Tuesday, March 5, 2013

An Encounter to Remember

People who take part in our sessions often get to play dolphin trainer themselves. During the swim program, the young dolphins often work on their manners and to keep their heads up out of the water so that their eyes show in pictures, among a vast amount of other behaviors.

During a particularly entertaining Dolphin Encounter, two of our youngest dolphins were paired together, Gambit and Luna. As baby dolphins their minds tend to wander, especially when there are a dozen different things going on during a session. In this one specifically, there were a lot of distractions!
Luna loves her in water friends!

Gambit and Luna were positioned at the dock in front of the Flipper’s Sea School sign by the front lagoon. To their right, at the main dock by the sea lion habitat, a narration was going on with Molly. To their left, at our biggest dock, other in water programs were taking place. Directly across from them Gypsi and Delta were with their trainer.

These little youngsters are used to the organized chaos that is a session at Dolphin Research Center. However, adding an extra dose of curiosity, our Environmental Services team was at work in the lagoon going through the mangroves to find hidden toys the dolphins had placed in among the branches and roots. Plus, there was an inflatable boat in the lagoon! We’re not dolphins, but if we had all of that around us, we’d probably have a hard time paying attention too.
Gambit can rock any behavior.

While only two and three years old respectively, Gambit and Luna are both extremely intelligent and have amazingly spirited. When it came to kisses, handshakes, backrubs, and imitations with the swimmers, they excelled! For the dorsal pulls, however, they proved that two kids aren’t always the best drivers.

During the tows, neither Luna nor Gambit knew how to steer. They waited for their guest to grab a hold of their dorsal fins, but then weren’t sure what to do. Generally, they do swims with other dolphins. Gambit is often with his mom, Tursi, and Luna is paired up with an older dolphin, often Cayo or Gypsi. The two youngsters together was a big change of pace, but it’s good to keep the dolphins on their tail flukes. When it became clear that Gambit and Luna really couldn’t do the dorsal pulls on their own, their trainer called in for reinforcement. From across the lagoon, Gypsi swam over, ready to make memories with the guests!

As Gypsi took each swimmer around the lagoon on her own, Luna and Gambit became more comfortable and were eager to join. Gypsi would swoop in to grab a guest’s hand and Luna would take the other. Gambit would swim from behind in the girls’ stream. Before you knew it, guests had Luna on the left, Gypsi on the right, and Gambit doing foot pushes! The swimmers had a truly unique experience in the water with these three special dolphins.

Once the dorsal pulls were over, Gypsi went back to her original dock and Luna and Gambit were thrilled to continue their play time with guests. They even began to create new behaviors simultaneously. When you’re working with dolphins, you have to be prepared to expect the unexpected but you’ll always leave with a smile on your face.