Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary
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?
Visitor information, bookings and park management:
Black Hill National Park and Wildlife Service Office
Phone: (+61 8) 8336 0901
Medical, fire (including bushfire) and police emergency situations
Phone: Triple Zero (000)
Phone: 131 444 for non-urgent police assistance
National Parks and Wildlife Service SA – Duty officer
Phone: 0427 556 676
Within the park
Please contact Black Hill National Park and Wildlife Service Office on (08) 8336 0901 or the duty officer on 0427 556 676
Outside of the park
Please contact a local wildlife rescue group
If you find a sick or stranded marine mammal (including whales, seals, sea lions and dolphins), please contact Black Hill National Park and Wildlife Service Office 8336 0901 or the after-hours duty officer on 0427 556 676 (outside of business hours)
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.
Summer is the dolphin calving season in the Sanctuary, so it is the perfect 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.
The autumn months are usually the best time for calm winds; so pack your camera, a jumper, and head on down!
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.
As the warmer weather approaches, why not grab a picnic blanket and head down to Garden Island for some dolphin watching. Hint- while you are there keep your eye out for others using their cameras, it generally means that there are some dolphins nearby!
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 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 contact the visitor service centre via email or on Facebook.
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 17 national parks in Adelaide where you can walk your dog by Good Living for inspiration.
Along the shoreline boundary of the sanctuary there are numerous, council and privately owned, facilities that might be useful to visitors.
- Garden Island
- Snowden's Beach
- Largs Bay Foreshore
- St Kilda
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.
- Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary - User Guide
- 5 things you'll find at the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary from the Good living Blog
- Park management plans and reference papers
- Annual reports
- An Underwater Guide to plants and animals in South Australia
- Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary
- Encounter Marine Park
- Upper Gulf St Vincent Marine park
- Marine mammal stranding 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 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.
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.
Paddle your kayak in the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary and immerse yourself amongst mangroves, creeks, and the Garden Island Ships' Graveyard Maritime Heritage Trail.
Explore the St Kilda Mangrove Trail.
Have a picnic lunch along Garden Island foreshore.
Watch the resident population of bottlenose dolphins from the shore, kayak or on a boat tour as the eat, play, socialise.
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.
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
- Anna-Rennie Loop Path - This 3.5km loop trail around Port Adelaide's Inner Harbor is a hotspot for spotting dolphins.
- Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary - Inner Port map
- Visit Port Adelaide app
Guided land-based tour
- Tania's Dolphin Tales
- Port Adelaide Boat Hire
- Adventure Kayaking SA
- Rock Solid Adventures
- Dolphin Sanctuary 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:
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.
From 29 April 2019, the 7 knot speed limit area will be extended to the Barker Inlet and North Arm of the Port Adelaide River to improve safety for all users and marine life.
Vessels must not exceed 7 knots in:
- the Barker Inlet from St Kilda southwards to the Angas Inlet, including all inlets and creeks but excluding vessels operating in the marked channel from Barker Inlet Beacon 13 to Barker Inlet Beacon 35;
- the North Arm from the historic shipwreck “Dorothy H Sterling” eastwards to the Angas Inlet, including all inlets and creeks (North Arm Area 1); and
- the North Arm which lies between the Grand Trunkway Bridge and the “Dorothy H Sterling”, and within 50 metres of the mangroves on the northern side of the waterway (North Arm Area 2).
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:
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.
Anna Rennie 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.
- Anna Rennie Loop Path information
- Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary - Inner Port map
- Self guided environment Walk on ‘Visit Port Adelaide’ app
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.
Estuary Care Foundation
Estuary Care Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that aims promote the protection of the ecology and shorelines of South Australia’s Port River and Barker Inlet.
On their website you can find information about the foundation, their projects and how to get involved.
Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary
Port River Encounter
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.
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. From 29 April 2019, the 7 knot speed limit area will be extended to the Barker Inlet and North Arm of the Port Adelaide River to improve safety for all users and marine life.
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
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.
- Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary map
- Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary – Garden Island map
- Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary – Inner Port map
- Port Adelaide River, Barker Inlet and North Arm – Boat speed limits map
Google Street View
Want to explore a trail before you leave home or use Google Maps to navigate straight from your door to the trailhead?
We’ve worked with Google to film more than 600 km of walking trails, park roads, campgrounds and waterways in some of our most beautiful places. Click to see what the parks offer and the available facilities before you go. This is an especially great tool if you have accessibility needs, are visiting with people of varying ages or fitness levels or are pushing a pram and want to view a trail before leaving home.
You can start exploring this park on Google Street View using the links below.
Maps on your mobile
If you have a smartphone or tablet you can download the free Avenza Map app and have interactive national park maps on hand when you need them.
The app uses your device's built-in GPS to plot your real-time location within the park onto a map. The app can be used without a network connection and without roaming charges. You can also measure area and distance, plot photos and drop placemark pins.
How to get it working on your device:
1. Download the Avenza Maps app from the app store (iOS/Android) whilst you are still in range (its free!).
2. Open up the app and click the shopping cart icon.
3. Click ‘Find’ and type the name of the national park or reserve you are looking for.
4. Click on the map you are after and install it (all our maps are free).
5. You will now find a list of your installed maps on the home page of the Avenza Maps app.
6. Use our maps through the Avenza Mapa app while in the park and never take a wrong turn again.
Come and enjoy this park for free.