NAGS HEAD, N.C.
A survey by AAA ranks Coquina Beach tops in North Carolina — not for its surf or attractions — but for spotting dolphins.
Hundreds of them spend the summer here making the Outer Banks great for dolphin watching. They come and go from ocean to sound through Oregon Inlet.
Coquina Beach is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and stretches for about 3 miles between Nags Head and the inlet. The area has a large parking area, a four-wheel drive ramp to the beach and a handicap-accessible deck above the dunes with a view for miles.
“It is the closest beach to Oregon Inlet that is easily accessible,” said Jessica Taylor, executive director of the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research.
Hundreds breed and feed in the local sounds, Taylor said. Groups of dolphins, known as pods, are seen near waterfront homes and public beaches, around bridges and close to boaters and paddle boarders.
One individual, named Onion, has visited the Outer Banks for more than 20 years and is a favorite among dolphin watchers, Taylor said. He can be identified by three slices on his dorsal fin that fold over instead of standing upright.
The Outer Banks dolphins migrate to Beaufort, N.C. during the winter and return around April, she said. Others swim offshore near the Outer Banks in spring and travel as far north as New Jersey, she said. Nearly all of them pass near Coquina Beach.
Dolphins are best seen on a calm day when the water is flat, she said. Look for the dorsal fins or water spraying up to 10 feet in the air as they exhale from the hole on their back. They're mammals and must surface for air.
Dolphin fins are rounded or U-shaped more than the pointed shark fin. They surface and go under so the fin goes up and down, while shark fins stay above water longer.
In the September/October edition, AAA Carolina’s Go Magazine asked its readers to name their favorite beaches, seafood restaurants and attractions, among other things in South and North Carolina. The current edition for January/February 2019 included the results. The magazine is distributed to more than a million households, said Editor Kristy Tolley.
Coquina Beach is isolated from houses, easy to get to, “and it’s a great place to spot dolphin,” according to the magazine.