round, and there are plenty of ways to see them from land, boat or kayak. 

See maps tab above for information on best places to see dolphins.

Self guided land-based tours

Boat tours

Kayak tours

How to get the most out your dolphin watching experience:

  • Bring some binoculars and or camera with good zoom lens.
  • Bring your patience and a chair - 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

Click here for more information information about marine mammal regulations.

 

Kayaking and paddle boarding

What better way to explore the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary then by kayak or stand-up paddle board?

Immerse yourself amongst mangroves, paddle through creeks, and explore ships' graveyards.   

Tours and hire are available from the following operators:

Boating

The Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary can be accessed from a number of boat ramps. Speed restrictions do apply throughout some areas, so familiarise yourself with the area before you go. In areas of open speed, a limit of 15knots is recommended for both the safety of users and the dolphins.    

Fishing

Barker Inlet and St Kilda are important fish nursery and breeding areas, therefore some fishing activities are restricted 

Marine debris is harmful and can impact wildlife, so always discard fishing gear in bins provided.

Fishing is actively managed in South Australia by the Department of Primary Industries and Resources SA.
Check out these useful links before embarking on your fishing adventure:

 

Ships' graveyard

The remains of at least 40 abandoned vessels are hidden within the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary- the largest and most diverse ships' graveyard in Australia. Spread over five sites, this collection of vessels includes a variety of sailing, steam and motor vessels, barges, pontoons and dredges. 

The ship graveyard sites represent a significant chapter in South Australia's maritime history and provide valuable insights into Port Adelaide and its past.

 

 

Dolphin displays and exhibitions

Port Adelaide Dolphin Display Room:

Visit the Port Adelaide Visitor Information Centre to map out the best spots to see dolphins, seabirds and other wildlife in the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary. The display includes a large map highlighting lookout points and what to see in the Sanctuary, and contains information and photographs about the Sanctuary's dolphin population and habitats.

 

Dolphins! The Port River Pod:

Visit the South Australian Maritime Museum to learn all about dolphin biology, ecology and human interactions.

 

 

 

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.

Volunteering

Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Action Group

Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Action Group is a community group that, in collaboration with the Department for Environment and Water, 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 extreme caution must be used. The area is a busy port with thousands of commercial vessels movements a 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. Always check the weather and tidal movements, and ask for local advice. We recommend kayaking at the turn of the tide, to avoid strong tidal currents and potential capsize.     

Water depth and speed limits

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 areas of open speed, a limit of 15 knots is recommended for both the safety of users and the dolphins.

Slippery rocks

Do not climb on, or fish from slippery rocks.

 

Know before you go

  • Remember that the dolphins within this area are wild, so as with any wild animal there is no guarantee of where they will be and when. However, if you spend a couple of hours around the river, there is a very good chance you will spot a group or two! We recommend that you bring your patience and a chair, and enjoy the beautiful natural environment that you are in.

  • Have access to binoculars and/or a camera with a zoom lens.

  • If you have a boat or kayak, respect both the dolphins and the law. You must keep least 50 metres away from dolphins and 150 metres if a calf or injured animal is present.

  • Never feed or harass a dolphin, it is illegal and it harms the animal

  • Marine debris is harmful and can impact wildlife, so always discard fishing gear in bins provided.

  • Swimming is not recommended in any section of the Sanctuary 

     

Dogs

Why does my dog need to be on a lead?

If your dog is off lead, it is more likely to impact on native wildlife and other visitors in a park and be at risk itself.

Risks to wildlife:

  • Dogs off tracks will leave a scent in the bush that will keep wildlife away.
  • Uncontrolled dogs may frighten wildlife and disrupt their natural behaviour.
  • Some dogs will kill or injure wildlife.

Risks to other park visitors

  • Dogs may be aggressive to other park visitors.
  • Even friendly dogs can knock people over causing injury.
  • Some people want to enjoy parks without dogs.

Risks to your dog

  • Poison baits may be laid to control foxes. Baits can be fatal to dogs.
  • Even if your dog is friendly, other dogs may not be.
  • Your dog can catch parasites (such as fleas and ticks) from wildlife.
  • Snake bites are a real risk in natural areas such as parks.
  • Wildlife such as kangaroos and koalas will defend themselves if threatened by a dog and can cause significant injury to or the death of your dog.

Maps

Fees

Entry fees

Come and enjoy this park for free.

PDF Park Brochure