Thursday, July 26, 2012

What's That Dolphin Doing?

When guests follow our path around to our causeway, one of the first pair of eyes they are greeted by are Rainbow’s. Rainbow, or Bo as he is affectionately called, is one of our big boys who lives in a lagoon with four other guys, Talon, Pax, Sandy, and Kibby. Bo loves his guy time, but he also loves to hang by the guests and watch them.

One of the most asked questions by guests when Bo is hanging out is “Why is he just laying there?” We can’t speak for him but we can give some answers as to why he decides to hang out where he does.

Usually he’s in the shallow side of his lagoon which is perfect for sleeping. Dolphins sleep with half of their brain at a time because they are conscious breathers. Dolphins have bi-lateral brains. So, if you see Rainbow’s right eye open it could mean that the left side of his brain is sleeping and vice versa. He might remain relatively still, just like we do when we’re snoozing.  Dolphins can also move their eyes independently of each other.  While Rainbow keeps one eye on you, he can also check out what’s happening in the water beneath him. The area that Rainbow likes to hang out in also is the perfect spot to have a nice chat with some of his other friends at DRC. Rainbow loves his bachelor pod, but sometimes he enjoys a visit with other dolphins for a while. Our lagoons provide that option for our dolphins. Next to his lagoon are his friends Tanner, A.J., and newest friend, Jax. Rainbow has taken a special interest in Jax and the two of them often lie out and chat through the fence. If you listen at the right time, you can hear the two of them whistling and clicking at one another.

We also know that our dolphins love to watch guests who are coming through DRC. We always tell our guests that they’re the entertainment for our dolphins, not the other way around. It’s amazing how Bo and the rest of the animals here at DRC respond to humans and are genuinely curious about us. Sometimes you’ll catch their eye and our dolphins want to make it known they’re stealing a glance at you. You can tell Bo is people watching because he’ll hang out in that corner and use both of his eyes. Dolphins don’t have eyes on the front of their face like humans do, but instead have them on the sides of their melon. So they have to physically shift their body to look in front of them. If you see Bo shift himself in your direction, and even swimming alongside the shallow water, he’s probably checking you out!

Last but not least, Rainbow is a ladies’ man. In the lagoon across from him lives a maternity pod with five ladies. He loves to talk to them and see how they’re doing. He also enjoys talking to the little boys in the lagoon who may eventually end up living with him once they’re old enough. Again, you may hear clicks and whistles from Rainbow, or you may see him put his whole melon under the water and nod back and forth.
When you see Bo hanging out at the causeway, watch his behavior to figure out what he’s doing. You might catch him during a nap or you may get followed by a pair of dolphin eyes.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Belly Flop!

One of the most enjoyable activities for guests to watch at Dolphin Research Center is an enrichment session. Sometimes trainers go out in inflatable boats, floating chairs, or water noodles to get up close and personal with the dolphins. Other times they’ll stay on the dock and bring out some toys for the dolphins to play with. These sessions allow the trainers to get closer to each dolphin and also learn about their behavior. It is a way for our dolphins to enjoy their free time where they can do whatever they want. Like any of our sessions, the dolphin can choose whether or not to participate in enrichment. We get really excited when dolphins who don’t regularly participate get in on the fun. Molly, our oldest dolphin, doesn’t always want to play or interact during enrichment and that’s okay because it’s her time to enjoy herself too. Every once in a while, she’ll decide to join in and pops up alongside the babies in her lagoon to play too. Whenever she does, we are thrilled to have her as a part of playtime.
Guests often wonder why Tursi screams when she flies through the air, or why Merina goes clockwise when she does a dorsal pull while Santini goes counterclockwise. Dolphins have their own dolphinalities, and through our enrichment we allow the dolphins to showcase their individuality. These sessions allow the dolphins to put together behaviors that they’ve thought about doing but haven’t been asked to do before. It ignites their creativity and shows us just what these fantastic creatures are capable of.

One of the most popular behaviors produced during enrichment was created by Sandy, one of our big boys. Sandy knew how to jump, giggle, shake his head, and breach, but had never been asked to do all four together. One day during enrichment, his trainer asked what he wanted to do. Sandy jumped into the air, made a honking sound while shaking his head at the same time, and then made a giant splash as he breached onto his belly. It was something no other dolphin had done before!  The trainers captured the behavior by rewarding Sandy heavily and showing interest in him doing it again. After he repeated the combination of actions several times, the trainers were able to assign a signal and ask for Sandy to do the behavior on cue. Now whenever Sandy sees a trainer holding his stomach, he knows they’re asking for his belly flop.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Manatee Release - Jasmine!

Members of DRC's Manatee Rescue Team (gray shirts)
and staff from the FWC and MSQ check out Jasmine prior to her release.
In March, we told you about Jasmine, an injured manatee found in the Key Largo-Tavernier area that was successfully rescued by Dolphin Research Center’s Manatee Rescue Team and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  She received excellent treatment and rehabilitation for four months at Miami Seaquarium (MSQ).  Her internal injuries caused air to leak into her body cavity with led to increased buoyancy that prevented her from staying submerged for any length of time.  In Miami Seaquarium’s care, she received antibiotics to ward off infection and was carefully monitored while the air gradually dissipated from her body.  Completely healed and with no further buoyancy issues, Jasmine was deemed releasable.

On July 17, 2012, members of DRC’s Manatee Rescue Team traveled to Plantation Key Colony to assist with Jasmine’s release.  At approximately 2 p.m., Miami Seaquarium's crew and the FWC rolled into a community park on Jasmine Street, near where Jasmine was originally rescued.  The truck carrying the now-recovered manatee carefully backed towards a boat ramp, so that she could be carried into the water by the rescue crew.

Before being put back into the water, the Seaquarium team sprayed her down with water to keep her cool. Then, Jasmine was checked over one last time by medical personnel before she was ready to go home. In our experience, most manatees prefer to lie on their stomachs but Jasmine was unique and rolled onto her back whenever she was given the chance.  Since she was obviously comfortable, the release crew allowed her to relax in that position as they carried her in a soft stretcher.

It took more than ten rescuers to move the 900 pound manatee off the truck, to the boat ramp, and into the bay. More than 20 bystanders watched while several people took photographs or filmed footage of the event.  We took the opportunity to distribute brochures with information on how the public can help protect manatees from danger as well as magnets with the telephone number people should call when they see a manatee in distress.

FWC Manatee biologist John Cassady and an MSQ staff member
 look on while Jasmine swims out of the stretcher into the water!
As Jasmine made her way off of the stretcher and into the bay, her audience cheered and clapped. Seeing a manatee successfully released back into the water after being injured is a rewarding part of being a member of the rescue crew. We wish Jasmine the best and hope boaters will exercise caution when they are in areas that are homes to our flippered friends.

Remember that manatee injuries are preventable. When boating, slow down when you're in an area inhabited by manatees. Prevent entanglement by properly discarding fishing lines and crab traps. Even if a manatee approaches you, do not give them food or try to pet them. It can be detrimental to the manatee population to seek out human interaction.

As you know, DRC is a nonprofit organization. All of our mission-based activities, including our manatee rescue efforts, are funded by admission and program fees as well as by private donors and members. Thanks to your support, we were able to help rescue Jasmine so that she could receive the care she needed to be rehabilitated.  Thank you!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Day At DRC

If you were to pass Dolphin Research Center on U.S. 1 (also known as the Overseas Highway), you wouldn’t realize how large of a facility we are. People who are on vacation or are driving down towards Key West often stop and are curious about our little building that stands next to a huge dolphin statue and logo sign on the side of the road. They’ll come in, see our gift shop, purchase a general admission ticket to come inside, get stamped for admittance, then walk through our front doors and be transported to a place that our own employees refer to as “the happiest place in the world”.

Follow a walkway full of dedications, memorials, and memories that have been purchased by members, staff, volunteers, and anyone who has been touched by the DRC initiative. Pass by our Sprayground that was built for kids of all ages and our birds that love to converse. Be greeted with smiles and hellos from our staff members and volunteers as you make your way to the main attraction.

The end of the walkway, which twists and turns through our Veterans Garden and a statue in memory of Mitzi, also known as the original Flipper dolphin, leads to our front lagoon where our maternity pod lives. The front lagoon is home to our moms and babies, our baby sitter dolphins, and a youngster who was adopted into the DRC family and now has a forever home. Often times a dolphin or two looks at you waiting to be entertained, so make sure you smile, wave, blow raspberries, and talk to these adorable creatures who are as curious about you as you are about them!

Turn and follow the pathway marked with sea lions and dolphins and you can see an educational program in the Dolphin Theater. Pass by and say hello to our sea lions, and see the rest of our beautiful dolphin family. The females are on the left of the causeway, and our bachelor pods are on the right. You can often see our boys rough housing with each other while our girls tease you with noises to intrigue you to spend more time watching them in their lagoons.

Your general admission allows you to watch every session and theater presentation we offer at Dolphin Research Center. In one day, we can promise you that you will not see the same show twice. Every session offers an abundance of information about our dolphins, our mission, and ocean conservation. We not only take questions, but invite you to ask anything that is on your mind. DRC’s mission is to educate everyone who walks through our doors so that they can tell others what they’ve learned.

If you decide after being here and seeing the magic that is DRC that you want to take part in one of our many interactive programs, walk up to the Gift Shop and ask about the current availability. Dolphin Explorer, Play with a Dolphin, Paint with a Dolphin, Meet a Dolphin, Sea Lion Splash and Hug a Sea Lion are all offered on a walk-in basis. Dolphin Encounter and Dolphin Dip usually require advance reservations, but there are sometimes walk-in spots available, too. We can promise you, it’ll be the icing on top of an already magnificent day!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Save the Dates!

Dolphin Research Center is excited to host the 2012 IMATA U.S. Southeast Regional Workshop. Here's the initial information. Check back often for updates! (Double click on image to view larger version.)