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.

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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

CMMP Application Period Begins November 1st!

How many times have you visited a marine mammal facility and dreamt of making that your career? Many people who come to Dolphin Research Center ask us how we got into the field. We’ve all had different educational routes and various internship or volunteer experiences. When we were looking for a way to work with marine mammals, there was no school or educational program that gave us all of the tools needed to follow our dreams. However, there is now.

In response to the limited availability of licensed professional educational programs that prepare individuals for careers regarding the behavior, care and training of marine mammals, DRC has established the The College of Marine Mammal Professions (CMMP).

Students enrolled in CMMP will gain hands on experience and knowledge needed to work with marine mammals. Our staff will provide you with the skills to be in demand by marine mammal facilities, zoos, and aquariums. Furthermore, you will be trained to work with the public on programs as well as learn how to do each step involved in marine mammal care, from fish house to medical procedures to enrichment.

The CMMP will begin taking applications on November 1st, 2012 with a postmark deadline of November 30th, 2012.

All applicants must complete a minimum of 24 general education quarter credits including the specific courses listed below prior to applying to the MMBT program. These courses must be completed with a "C" grade or better. The courses must be taken at an Accredited College or University. High School classes do not apply toward the prerequisites. A previously attained associate’s or bachelor’s degree may be considered by the college for equivalency.

The following documents must be sent to the College of Marine Mammal Professions Program Office in one envelope between November 1 and November 30, of the academic year of the program for which the student is applying (see current academic calendar).

a. All official, sealed college transcripts documenting successful completion of the prerequisite coursework with a C or better;

b. Completed MMCBT program application form.

c. Two sealed letters of recommendation from a person unrelated to the applicant and whom the applicant has known for 2 years or more.

Information on the College can be found on DRC’s website:

An application can be downloaded at the link below:

For any questions regarding the College, please contact:

Please like CMMP on Facebook for further information:!/CollegeOfMarineMammalProfessions

Monday, September 24, 2012

Woof Friendly

Dogs and dolphins are just as curious about one another.

Animals are a member of our family, just like your pooch at home is a member of yours! That’s why at Dolphin Research Center, we are dog friendly and encourage you to bring your pal to spend the day with us.

Dogs are such a staple at DRC that we’ve made them members of our DolphinLab classes. In the Adult DolphinLab Advanced Marine Mammal Training and Enrichment, each student works individually with a staff member’s dog. Under the supervision of our experienced trainers and educators, the students apply training principles and practices and train their dog partner a new behavior.

We have many members who visit DRC regularly and spend the day here with their dogs. It’s a great way to enjoy a beautiful day out with the entire family without the worry and stress of leaving your pet at home or at a hotel. (Nobody ever wants to see a dog left in a hot car in the parking lot.  This is dangerous and illegal.)

Our dolphins are genuinely curious about their four legged friends. They’re often caught spying on dogs when they’re on the causeway, and we’re sure your canine will be equally as curious about our gray family members.

Please make sure to bring water, a bowl, and bags to clean up after your pet. All dogs must be kept on a leash and must be accompanied by a person at all times. If you decide you want to do an interactive program with our dolphins, you must have a member of your party handling your pet at all times.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

DRC Reopen after Isaac!

Tursi leaps into the brilliant blue sky after we reopen on Tues a.m.!

This visitor from London was thrilled that she could resume her vacation and swim with Delta!
Dolphin Research Center worked hard all day on Monday and we were happy to reopen for visitors first thing on Tuesday morning after Tropical Storm Isaac blew through the Keys.

The dolphins, sea lions, birds, cats and all of the people are fine and we sustained only minor physical damage.

Now all we need is for people to resume their vacations or make new plans to visit the fabulous Florida Keys. 

In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with the people in the path of the storm as it makes its way to the Gulf Coast.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Preparing for Isaac!

We're expecting the storm named Isaac to visit the Florida Keys in a few hours.  It's unsure yet whether we'll experience this as a tropical storm (winds in the 45 mph to 73 mph range) or a Category 1 hurricane (winds 74 to 90 mph).  Whatever the case, Dolphin Research Center has completed thorough preparations to secure the facility and, of course, our dolphin and sea lion family!

A stay-behind crew will remain at DRC for the duration of the Isaac event.  This morning it was still safe enough for some of the trainers who live near the facility to go in, feed and care for the pod.  Before the storm arrives in full strength and makes in unsafe for people to be out on the grounds, the stay-behind crew will provide another meal and then hunker down in the safe building.  As soon as possible after the worst of the weather passes, they'll be out on the grounds to check on the dolphins and sea lions and the entire facility.

Everyone always asks what exactly we do to prepare for a hurricane.  We have a detailed plan that we follow and actually began our storm preparations on Friday.  Well in advance of any storm, the Environmental Services team checks the generators and lays in supplies that might be needed.

Staff members take care of their offices and buildings, making sure that equipment is protected and storm shutters properly installed.  As you can imagine, there's a great deal to be done around the lagoons and public areas.  We temporarily remove some of the floating docks and increase the security of others.  Everything that could get blown around or into any of the lagoons is removed and stored.  This includes benches, stairs, gear, equipment, trash and recycling receptacles, and all of the signs that are normally posted around the dolphins.

Even the lunch truck is moved from where it usually sits near the front lagoon and taken to a more secure location!

The tropical birds that normally live in an outdoor aviary take up residence in the DolphinLab classroom to keep them out of the wind and weather.  The various cats are kept inside as well.

Preparing for a storm event is a lot of work, to be sure, but the DRC family works great as a team and everything that needs to be done to protect our home and family is completed in time.  There was a lot of activity yesterday, and we snapped some photos to share a few of the tasks with you.

As soon as possible after the storm, we'll post an update to let you know that everything's okay.  You can also check our Facebook page throughout the storm, as weather, Internet connection and available power permit!

Crossbars were added to reinforce the Causeway Tiki
Guest Services staff shuttered the Gift Shop

Volunteers collected toys and gear for safe storage
Dylan and Adam worked on the sound system

Even the ropes that line the lagoons are removed.  Aleta checked out our progress.

Trainers Laura (red cap) and Loriel bring a meal to the dolphins in the front lagoon.
Loriel is multi-tasking -- getting a storm update from Linda on the phone.

Visual Communications staff and volunteers moved
equipment from the Photo Tiki

The sun shade was taken down from over the lagoons.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Change it Up!

 “Pandora’s all smiles when the trainers go out of their way to entertain her during sessions”.
Dolphin Research Center is a facility where you will never exactly see the same session twice. We are constantly changing up our routine, trainers, and educators during each program. You could spend an entire month at DRC and every session would be different.

We don’t change what’s going on for our audience, but for our dolphins. Just like us, dolphins can lose interest in something they’re doing and once you’ve lost a dolphin’s attention the session is over. Our dolphins love when our trainers and staff members act silly. Our trainers run up and down the boardwalk, dance around, and work hard to make every session unique; whether it’s new training, enrichment, or research.

It doesn’t stop there. If you walk by a dolphin on the causeway and don’t interact, they make it known. Our dolphins will literally call out to you to be entertained! When that happens, you can’t walk away. You’ll often find people bobbing up and down, waving, or blowing kisses to our beautiful dolphins.

Several of our dolphins can do an entire session simply based off the attention they’re given. Pandora, for example, loves when her trainers entertain her and could care less about the fish they’re offering. Since she was a calf, Pandora has been curious about the world. She loves to play with new toys and feeds off of the energy she’s given. Interactions with Pandora tend to be fast paced and energizing.

Not only do our dolphins love attention, we encourage our guests to be as silly and playful as possible. Our visitors come from other cities, states, and even countries to see the DRC family and we want them to have a memory that lasts a lifetime. Jax waving or Rainbow giggling at you is a unique story to tell to your friends and family and a great way to remember your day at DRC!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What's in a name?

A.J. was named for his parents.

Guests often ask how we name our dolphins. Our animals have unique identifiers that are given to them for various reasons. Some of our dolphins like Molly, Sandy, and Rainbow, came to us from other facilities and we didn’t want to change the handle they already knew. Other dolphins have been named based on their “dolphinalities”.

Pandora, for example, was given her designation because she was a curious little girl. She was nicknamed our “bumper baby” because she would get into anything and everything. Her mom, Merina, had a hard time keeping up with her! Even as a newborn, Pandora was an independent calf eager to explore her surroundings.
Our rescue dolphins, Jax and Louie, were given their names because of where they were rescued. Jax was found in the Saint John’s River in Jacksonville and Louie was found after the oil spill in Louisiana. We felt it important to honor their stories.

Many of our other dolphins were given names connected to their genealogy. A.J. is in honor of his parents Aphrodite and Joe. Delta’s name is a combination of his grandfather Delphi and mom Aleta. We love our dolphin heritage and it’s important for us to always remember our cherished dolphins.

Luna and Pax got their names because of when they were born. Luna was born on a blue moon so she was given the Spanish word for moon. Pax, means peace in Latin, and we thought this appropriate for a dolphin born on Easter Sunday.

Unlike humans, we do not name our dolphins when they are first born. We take suggestions for names from staff and members, but nothing is official until we know more about our new little blessing. Gender cannot be established until we get a good view of a baby’s belly side which may take several months. Once we know whether we have a female or male baby dolphin and a little bit about their personality, we can select the perfect name for our new family member.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Kids of all ages

On a daily basis, guests say that those of us who are fortunate to work at Dolphin Research Center have a dream job. The most rewarding part of the job is seeing the happiness and excitement on our guests’ faces. Whether they just swam with dolphins, or are waving to them from the causeway, you can’t help but enjoy seeing how mesmerized people are by our animals.

DRC is a great place to bring children. We have a refreshing Sprayground, a multitude of educational narrations all day long, and questions are always welcomed. Often times, you’ll find members of our Education Department in the Dolphin Theatre twenty minutes after a program has ended listening to kids’ stories and what they have to say about dolphins. It’s a great environment to learn in, since we have no behind the scenes and no topic is taboo.

We love to consider our doors open to kids of all ages. Adults clap and cheer with the same enthusiasm as a child. When we ask our guests where they’re from, many will say they’re from another continent and have been members of DRC and dreamt about coming to swim with our dolphins. Parents run around the Sprayground with the same vivacity as a toddler and ask staff questions as eagerly as an elementary school student.

During a recent session, emphatic cheers could be heard for every one of our dolphins. “Great job, Tursi!” “Way to go, Louie” “Molly, you’re so funny!” “Go, baby dolphins, go!” The screams were so loud; they competed with our dolphins’ squeals. If you’ve ever heard our dolphins scream, you know they’re boisterous! When I turned to look and see who was cheering on our dolphins with such devotion, it was a man who looked to be in his early thirties. He wasn’t there with his family or friends, he just loved our dolphins and couldn’t help but go on and on about our fantastic facility. He’d been a member for over ten years and absolutely adored everything DRC stood for. Hearing him speak about DRC, he had the same intensity as a child on the playground telling his friends about a summer adventure in the Keys. It was such a refreshing encounter, and one that DRC staff is privileged to have on a nearly daily basis.

The great part about Dolphin Research Center is that our programs are meant for kids of all ages. It doesn’t matter if you’re a four year old girl seeing a dolphin for the first time, or an eighty year old man swimming with dolphins for the tenth time, DRC transcends all age groups.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

DRC Establishes New College of Marine Mammal Professions!

Dolphin Research Center is proud to announce that we have now established The College of Marine Mammal Professions (CMMP), a fully licensed academic institution where students will acquire extensive practical knowledge and hands on skills.  Not only will they receive the training they need to work in this industry, but they will also earn a college degree in the process when they successfully complete the program!
In September, 2013, the first CMMP program, an Associate of Science Degree in Marine Mammal Behavior, Care and Training (MMBCT) will commence.  In the future, we intend to expand and offer other degrees within the field of marine mammal professions.

The application period for the first program begins in a few months on November 1, 2012!

Among the many skills that students in the MMBCT program will develop will be the ability to assess marine mammal behavior, adeptly provide appropriate husbandry care and apply positive training techniques for the well being and enrichment of marine mammals in human care. Additionally, graduates of this program will learn a variety of presentation techniques to assist them in educating a wide range of audiences.

As a long time innovator in the field of marine mammal professions, DRC is excited to take a lead role in offering professional degreed programs that will positively enhance the lives of marine mammals in human care and around the world.

For more information, please click here.

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.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

National Flip Flop Day!

Friday, June 15th has been designated as National Flip Flop Day! We're happy that this comfortable footwear gets celebrated with its own day, but honestly, it's always flip flop day at Dolphin Research Center. Even the dolphins agree!

Friday, June 1, 2012

DRC on TV!

We just received word that on Sunday, June 3rd, a program called Animal Superpowers: Extreme Hunters will air on the National Geographic Wild channel. The website says 9 p.m. eastern, but please check your local listings. Dolphin Research Center's dolphins and Director of Education Kirsten Donald demonstrated dolphin acoustic abilities and echolocation for the program. The show spotlights some of the interesting abilities different animals have that help them forage and find prey. DRC's help provided a greater understanding of other cetaceans like sperm whales in the Azores. The segment was filmed at DRC last September. We're excited to see the finished program and hope that you get to tune in too!

Kirsten shows Talon eyecups as they prepare to demonstrate how he uses his echolocation to find objects, in this case toy rings, without using his eyesight.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Baby Bump!

The DRC family is excited to announce that Santini is expecting! Her new bundle of flippered joy is due to arrive in late November-early December.

Santini's doing great and the pregnancy is smoothly progressing. She's receiving terrific pre-natal care, of course, and we'll monitor her throughout the coming months. We know you'll join us in keeping our flippers crossed that everything continues to go well.

We look forward to welcoming Tina's new son or daughter (and Tanner's little sister or brother) in the fall!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

DRC Helps Rescue Injured Manatee

A manatee injured by a boat in the Florida Keys is now receiving treatment for her injuries thanks to Dolphin Research Center’s Manatee Rescue Team and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). On Friday, March 16th, the female manatee was rescued near Jasmine Street in Key Largo.

Manatee assessors from DRC had gone out to observe the animal for a few days prior to her rescue. On Thursday, March 15th, Medical Director Pat Clough and veterinarian Dr. Mike Renner went by boat to get a good look at her injuries and her movement. With the cuts on her back from a propeller and buoyancy issues that made her “ride high” in the water and compromised her mobility, they reported to the FWC that she should be rescued.

The following morning, DRC's rescue team deployed, traveling to mile marker 90 to meet with manatee biologists from the FWC and launch the rescue mission. They found the manatee in the same area where she had previously been spotted and cautiously approached.

With the FWC's John Cassady at the helm, the rescue boat slowly approached Jasmine. In this picture, you can see the cuts on her side as she dives below the water's surface.

Not knowing the full extent of the internal injuries she might have suffered, the crew hoped to achieve the rescue without multiple net sets and stress on the animal. With excellent timing, they encircled her with the net and were able to safely bring her aboard the rescue boat.

Dubbed Jasmine by the rescue crew after the street near where she was rescued, she was examined on the boat and then carefully lifted into the FWC's truck.

DRC and FWC personnel examine Jasmine and remove the net.

DRC Medical Director Pat Clough (kneeling) and Senior Medical Technician Tanya Manchester keep an eye on Jasmine, spraying her down with water, prior to her transport to Miami Seaquarium.

From the scene, she was then transported to Miami Seaquarium for treatment and rehabilitation. Antibiotics have been administered to ward off infection and staff report that she is eating well and socializing with other manatees in her pool. Her condition will be carefully assessed as she continues to heal. When she is deemed completely recovered from her injuries, she will be transported back to the Florida Keys and released.

According to marine mammal medical personnel and manatee biologists, the animal may have suffered an internal injury to its lung which permitted air to leak into the body cavity. This trapped air increases the buoyancy of the manatee which can make it more difficult for the animal to stay submerged beneath the water’s surface and dive to the sea grass beds to feed. X-rays will determine whether any of the manatee’s ribs were broken by the boat strike.

“Jasmine is fortunate that area residents saw her injuries and alerted authorities so that she could be rescued and helped,” said DRC’s Chief Operating Officer Armando “Mandy” Rodriguez. “She serves as a strong reminder for all boaters to pay attention to posted slow speed zones and be aware of manatees in our local waters.” Licensed by the federal government, Dolphin Research Center’s manatee rescue team responds to calls about injured, entangled, ill or orphaned manatees from Key Largo to Key West.

The veterinarian and staff of Miami Seaquarium will provide Jasmine with excellent care while she is in residence. We'll keep in touch to get updates about her condition. We're all thrilled that we were able to help this injured animal and are very optimistic that she will make a full recovery.

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. Many thanks to all of you for your support. With your help, Jasmine has been given a terrific chance. We'll keep you posted on her progress!