A Day in the Life of Marine Specialist Kirsten Smail

Kirsten Smail, Marine Specialist aboard the Dolphin Quest at John’s Pass in Madeira Beach, is beyond passionate about dolphins. Anyone who has taken a tour with Kirsten of Boca Ciega Bay would tell you that her intimate knowledge of all things aquatic is what sets the Dolphin Quest apart. While her expertise is wide and varied, her particular interest lies in Boca Ciega Bay’s population of Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins.

A brand new series, Fintastic Fridays, premiered last month with Kirsten at the helm. We talked with Kirsten about life as a Marine Specialist and educator from the deck of the Dolphin Quest. To commemorate the event, we’ve decided to share some highlights of our marvelous conversation.

What is a Marine Specialist?

As a Marine Specialist, I have the privilege to share my knowledge and passion for wild dolphins and the environment in which they live. In Boca Ciega Bay, we have over 400 dolphins, each identified and named by their unique dorsal fin patterns. My role involves understanding intricate details about these dolphins, such as their gender, age, and the maternal lineage of the females. Each cruise is unique, as the dolphins often socialize with different companions, making their interactions like an ongoing underwater soap opera! By sharing these details with our guests, I aim to show how much dolphins are like us. This educational experience fosters compassion for the dolphins and inspires actions to protect them and their habitat.

What made you want to work in this field?

My love for dolphins, whales, and the ocean has been a lifelong passion. I began my career as a marine mammal trainer, working closely with dolphins, sea lions, and otters, developing personal bonds with these incredible animals. However, as I learned more about their intelligence, I realized that dolphins belong in the wild, not in captivity. This led me to become a research assistant for a local dolphin researcher who identified and named our dolphins. Today, working with wild dolphins in their natural habitat at Dolphin Quest is beyond awesome and fulfills my dream of promoting marine life conservation.

What is the most fascinating fact you have learned about the dolphins since joining Sunshine Scenic Tours?

Dolphins never cease to amaze me, especially with the latest research revelations. Scientists now believe dolphins can detect electromagnetic fields. Dolphin calves are born with whiskers on their rostrum—the elongated part of their face. These whiskers fall out shortly after birth, leaving small pits known as vibrissal crypts. These pits are believed to allow dolphins to sense the electromagnetic fields generated by fish hiding under the sand. It’s incredible how these crypts help them navigate and hunt in their aquatic environment!

Do you think you’ve got dolphins figured out, or are they still surprising you?

Dolphins continue to surprise me, and that’s one of the many reasons I love my job! Their interactions with each other and with us are endlessly fascinating. Just the other day, I witnessed a young dolphin using the side of our boat as a tool. This juvenile swam upside down, herding a fish toward the surface and trapping it against the pontoons of our boat. Once the fish had nowhere to go, the dolphin swiftly caught it. The guests on board cheered, and the dolphin even seemed to look back at us with a moment of triumph. It was a remarkable display of their intelligence and adaptability.

What is the best experience your guests can receive?

The most unforgettable experience for our guests is making eye contact with a wild dolphin. It’s a profound connection that stays with you forever.

At DolphinQuest, every day brings new discoveries and deeper connections with these remarkable marine mammals. Whether you’re a guest or a dedicated specialist like Kirsten, the world of wild dolphins is full of wonder and inspiration.

Want to experience the magic of DolphinQuest?

Join us at John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk in Madeira Beach, Florida, for an unforgettable adventure with the wild dolphins. For more information and a daily cruise schedule, visit

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