Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gypsi's back flop



Gypsi, with trainer Loriel, works on her back flip behavior.

 
For the past 30 years, Dolphin Research Center has been dedicated to teaching, learning and caring about marine mammals. As a family, the education process is mutual and the dolphins teach us something new every single day. This certainly rang true when Kelly Jayne began training a back flip to our resident Flipper granddaughter, Gypsi. While Kelly Jayne has an excellent relationship with Gypsi and the two of them work together often, teaching the young dolphin her back flip is an example of the importance that communication plays when working with marine mammals. 

Trainers use a device called a target pole to act as an extension of the arm. The dolphins touch the buoy on the end of it and understand that in order to complete a behavior, they need to follow the pattern of the target pole. With an aerial behavior, like a flip, the trainers first introduce the action to the dolphins in water. Kelly Jayne moved the target pole under the surface to shape a flip and a half which leads  to the dolphins re-entering  the water head first for the completed behavior. Gypsi followed. Every time the athletic little girl completed the turn and a half, Kelly Jayne blew her whistle to let Gypsi know she’d correctly completed the behavior. Slowly, they began working higher up out of the water and Gypsi understood that the completed behavior was a high energy aerial.

The most difficult part of the training was getting Gypsi to then do a flip and smack the target pole with her tail so she understood that she needed to get her entire body out of the water and rotate. How Kelly Jayne worked on this part of the behavior was to blow her whistle every time Gypsi’s tail touched the buoy in the air. By blowing the whistle at that point, Gypsi learned that she had completed the behavior whenever her tail hit the target pole and was bridged for it.  

What the trainer didn’t account for was the need to teach Gypsi to re-enter the water in a graceful manner – rostrum first Instead, Gypsi inadvertently learned to get her entire body in the air for the flip, but then she crashes back into the water  with a belly flop. While not the behavior Kelly Jayne had in mind, she can’t fault her for learning exactly what she was being taught. 

This is a great example that we like to share with our guests about the importance of continuing to learn about interspecies communication and the way a dolphin’s mind works. In the past 50 years, those who care for marine mammals have learned a lot about them but there is still so much more to continue investigating. This exercise with Gypsi, which provides her with both mental and physical stimulation, is also a learning experience for the trainers that enables us to think about how to continually communicate with our dolphin family in a manner that sets them up for success.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Louie Shares His Story




Every day, guests from all over the world who visit Dolphin Research Center are able to get up close and personal with the resident dolphins and sea lions. As it is illegal to interact with wild marine mammals, visiting them at facilities like DRC enables people to follow their curiosity and get to know these amazing animals on a more intimate level. Louie, a rescued dolphin who was found covered in oil on a beach in Louisiana when he was under a year in age, acts as an ambassador to his wild cousins every day.

While conversing with guests, we are able to tell each individual’s story. Louie’s history resonates with people globally, as the reason for him being a DRC family member stems from human error. In 2010, there was an accident in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil spilled out into the ocean and caused massive chaos in the oceans and many Gulf-side towns. DRC was not affected by the oil spill, but as an organization whose mission is to educate the world about marine mammals and the environment, it tugged at our hearts to know the possible detriments.

Despite the accident and only being given a 5% chance to live, Louie not only survived, he thrived. He puts a face to the oil spill disaster. He was a dolphin who needed a home and fell right into our mission of providing a forever place for marine mammals in need. Our Theater Presentation, “Survivor Stories”, gives us a chance to focus on him,  along with the two other rescued family members, Jax and Lina. Jax was the victim of a shark attack who was found alone at under a year in age and Lina was a repeat strander who had not learned to forage on her own. Louie, Jax and Lina were all deemed unreleasable by the government and in need of a home. Now, they have a forever family and home here at DRC.

As a not for profit, we couldn’t provide homes to Louie and the rest of the animals without your support. The animals always take precedence above all else. We thank you, our supporters for enabling us to provide a home to both the marine mammals who needed a home and those who were born here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Pandora and Calusa baby videos!

Did you hear about the newest additions to the Dolphin Research Center family? Pandora gave birth on February 21st, followed by her younger sister, Calusa, on February 24th. Both moms and babies are doing well.

We want you to be a part of the excitement here at Dolphin Research Center! 

Check out Pandora and her calf here:

 

And Calusa with her baby, below.


The babies are 100% reliant on mom right now, so both Pandora and Calusa are spending their days caring for the new additions. A new mom can eat over 20 pounds of fish a day in order to give their babies the high fat content milk they need while nursing. That's as much as our largest males! If you'd like to buy Pandora and Calusa a bucket of fish in celebration of their new babies, click here.

There's nothing cuter than a baby dolphin, is there!?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Imitation Train




It's often difficult to keep the attention of four dolphins at the dock.

Santini, Cayo, Pandora and Gypsi are smart ladies with very different dolphinalities. Santini is a Teacher’s Pet who always wants to do everything perfectly. Sisters Cayo and Pandora are extremely independent, curious and need to know what is happening at every moment. Gypsi, the youngest of the bunch, is a free spirit who swims wherever the tide takes her. You can imagine with such dynamic dolphinalities a session with them would always keep you on your toes.

That’s exactly what one of our trainers, Emily, discovered as she spent time with these four ladies. They all had a bit of trouble focusing on what was going on. Pandora kept sneaking over to the side of the dock to hang out away from the pack. Cayo had a little remora hanging on her belly, so Santini did not want to sit next to her. Gypsi wandered off, which is typical, then came back and acted as though she’d never been gone.

To keep all of the girls engaged, Emily had them practice some imitations. She’d ask Santini to do her shark behavior and then ask Cayo and Gypsi to copy. Pandora was asked to bob up and down, followed by Santini and Cayo. At one point there was even an imitation train.  Emily sent Gypsi on a wave, and then asked each dolphin to follow one at a time, imitating what the girl directly in front of them did.

When they returned to the dock, Emily responded with lots of excitement , making it a huge party for the dolphins. They did so well mastering all of their imitate behaviors. Plus, it made them even more eager to hang out all together at the dock. Since each of the girls loves attention, it was a bit hard to keep them all on their flukes. By the end of the session, all four were happy to sit next to each other, even with the remora still hanging around. It was a fun time for all!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Delta's Hidden Treasures




Delta is known for hiding toys under docks and in his lagoons.

Living in a natural environment off the Gulf of Mexico, there is always more going on under the water than there is above. Often, the dolphins bring up rocks, mangrove pods or sea grass. Other times, they resurface with hidden scarves or long lost toys. Somewhere underneath the murky water, there seems to be a dolphin treasure chest.

On occasion we are privy to the treasures hidden in the lagoons, especially when in the presence of gift givers like Delta. During a session, he randomly brought up an array of objects -- rocks, mangrove pods, dive rings, a target pole, and other fun items that he was hiding somewhere in the lagoon. As Delta emerged with more and more gifts, we began to hand them out to guests who were standingon the front seawall. A little girl was given a rock, while her father showed off his lump of seaweed. Others laughed as we handed them tiny strands of sea grass and a few leaves. When a new guest was given a dolphin present, Delta swam away to locate another one. Somehow, he had an endless supply of goodies to spare.

The next day, during an enrichment session, Delta began to hoard toys in the lagoon. Not sodiscreetly, he grabbed a ball and placed it under a floating dock. Stealing from his good friend, Cayo, he hid a target pole under the boardwalk. It began to be clear that there was a reason he was able to find so many gifts the day before: he had them stashed from other sessions! Although he had several eyes on him, he nonchalantly took the toys to different areas of the lagoon to save for later.
Delta isn’t the only dolphin who hoards toys. Louie  loves dive rings and is known for bringing up several of them at random moments. Pandora and Calusa hold onto their target poles and hula hoops for days. Pax and Talon knock balls into the mangroves and then either reclaim them later or watch their trainers dig them out. We want to always ensure that the dolphins have a great time, so we’re happy to let them keep the toys they enjoy the most. After all, their personal likes and interests are all what makes their dolphinalities so unique. 

As a nonprofit, our members help us keep the toys in the lagoons. Throughout the year, we are fortunate to receive new items along with donations to ensure the dolphins and sea lions are always amused and entertained. All of the toys are deemed dolphin safe to ensure that they provide tons of fun with no injury. These gifts continue to give as we share sweet stories about our flippered family members.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Luna Shares Her Toys


The target pole is the instrument Luna's trainer is holding while she dives over. We have many of varying lengths and often the dolphins carry around shorter versions of this tool for fun.


 Luna comes from a family of target pole lovers. Her mom, Pandora, is known to beach herself on docks if she sees one she can get her flippers on. Her aunt, Calusa, swims around with one as if it’s a majorette’s baton.   Obviously, it’s ingrained in this little girl to have a love for the training tool.
This makes it ever so special when she offers it up to her human family members. She’s done this on several occasions, often coming up to the seawall by the front lagoon and pushing it towards people she recognizes. 

One day, a staff member went onto a dock to say hello to the dolphins in the front lagoon. Many whizzed by to see what was happening. However, Luna took a few minutes to come over and assess how familiar she was with her human friend. After a few seconds, she swam away. Thinking nothing of it, the staff member sat on the dock and waited to see if any of her flippered friends wanted to play. Then, Luna popped up with a target pole inches away from the dock.

We’ve learned never to take certain items from dolphins, even if they seem to be giving you the option of taking it away. Pandora and Calusa do not give up their favorite toys.. However, Luna released the pole from beneath her pectoral flipper and moved it closer to the dock. Out of respect, the staff member asked “Do you want me to take it?” and Luna backed away leaving the pole near her friend. Under Luna’s wishes, it was lifted out of the water and put on the dock followed by a huge applause for the oh-so-sweet dolphin!

She got very excited and did a victory lap around the lagoon. Afterwards, Luna proceeded to come back with a multitude of gifts. She brought up a mangrove pod, some leaves, and chunks of sea grass. Each time she was applauded and cheered for, she swam off to get something new. Luna absolutely adored the reinforcement she received for bringing the items up to the dock.