Thursday, December 27, 2012

Louie Feeds Mandy

Louie exploring his lagoon.
All of the DRC dolphins live in natural seawater lagoons in Florida Bay (the Gulf of Mexico).  They share their habitat with many types of fish including small mangrove snappers, pin fish, parrot fish, sergeant majors and other species.  The dolphins frequently chase around the other fish and, occasionally, catch one that they then play with as sort of a live toy.  Not too long ago, Louie appeared at the dock holding a sizeable redfish.  (Redfish are a type of snapper.)  This is the first time that we’ve seen an example of this species in the lagoon, although they’re commonly fished for up in the Everglades.

They’re also a popular fish to catch and dine on in Louisiana.  Perhaps that’s why Louie spotted and captured it, being a Louisiana boy himself.  The little guy was quite proud of his catch and showed it off around the lagoon.  He then willingly passing it on to DRC’s Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer Mandy Rodriguez.  After serving as a dolphin prize for a bit, the fish did not survive.  Mandy made sure that it didn’t go to waste, however.  An accomplished cook, he took it home and prepared it for a nice dinner that he shared with his wife.
The redfish was delicious!

Having worked with marine mammals for more than 43 years, Mandy has fed a lot of dolphins.  This was the first time in his long and stellar career that Mandy was fed by a dolphin in return!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Holidays from Dolphin Research Center

All of us in the DRC family wish you and yours a joyous holiday season and terrific new year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Santa Visits the Youngsters

Gypsi and the rest of the front lagoon had a great time with Santa!
Enrichment sessions allow the dolphins to have fun with trainers without food motivated reinforcement. In these sessions, trainers love to bring down a variety of different objects to entertain the dolphins. The dolphins adore being introduced to random items.

Since it’s the holiday season, a lot of the objects that have been brought down to the dock are Christmas oriented; including, a miniature Santa Claus.

On a beautiful December day, one of the trainers brought a little holiday spirit down to play with the dolphins in the front lagoon. Out of the eight dolphins who currently reside there, seven of them are under the age of six. Imagine what would happen if you let seven excited little kids loose on Santa Claus.

Each of the youngsters took the opportunity to inspect Old Saint Nick in their own way. Tursi kept Gambit away and Luna and Cayo admired him from afar. Gypsi, Flagler, Delta and Louie couldn’t wait to get their flippers on Santa! Every time it was placed on the dock, one of them tried to knock him over. They even took turns beaching next to him, which four out of five times resulted in Santa soaked in sea water.

As guests and staff members howled in laughter at the kids’ enthusiasm for the man dressed in red, the little girls and guys continued to go crazy with the toy. It became so hectic that Santa had to have a time out, while he put himself back together. The dolphins waited as patiently as they could while Santa was away, but once he was back on the dock it was time to play again.

It’s always a blast to see how the dolphins react to different things that they’re introduced to. Not only do they have a fun time investigating new toys, but we enjoy every minute we watch.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Let's Play Ball

Kibby gets ready to serve.

The dolphins always have their own ideas of what’s going to happen on a session. The schedule may call for a session about research, but if grey faces decide that it’s time to play, then play they shall! During a particularly fun session both the “little” boys and the “big” boys were up for a round of volleyball.

You may think that it was an uneven match since the five largest took on three smaller males, but don’t worry. A.J., Jax, and Tanner proved that they are huge in spirit.  They held their own.

The game began when Jax threw the ball over the boardwalk to the lagoon next door. Not missing a beat, Rainbow threw it back over to his little buddy. A.J. ducked behind Jax and shot it to Talon, who kicked it once over again. As the boys played a very exciting game of dolphin volleyball, onlookers watched as the game heated up the already warm Florida day.

At one point, Jax hit the ball and it flew into the audience. A lucky guest got in on the game! He threw the ball back into the lagoon so the game could resume.

The competition continued throughout the session with no clear winner. A.J. and Jax must have thought the same, because the next day they began another match. As the boys continued to play, more lucky visitors cheered them on.

We’re not sure who won this competition, but for those who were able to have front row seats, it was truly a spectacular event.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An Unexpected Guest

You never know who will drop in on a session.
Two of our trainers, Marie and Danielle, were spending quality time with A.J., Jax, and Tanner when an extra guest dropped in on their session. Usually, birds hang out by the lagoons to see if they can snatch a fish or two while the dolphins are fed, but this guy had something else in mind.
As onlookers watched, a white heron walked up to the edge of the dock and got up close and personal with the boys. He seemed genuinely interested in what the dolphins were doing on their session. Jax, being a super friendly guy, was happy to say hello to the bird.
The bird watched intently as Jax waved and made a seagull impression at him. Luckily, we were able to snap a photo that shows just how interested Jax and the bird were in each other.
You never really know who’s going to show up to a session at Dolphin Research Center.   Whether they visit by air or stroll down the causeway, new guests are always welcomed by the dolphins.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Manatee Protection

Recently, marine mammals have become headline news. We hear about dolphins and whales that are lost or separated from their pods and controversial issues that have arisen that disregard marine mammal protection laws. Recent issues have to do with the import of beluga whales into facilities in the United States, humans getting too close to marine mammals, and the wellbeing of animals living in dolphinariums. In the midst of all of this, manatees have been receiving attention as well.

 It is estimated that there are only around 5000 manatees left in the United States. As the Florida Keys Manatee Rescue Team, Dolphin Research Center is dedicated to raising awareness about protecting these large marine mammals that live in our backyard.

Manatees have no natural predators, yet their population remains endangered. There are many threats to manatee safety, some of which are a direct result of human interaction. Speeding on boats and not properly discarding fishing line are two of the biggest issues. However, there are also the issues that have to do with humans coming into direct contact with manatees.

The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act protects all marine mammals, including cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), sirenians (manatees and dugongs), sea otters, and polar bears within the waters of the United States. This means people may not harass, feed, hunt, capture, or kill any of them or collect any part of a marine mammal.

Interacting with any marine mammal in the wild disturbs their natural behavior, whether meant to or not. It may seem like a manatee is just floating in the water, but they may be foraging for food or tending to their calf. While some think they are aiding marine mammals by feeding them or letting them drink from a hose, this behavior actually causes the animals to seek out humans for their nourishment. This in turn results in more marine mammals getting hit by boats, suffering from malnutrition, and could possibly lead to death.

While you would never purposely harm a marine mammal, that doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. It’s natural and necessary for wild marine mammals to be wary of human interaction so that they continue to be self reliant and teach future generations to be resilient.

Dolphin Research Center is the only licensed manatee rescue team in the Florida Keys. We work together with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to go out and assess the severity of a manatee in distress. Click for more information.

If you see a manatee with an entanglement, injuries, or being harassed, please call 1-888-404-FWCC. Your call will be answered by the FWCC. This is the first step in launching a trained, authorized response to aid the animal.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Santini's New Calf - December 3, 2012

Santini and baby.

Today, Dolphin Research Center welcomed a new family member. At around 3:27pm, staff, volunteers, and guests cheered on Santini as she gave birth to a calf.

See a video of mom and baby here:

Same Behavior, Different Dolphin

Each boy dives differently.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to see an In Tune session with the big boys, you know how amazingly athletic they are. Talon, Pax, Rainbow, Sandy, and Kibby fly through the air into the sky like it’s the easiest thing in the world. As they defy gravity for a few seconds, you can see their unique dolphinalities come out in their behaviors.

People are often caught off guard when trainers and staff members look at a beautiful shot of a dolphin, flying midair, and know exactly which one it is in the photograph. Generally, we can tell who they are up close by their distinct physical characteristics. Kibby has freckles and is smaller than the rest of the big boys. Sandy has a ragged dorsal fin. Pax has two, dark grey vertical lines on his forehead.  Talon looks a lot like his younger brother, Pax, but has intense, eager eyes.  Rainbow is known for his older gentleman white snout.  To an untrained eye, each dolphin may look almost exactly the same. However as we’ve gotten to know each dolphin we can tell them apart. When you see a shadow of a dolphin in flight, those physical anomalies are gone and you have to rely on knowing their unique behaviors and individual movements.

One of the best ways to initially see this is when all or most of the boys are asked to do something at the same time. For example, their front dives. When they dive in unison, you can see how they’ve tailored each behavior to be uniquely their own. Kibby doesn’t dive as high as the other boys, while Pax and Talon soar. Some of the dolphins flick their tails once they hit their peak height. It really is astounding to pick apart the individual actions in a certain behavior to see how each dolphin does it differently from the others.

When not diving together, the dolphins establish their own pattern as well. It’s always fun to walk the causeway and tell guests to point their cameras in a certain direction for a behavior to get the optimum chance for a photo. It’s something that you pick up on after spending a significant amount of time watching sessions. Every once in a while, the dolphins deviate from their norm but usually they stick to a similar sequence. Again, you have to know the dolphin individually to anticipate where he or she is likely to pop up. Certain dolphins love to keep us on our toes. They build the anticipation while we excitedly wait to see their phenomenal action.

Every single time we see a dolphin session, it’s so mesmerizing that it feels like the first time. You can’t help but be astounded by their grace, beauty, and athletic abilities. There’s no such thing as a boring day and you can never take the amazement for granted. Time spent with dolphins, is not time spent wasted.