Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Something Borrowed

Molly is one of the most fashionable dolphins at DRC!
It may surprise some people that adoptive dolphin parents love to send scarves to DRC. Molly, the oldest dolphin that resides at the facility, loves to wear these fun accessories. Long time trainers who have worked with Molly for years tell stories about how she used to steal towels on the dock and carry them on her pectoral flipper or tail flukes. However, as she’s gotten older she’s added a bit of class into her wardrobe and become our resident Fashionista. Every lagoon that she’s lived in has scarves hidden somewhere in a place we affectionately call Molly’s Closet.

Recently, some of the younger dolphins have broken into this lively lady’s wardrobe while she’s rooming in a separate lagoon with Pandora and Calusa. We aren’t sure how they managed to find Molly’s scarves, since our own Animal Care and Habitat staff can’t figure out where she keeps her treasures, but they sure do have a blast playing dress up!

One morning, Flagler and Delta couldn’t help but be absolutely adorable as they showed off the scarf they managed to secure. They swam around the lagoon with it around their flippers and had fun holding it on their rostrums. Unlike Molly though, their favorite activity with the scarf was fetch! They couldn’t wait to bring the colorful garment to the dock and have it thrown back into the lagoon.

The most adorable part of the scarf game was watching Delta and Flagler attempt to handle the accessory. The boys tried to throw it back to the dock like they would a piece of seaweed or a mangrove pod. However, the scarf was heavier and bulkier than their more natural toys and wouldn’t get the air needed for the toss. Instead, it ended up covering their entire face. Then, the two of them seemed perplexed when it submerged whenever they let it go. Flagler constantly brought it back up to the surface, let it go, and watched it sink.

Delta and Flagler had a great time with the scarf, but they’re going to need a few lessons on how to properly maneuver the borrowed accessory from Molly. Until then we’ll have a blast as the boys show us the other lagoon treasures they’re sure to find.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wounded Warrior Project Carry Forward Awards Video

As you may know, Director of Special Needs Joan Mehew and Dolphin Research Center were recently honored by the Wounded Warrior Project with a 2013 Carry Forward Award.  They produced a beautiful video about our involvement with wounded warriors to show at the awards ceremony.

We are proud and honored to share that video with you.

Hard Work at DRC

These adorable sisters love to be entertained!

It is very important to make sure that everything is unpredictable for the dolphins. Trainers work hard to think about new ways to entertain the dolphins. You never know what they’ll be interested in. On a certain day they may absolutely love the Dolphin Entertainment System (DESY) and the next day they’re into something else. As we get to know the dolphins better, we learn their likes and dislikes. Some of them will never come over for an enrichment session while others always enthusiastically show up even if they’re not interested in the activity at hand.

This is definitely true with Pandora and Calusa. These sassy sisters really make their trainers work hard to keep them entertained. Neither is particularly food motivated, so offering fish, gelatin, or ice doesn’t always entice them to stick around on a session. They know that regardless of whether they choose to do what’s on the schedule, they’re going to get all of their food for the day. Pandora and Calusa are dolphins who test even the most experienced trainers.

During a session, Pandora and Calusa decided they really weren’t interested in what their trainers brought down to the dock. There were plenty of fun dolphin toys that we know the girls love but they just weren’t interested. As the girls swam off and instead talked to their friends in the adjacent lagoon and people watched, the staff tried to grab their attention.

A ball was thrown in the lagoon. Frisbees were laid on top of the water to entice them to surf. The trainers splashed water and danced around on the dock. Nothing appealed to the girls. Instead, Pandora watched a dog in the crowd while Calusa swam around in circles.

After twenty minutes, their trainers used a target pole to blow bubbles into the lagoon. This seemed to slightly pique the girls’ attention. They slowly drove by the trainers to eye what was going on. Once it was obvious that the girls were a little interested, one of the trainers began to walk along the boardwalk with the target pole in the water. Calusa quickly turned to follow as it traced the perimeter of the lagoon.

To keep Calusa engaged, the trainer took off racing around the boardwalk. When she got to the edge of the causeway, she turned around and ran back the other way. Soon Pandora began to follow too and the session became a workout for Pandora and Calusa and the trainer!

You never know what the dolphins will find appealing but it’s important to make each session positive and leave the dolphins wanting more. Before Pandora and Calusa had the opportunity to get bored, their trainers stopped the game and left. We want them to know that every session is fun and the good times will continue next time we’re down on the dock.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Happy Anniversary to Rainbow and Sandy

In 1992, these two handsome boys came to visit from New England Aquarium. Today, they're two of the loudest, energetic and creative members of our dolphin family.

Happy Anniversary Rainbow and Sandy. We love you big boys so much!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Double the Raspberries

They're such goofy boys!

Talon and Pax are two of the big boys that live at Dolphin Research Center. Not only are these magnificent guys best friends, but they’re also brothers! They have a bond with one another that allows them to be silly but yet want to show each other up.

Recently, the boys trainers were having a fun session with them and decided to ask for audience participation. One thing we love to do at DRC is show our guests how great the dolphins are at imitating. We ask the audience to do a certain behavior, then ask the dolphins to copy. Most of the time the dolphins get it right, but every once in a while their minds are elsewhere or they just feel like being silly and they don’t do the right behavior. Since everything we do at DRC is revolved around what the dolphins want to do, if they show us they’re not interested then we move onto something else. This is exactly what happened when we asked Talon and Pax to imitate the audience blowing raspberries. After being asked twice, you could tell the boys just weren’t into it so the trainers changed up the session.

Since the big guys were very energetic that particular day, their trainers asked them to do combination behaviors incorporating a raspberry behavior. First Talon was asked to dive and raspberry, but instead he dove and wiggled. Then Pax had a shot at it and pulled off the correct combo effortlessly. Once Talon saw that his brother was raspberrying, he got into the mood to do it too. He took off on a raspberrying speed run, where his head got so far out of the water we thought it would slow him down. It was quite a sight to see.

It turns out all the boys needed to do was a few high energy behaviors to get them going because the remaining of the session was raspberry filled! As they strutted then waved goodbye to the guests at the end of the narration, every behavior was coated in raspberries. It’s no surprise we always say that the silly sound is a favorite among guys.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Toy Wish List!

Louie and Delta love to play with toys from their friends!
Not near the dolphins, but still want to be a part of their fun? Check out their flipper-picked Toy Wish List! The items on our website have been tested by our trainers to ensure that the dolphins can play with them in a safe manner.
Please include your name and contact information so that we can acknowledge your generous gift.
Check back often as the dolphins and sea lions might think of other toys they'd love to have in the lagoons.
Thank you for your generous support!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Holiday Photos Program Returns to Dolphin Research Center


Grassy Key… If a picture’s worth a thousand words, imagine how friends and family will talk when they see a holiday photo picturing you and a dolphin! Now through December 22nd, Dolphin Research Center (DRC), located at 58901 Overseas Highway, Grassy Key, is again giving guests the opportunity for a holiday photo. Visitors who participate in DRC’s Meet the Dolphinprogram can bring their own Santa hats, reindeer antlers or other accessories to use while posing. DRC’s experienced photographers will shoot the pictures using high-resolution digital cameras. For Meet the Dolphin guests go onto a floating dock to give backrubs and share a “flippershake” with a dolphin and have their photo taken. The program is offered several times each day on a walk-in basis and costs $25 per person in addition to general admission prices. The photos are supplied on a flash drive for $20 for one person, and $35 for multiple people in the same shot. Quality prints are also available and print prices vary depending on number ordered. Group size is limited to four people.



Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Brand New Sibling

Cayo cannot wait to be a big sister, again!
Echolocation is a sense that dolphins have that we as humans do not. Also known as bio sonar, dolphins can emit calls out to the environment and listen to the echoes of those calls. This creates a mental image in their head to locate and identify the objects. However, dolphins can also use it to see something similar to an x-ray.

Cayo displayed this to us during a Dolphin Encounter when she was paired up with her mom, Merina. The inquisitive six year old was more interested on scanning her momma’s belly than she was in taking part in a session. Whenever her mom was at the dock with her, Cayo was so interested in what was happening inside of Merina. Her attraction to Merina’s belly didn’t just stay at the dock though. While Merina did dorsal tows on her own, Cayo swam behind her and continued to echolocate on her tummy.

It was very interesting to see Cayo use her sense of echolocation and realize that her mom is with calf. When dolphins are pregnant, they do not get a bump around their midsections like we do. Instead they get bigger all around, making them simply look larger in whole. This is to prevent predators, like sharks, from attacking them in the wild since a pregnant dolphin could be easy prey.

Due in late October/early November, Merina is near the end of her pregnancy. She spends a lot of her time resting and does limited behaviors to ensure that the new little bundle of joy inside of her stays healthy. We’ve felt little baby dolphin tail flukes kicking inside of the mom-to-be and are so unbelievably excited to welcome the new addition to the DRC family in the Fall.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Slip n Slide Fun

Calusa is a hula hoop enthusiast!
One of the most fun games for both trainers and dolphins is slip ‘n slide. We love to encourage the dolphins to slide onto the dock, do a quick pose, and then slide off. This is something they tend to do on their own in between sessions. That’s always a great photo opportunity.

Recently, Pandora and Calusa were playing with their trainer during a narrated session. To show how petite these sisters are, one of the trainers asked Pandora to come up on the dock and slide off. Pandora happily hopped on and then plunged down into the water several times. She had so much fun that when her trainer went to sit down; she slid up to the spot next to her and hogged the dock.

Then it was Calusa’s turn. However, anyone who knows Calusa knows that she adores her hula hoops. They are her favorite toys! When Calusa was asked to hop up on the deck, you could tell she was thinking “How do I get on with my hula hoop?” Seeing that she would have a little trouble, her trainer asked if she wanted her to hold the hula hoop while Calusa gave it a try. That resulted in a big no from Calusa.  She swam away to hang out with guests on the causeway.

The fun wasn’t over though. Pandora made her way to the other dock in her lagoon and began to slip ‘n slide on that platform too. However, it seemed that Miss Pandora had ulterior motives. Calusa’s favorite toy is a hula hoop, but Pandora’s is a target pole. Her trainer had left the training device in the middle of the dock and Pandora was on a mission to grab it. It took several attempts but before you knew it, Pandora had managed to propel herself onto the dock, grab the target pole, and slide off with it. She was so excited she confidently carried it around to show off to all the guests!

Sessions at DRC are often predictably unpredictable but they’re always fun! Pandora and Calusa had a great time sliding on the docks and playing with their favorite toys and we absolutely love their enthusiasm.  At the end of the program, the audience gave the two girls a round of applause as they strutted their stuff with their favorite toys.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Blessing of the Animals Day

Happy Blessing of the Animals Day!
All of our family members, from flippered to feathered to furry, are blessings.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Fun Times

The trainers find all sorts of fun ways to engage the dolphins!

Here at DRC, we always try to find new ways to enrich the dolphins’ lives. This not only includes switching which trainer and dolphins work together, but also taking the interaction experience to a whole new level. It’s common for guests to see us try new things in the middle of a program or narration, just to see how the dolphins will react.

We try to schedule at least one enrichment session a day for the dolphins. All of them seem to really enjoy the spontaneity and randomness. They never know what the trainers are coming down for during a session.
We recently tried taking a floating dock into the middle of the lagoon. Trainers sat on the dock and let it float around. Each of the dolphins in the front were like, “what is going on here?” Some of the kids had fun pushing on the trainer’s feet or extended their dorsal fins for a tow. Others had absolutely no interest in what was going on and chose to stay by the seawall. It was a brand new experience for the maternity pod. When they finally became comfortable with the random dock, they did what they like to do best with floating objects; they pushed it to the far fence. The trainers ended up getting stuck out there for a little bit while the kids undoubtedly thought it was a riot.

The Animal Care and Training interns thought it would be fun to play a game of jack in the box with the dolphins. They decorated large trash cans with waves and got inside of them. Their goal was to pop out and surprise their gray faced friends. Unfortunately, this did not go as planned. The interns had trouble getting in and out of the cans so they eventually tried to stand behind them or simply put the lid on their heads. While we learned that we need bigger containers to play this game, it was still a lot of fun and something new to bring to the dolphins who weren’t entirely sure of what was going on.

It’s so fun to see how each dolphin reacts differently to new experiences. Some of them are always excited to investigate something new. Others are a little more timid and need to become comfortable when a new object or game is introduced. Enrichment allows us to get to know the dolphin’s unique dolphinalities and see what makes them excited. As we continue to incorporate new things into the dolphins’ lives, it helps us learn much more about them on both a personal and cognitive level.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Stone Crab Eating Contest

Are you an amateur eater in the Florida Keys? Then find a partner and head on out to Keys Fisheries Market and Marine on Saturday, October 19th to take on other teams in an attempt to crack and eat 25 succulent stone crab claws in the fastest time! Proceeds from the team challenge will benefit the Dolphin Research Center’s Education Programs.
As a not for profit, Dolphin Research Center relies on members, donors, and our community to continue our mission of research and education. We’re thrilled that Keys Fisheries Market and Marina in cooperation with Capital Bank and Pepsi have partnered together to help our organization. We will have information about DRC at the competition, and the winning team will receive a dolphin interactive program.
All entrants must register and be present by 12 p.m. the day of the event. Teams must consist of two amateur eater participants. While contestants will be provided with shell crackers, entrants can gently smack the back the shell with the back of a large spoon – the locals way to crack claws!
To register for the team challenge or make a donation, visit any of the nine Capital Bank locations in the Keys during normal business hours. The team entry fee is $100 and contestants must be at least 18 years of age.
Whether you take part in this competition or just want to help support DRC, we look forward to seeing you at Keys Fisheries!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Almost a year ago, Aleta and Merina became pregnant and we cannot wait to meet the newest members of our family. Though these two lovely ladies have already been mothers, there is still a lot to do to prepare for the little bundles of joy. Both us humans and the dolphins are waiting in anticipation.

The two ladies became pregnant before little Reese was born, so luckily we already had one mini research tower built, but since there will be two moms our Animal Care and Habitat staff built another tower along the boardwalks that looks over different lagoons. Part of the research DRC focuses on is behavioral research. The calves will be monitored on a daily basis, all day long, by staff and volunteers to ensure that they are healthy, eating well and spending time with their mothers. We also watch each dolphin’s mothering style. Some moms are laid back, like Santini was with Reese. Other moms, like Tursi, are what we call helicopter parents in that they hover over their offspring. In order to do monitor without interrupting natural behaviors and bonding and to make sure we don’t miss anything, we often watch from a tower.

Staff members are also busy baby proofing the lagoons. While Aleta and Merina are currently in the maternity pod in the front lagoon, when it gets closer to having their babies, they will excitedly move to smaller lagoons. A newborn dolphin doesn’t know how to steer or stop, so it spends the first few weeks in its mother’s slip stream. This allows the mom to keep the baby with her as she swims and the baby doesn’t have to expend as much energy. As you can imagine, having to continuously swim in a huge lagoon with eight other curious youngsters would be very tiresome for a new mom, so we try to make it as comfortable as possible by putting them in a smaller area.

Aleta and Merina have spent the past nine months helping to babysit Reese and getting used to having a little one around again. As they get closer to their due dates, they may choose a nanny dolphin to help out with baby sitting or they may decide to take care of the youngster on their own for the first few months. Since each dolphin has their own mothering style, we take our cues from them on how they’d like to raise the little one.

Each passing day, there is so much excitement in the air at DRC. A dolphin’s gestation period is approximately one year, but like us they can have their baby early or late so we’re officially in the final stretch. Aleta and Merina are visibly advanced in their terms, to our eyes at least, and enjoy narrations focused on them and their maternity. They love to show off their growing bellies to the audience and eagerly await the days when they will introduce new family members to the DRC pod.
We cannot wait to tell all of our wonderful members and supporters when the baby dolphins arrive. Stay tuned because it can happen literally any day now!

Happy October!

Happy first day of October! What are you looking forward to this month?