Monday, November 19, 2012

What Brings You Here

Aerial shot of Dolphin Research Center

Dolphin Research Center is all about stories. We love to share the stories about our family with guests, whether inside of the facility, at the grocery store, on a trip, or anywhere people will listen! Our stories began before DRC was even a facility. Dolphins have been living on our grounds since the 1940’s, so as you can imagine there’s a lot to talk about.

Many of our stories begin with the 1960’s movie, Flipper. The man who initially started the grounds as a dolphinarium, Milton Santini, lived here with his favorite dolphin Mitzi. Being a beautiful dolphin, Mitzi became the face of the original Flipper. But a lot of people don’t know that there were at least three dolphins that played Flipper!

As we stand in front of our large lagoon dedicated to the maternity pod that currently lived at DRC, and tell the account about Santini and Mitzi, people become entranced with our story. Then, as if on cue, Tursi jumps out of the water and screams almost as if to say “enough about Mitzi, it’s time to talk about me!” The conversation quickly turns to Tursi, who is the product of a Flipper romance between two of Mitzi’s stunt doubles, and her four offspring that live here as well.  Depending on which dolphins are currently in view, or where you’re standing on the causeway, the conversation branches out in a million different directions. Dolphin Research Center is a never ending book of anecdotes, which we love to share with anyone who will listen.

Then, the scoop turns to us. By us, I mean you and me. People often ask “How did you find out about DRC?”, “What brought you here?”, or “What did you study to get a job working with dolphins?” The misconception is that most people think that to have any possibility of working with marine mammals, we all must have studied Marine Biology. Interestingly enough, almost everyone at DRC has a different educational background. Ranging from Zoology to Communications to Psychology, everyone’s background brings something unique to the DRC table.

So what brought us all here? Probably the same thing that brought you here; a love of marine mammals. Many have been in love with dolphins since they were a child. Some have always had a connection to marine mammals that branched out to interest in their intelligence, athleticism, and nature. Everyone’s story is different, but the end result is that at some point we all chose to walk through DRC’s doors and see what’s on the other side.

Every day, we’re honored to have new guests visiting Dolphin Research Center. Regardless of what brought you through our doors our hope is that you, as a one time visitor, will see what we see in our facility and become a member, and that you’ll keep up with our family. Many of our one time visitors become members, then volunteers, then staff. They share the same enthusiasm for the dolphins as someone on their first visit.

We’d like to know how you, our readers, found out about DRC. What brought you here and why do you continue to stay updated with us?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Quieter Days of DRC

Molly struts for the crowd.

As the seasons change and the air cools down, ever so slightly, in the Florida Keys, we see a shift of the amount of people who are visiting and interacting with the dolphins. The facility is less congested, and the dolphins are doing fewer programs than they normally do during our busier times of the year. It’s a mini vacation, for both the dolphins and our staff. Yet we get anxious to have more people walk through our doors. Not because we want the facility to be full, or we want people to participate in programs, but because we want to show off our dolphin family and continue to share knowledge about marine mammals, ocean conservation, and all things dear to DRC’s heart.

During this time, we are able focus more on educational programs outside of DolphinLab and DolphinCamp. We encourage schools in Monroe County to bring their students to the facility, or we ask them to seek out the Education staff to enter their classrooms and bring a piece of DRC into their schools. As always, DRC believes that if people know more about marine mammals, they’ll strive to protect them.

In several weeks, we’ll go back to being as busy as we were before. Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas bring in lots of new guests and potential members who we can share DRC’s philosophies with. People travel from all over the world to visit us, and we can’t help but be excited to meet new friendly faces and create more memories that will last a lifetime.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What's Tursi Saying?

Tursi opens her mouth wide when she's excited.

During a recent Dolphin Encounter, a member pointed out that Tursi shakes her head back and forth as if she’s saying “no” when a trainer asks her to do something.  They asked if she did that because she didn’t want to do what the trainer had asked. Her trainer, Sarah, explained that Tursi shows her excitement in different ways. Sometimes she shakes her head in a manner that says “What are we going to do next!?” or she does a chomping behavior we call an alligator when she’s really into a session. To an untrained eye, a dolphin shaking their head “no” may mean no, but those of us who work at Dolphin Research Center spend a lot of time watching our dolphins and getting to know each and every one of their dolphinalities.

Dolphins will do the same behavior both when they’re playing and when they’re agitated. A great example of this is tail slapping. A dolphin may slap their tail for attention, to show dominance, or because they want to be left alone. The way to differentiate is to see in what context the behavior occurred.  A tail slap during a play session when a trainer is spending time with a dolphin is simply a way to get attention. However, a tail slap when no one else is in the lagoon means something entirely different. It could be a simple sign of hierarchy or it could simply mean they have something on their tail that they want to get off like a piece of seaweed.

Getting to know our dolphins takes time and is extremely important for both trainers and the animals. Just like humans, dolphins have baseline behaviors. These behaviors are the way they normally act. For Tursi, chomping and shaking her head are normal behaviors. They come as naturally as her loud scream when she’s engaging in aerial behaviors. We study all the dolphins and have identified baselines on numerous behaviors they exhibit.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Iguanas pose for the camera too.

People typically visit Dolphin Research Center to see our dolphins and California sea lions. However, there is another animal at DRC that gets a lot of attention; the iguana!

At DRC, we are committed to giving a forever home to all of our animals, and this includes the iguanas that have made themselves at home here on DRC grounds. Years ago, iguanas were released from their families’ home and now they reside in the Florida Keys even though they are not native animals, rather they are considered invasive.  DRC has an extensive spay/neuter program to help keep the population under control. To those of us who are used to them, they’re just another part of DRC’s family. To visitors from other areas, even other countries, they’re absolutely fascinating. It’s a daily occurrence to see cameras pointed towards an iguana.

The green iguana can weigh up to 18 pounds and can reach a length of five to seven feet. Although, none of the iguanas currently living at DRC are that large, a couple are still larger than a small dog. Its hard, long tail is used for balance, but also as a weapon. We always tell guests to stay far enough away when walking behind them because if they whip their tail, it can be extremely painful.

You may be wondering, do the dolphins and iguanas get along together? Dolphins seem to be very interested in them and it isn’t rare to see an iguana swimming in a lagoon filled with curious dolphins. When this happens, the dolphins go crazy and love to follow it in the water. Every once in a while, a dolphin will bump at the iguana to give it a little scare, but for the most part the dolphins are just inquisitive about this strange little animal swimming in their world.

If you see an iguana on our grounds, feel free to take pictures but don’t get too close. They are still wild animals and should not be fed or pet. They’re pretty content to pose for a photo and mosey on their way.