Gulf Islands National Seashore, Okaloosa Area, Fort Walton Beach, FL, 3/1/12

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dolphin Research Center

The Dolphin Research Center (DRC) is close to where I'm staying on Grassy Key.   Gary & Mary are members and gifted me with a free pass for the day (thank you!).  I arrived when they opened at 9am on Saturday, and left shortly before closing.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The facility has a large front lagoon with young dolphins and a few of their mothers, 11 total.  One of the trainers referred to it as the "day care" of the facility.  This type of grouping is how dolphins live together in the wild.

I was a bit taken aback by how much all of the dolphins people watched,
as these two are doing with me.  One eye watching me, and the
other watching their friends and family under water.  3/8/14

Here are the same two dolphins.  The trainer had one of them wave at me.
You could tell that they enjoyed my reaction and waves back.  3/8/14

The dolphins all know their names and each responds to a unique symbol (square, circle, triangle, etc.).  In addition, researchers believe that the mother gives each of their babies a unique whistle when born.  They liked to be talked to and become enthusiastic when you clap and cheer for them.  And, to my surprise, some really liked their picture taken as well.

Every 45 minutes is an activity at the facility -- training, playing, interactions with guests, power point presentations with information about DRC's history, research, and the 3 resident sea lions.  A bulletin board posts the activities and their locations (front or back lagoons).

The back lagoons are smaller in size and smaller groups of dolphins will often have the run of a couple of them at the same time.  In one of these lagoons were two mothers and their babies, both born in November.

Mother watching her picture being taken as baby
surfaces behind her.  3/8/14

Mama and baby under water.  3/8/14

Two large male dolphins stay together in the deeper, larger back lagoon.  The largest is 23 years old and weighs in at 650 pounds.  They are both very athletic.

The large muscles just in front of their tail gives
them the amazing abilities to tail walk, high jump, and
the propulsion to speed swim.  3/8/14
One of the big boys jumping on cue for a "trainer for the day" participant,
with the whole Gulf of Mexico behind them.  3/8/14
The DRC has programs that allow for interaction with the dolphins, including swimming with them, training them, or just shaking their "hands."  You can also be a researcher for the day.

Here are the two new mothers interacting with guests.  The trainer places
a paint brush (loaded with paint) in the dolphin's mouth, then the guest
holds the t-shirt (stretched on a board) over the water
 so the dolphin can paint it.  3/8/14
Most of the dolphins at the DRC were born there.  A few were rescued from the wild and determined to be too young or hurt to return to the wild.  One dolphin is badly scared from a bull shark attack. 

The DRC publishes their research findings in scientific journals.  And they recently started a college associate degree program at the facility.  I found the trainers and students very friendly and open to chat about their program, the facility and the animals in their care.   I'm still an educator and researcher at heart; so, I especially enjoyed that aspect of DRC.

In addition to the dolphins, the facility houses three sea lions (unable to be released to the wild) and some large parrots (most given to the facility by their owners).  There was a cute water park for kids, gift shop, food stand, photo booth, and a beautiful shady garden in which to sit and relax.

The DRC: a very memorable experience.

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Charlene. I hope your sciatica is healing up. That's painful stuff.

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  2. Hi, Suanne,

    We're so glad that you enjoyed your visit to Dolphin Research Center. Thanks for posting about your experience to your blog. We hope you visit again in the future.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you DRC Family. I'm here in the Keys for a few more days; so, maybe a return is in my future :)

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