Dolphin Connection Blog
Dolphin Connection Blog - January 2015 January 7, 2015
The temperatures are dropping, you’ve pulled out the heavy sweaters from the back of the closet, and snow is falling from the sky: It must be winter time…unless you’re in the Florida Keys. Without all these obvious cues, how do we know it’s winter here? Believe it or not, it does cool off here just a little bit, and once our water temperatures dip below 68 degrees Fahrenheit something very dramatic happens: all the manatees disappear. These amazing mammals, so common in the canals of the Florida Keys all summer long, move en masse to warm water springs in the winter time.
Despite their robust shape, manatees actually have very little body fat. Without this insulation to protect them, their only defense against the cold is to leave. Luckily for the manatees, Florida is the home to several natural warm-water springs that bubble up from underground. These springs remain a delightful 75 degrees year round, just perfect for a manatee. Two springs hosting the largest winter gathering of manatees are Blue Springs on the east coast of Florida and Crystal River on the west coast. Manatees have even been known to search out manmade warm water sources such as the output drains at power plants!
Manatees are protected in this country under the Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. They are also incredibly loved, and so every winter people travel en masse, just like the manatees, to Blue Springs and Crystal River to see them. From boardwalks, boats, or even underwater, people can slowly, quietly, and unobtrusively have the priceless opportunity to see these gentle giants up close. With specific direction, and requirements for “Manatee Manners”, people from all over the world have learned to love this animal who, legend has it, was the inspiration for the first mermaid sighting. And for those who are unable to make the trek this winter, the Save the Manatee Club provides a live feed from the manatees’ wintering grounds on Manatee TV.
Why is all of this so important? Because when the water warms up, and the manatees once again venture into oceans, bays, rivers, and other heavily-traveled waterways, these slow-moving herbivores will find themselves in dangerous territory. With boat strikes posing serious threats to manatees’ survival, the most important thing we can do to protect them is to remain watchful from our boats and respectful of speed limits. What is the one thing that may cause a hurried family or an impatient boater to slow down and be careful in manatee habitat? Love and respect for these animals. So, with our absolute belief that up-close interactions with animals inspire conservation behavior toward these animals and their habitats, we encourage you to enjoy the manatees this winter and ensure their survival next summer.
Dolphin Connection Blog - November 2014 November 1, 2014
“The Florida Keys: it’s like going to the Caribbean without needing a passport!” We hear this all the time from our American visitors appreciating the simplicity of their in-country travel, but for our international guests coming all the way to the Keys, a little assistance from a knowledgeable source is very helpful. With so many of our visitors coming from the United Kingdom, we are grateful to work with informed and ethical travel operators like Virgin Holidays.
More than just a travel agency, Virgin Holidays has a non-profit foundation called Virgin Unite which strives to “…unite great people and entrepreneurial ideas, reinventing how we live and work to help make people’s lives better. We believe business can and must be a force for good in the world – and that this is also good for business!” While this business philosophy extends to all areas of the Virgin Holidays destinations, it plays a very key role in their organized trips to destinations with whales and dolphins in human care. Wanting to remain true to their mission of ensuring that “business is a force for good in the world”, Virgin Unite recently published the Virgin Pledge on Sea Mammals which defines their commitment to ending the wild capture of whales and dolphins for tourism.
The Virgin Pledge was a result of thorough research, unbiased investigation, and taking the time to truly listen to all sides of the issue of marine mammals being cared for at zoos and aquariums, as well as the demands of their own clientele who expect stimulating and conflict-free travel opportunities. Dolphin Connection has proudly signed the Virgin Pledge on Sea Mammals without hesitation. After all, we have never and will never collect dolphins from the wild. We are proud to work with Virgin to create enriching and enjoyable experiences that transform the way its customers engage with and learn about the oceans and marine life.
We are excited about the possibilities this new partnership will offer, and we are not alone: over 30 marine mammal facilities around the world have signed the pledge. Together, zoos, aquariums, and ethical businesses and citizens can work to inspire conservation on behalf of animals everywhere. With this in mind, Virgin Holidays recently sent their Responsible Business Manager, Mirieme Hill, to attend the annual meeting of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums’ Education Committee. Wanting to know and truly understand more about our dedication to conservation education, Ms. Hill attending the entire three day workshop hosted last month at SeaWorld San Diego. Impressed by the quality and diversity of programming offered by members of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, Ms. Hill opened up the potential for partnerships even wider. Pre-visit programming, post-visit programming, coordination of follow-up conservation activities? The possibilities are endless when you allow ethical, dedicated businesses to truly listen to the requests of their clients for enriching activities that can change their lives and the planet for the better.
So as you plan your next visit to Dolphin Connection in the Florida Keys, you can feel confident knowing that we are part of a larger group of organizations who work to ensure that your heart, your soul, and your mind can all feel good about your well-earned vacation. Enjoy!
Dolphin Connection Blog - October 2014 October 1, 2014
Here at Dolphin Connection, we love dolphins. Chances are that since you’re reading this blog, you do too, and it might even be safe to assume that dolphins aren’t the only animals who hold a special place in your heart. We hope so, because today we want to step outside of our typical area of focus to talk about another intelligent, large, social, gray mammal: elephants.
Recently, several members of the Dolphin Connection team had the opportunity to attend an international conference for people who work with animals of all kinds. Because of the broad subject matter, we found ourselves learning not just about dolphins and other marine mammals, but also about land animals of the furry, feathery, and scaly variety. The conference commenced with a keynote speaker from the Wildlife Conservation Society who told us of the plight of the African elephant and of the 96 Elephants campaign whose aim is to unite people around the world to protect these amazing animals from extinction.
African elephants are an iconic species, known for their size, their trunks, and of course their tusks. These tusks, found on both the males and females of the species, are made of ivory, and while crucial for their survival, they are also integral to their demise. Although the commercial trade of ivory has been illegal since 1989, illegal poaching continues at a pace that threatens the elephants’ future survival: 35,000 elephants per year, 96 elephants per day. At this rate, we will lose the African forest elephant in 10 years and the East African savanna elephant soon after.
“If we do not act, we will have to shamefully admit to our children that we stood by as elephants were driven out of existence.” – WCS Conservationists
Rather than individual subsistence hunters with homemade weapons of yesteryear, poachers nowadays are high tech militants with automatic weapons, night vision goggles, GPS equipment and even helicopters. If they sound like professional criminals, they are. In fact the black market for ivory helps to fund many notorious terrorist groups.
So who can stop the killing? You can! Crushing the demand for ivory crushes the reward for the poachers. Increasing awareness of the issue increases the size of, and the support for, the army fighting for elephants’ survival.
Are you politically inclined? Click here to learn more about the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to ban the commercial ivory trade and here to ensure that the controls on trade of elephant ivory stand strong.
Are you active on social media? Click here to take an #elphie and share it with the world! The more people who know, the more people who care!
Ninety-six elephants a day. Every day. Today. Tomorrow. And on, until our army of animal lovers becomes bigger and stronger than the army of poachers fueled by a black market demand for ivory by people who are unaware or unaffected by the possibility that we may soon live in a world without African elephants.
As always, we were so happy to return to our island paradise in the Florida Keys after this amazing conference, and while we are grateful for the healthy conservation status of bottlenose dolphins in the wild, it is imperative that we – and you – never forget how many other animals around the globe need our help, every day.
Photo Credit: Julie Larsen/Wildlife Conservation Society
Dolphin Connection Blog - September 2014 September 1, 2014
Some of you loyal readers of the Dolphin Connection monthly blog may remember that last September we wrote about the critically endangered vaquita, a very small porpoise found in Mexico’s Gulf of California. At the time, populations were estimated to be in the low hundreds and dropping due to gill net fishing in the area. While the vaquita themselves are not the object of the fishery, they are frequently the unintended bycatch of an indiscriminate fishing practice.
Just recently, an updated study has come out estimating the vaquita population at less than 100. Most tragic is the fact that the reproductively mature females number less than 25, typically giving birth to one calf every other year. At this rate, the current population cannot withstand the mortality that they face. Although the local community has long depended on the fishermen to feed their families, there has recently been a very sharp rise in the use of gill net fishing. According to the article below, this rise is due to the illegal trade in China of a fish called the “totoaba” whose swim bladder is believed to have medicinal properties. One of the scientists involved in vaquita conservation in Mexico has reported that fishermen are being offered $8,500 per kilogram of totoaba by the Chinese black market; much more than they would ever make during a day of fishing to feed the community.
The good news is that other than fishing nets, there are very few threats to the vaquita. With increasing awareness about this dangerous fishing practice and the illegal trade of the totoaba to China, there may still be a chance for the vaquita.
We’re so very grateful for our healthy dolphins and the healthy status of wild Atlantic bottlenose dolphins who are not endangered. As the sun sets over another summer in the Florida Keys with the team at Dolphin Connection sharing the opportunity to swim with dolphins with so many of you here at Hawks Cay Resort, we encourage you to think about the animals who need our help, and to learn more about what you can do to increase the chances of their survival:
Dolphin Connection Blog - August 2014 August 1, 2014
The team here at Dolphin Connection is lucky enough to meet families every day that are raising children who care for and respect wildlife and wild lands. We know how important this is because in just a blink of an eye, these children will be the decision makers for our future. With this in mind, zoos and aquariums around the world have always focused a large percentage of their educational programs on the youth in their community. We know that this kind of programming needs to be fun, high energy, and current in order to keep our children engaged, but celebrities, video games, and social media will really seal the deal! A wonderfully successful example of just such a program is SeaWorld Kids Generation Nature. With Bindi Irwin, daughter of the late renowned environmentalist Steve Irwin, providing the celebrity hook, Generation Nature is a website that leads children through games, projects, and environmental challenges using every kid-friendly resource imaginable.
We love what they’re doing at SeaWorld and we encourage you to check it out!
Dolphin Connection Blog - July 2014 July 1, 2014
On the 8th of last month we celebrated World Oceans Day, and in fact Dolphin Connection and other zoological facilities accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) took it a step further and celebrated World Oceans Month! We took all of June and proclaimed #OurWorldOceans through social media. The goal of this campaign was to bring attention to the ocean environment and to all the animals who depend on it. Through Facebook and Twitter, thirty days of animal information, conservation tips, and calls to action were posted with the hashtags #OurWorldOceans and #AMMPA.
While accredited zoos and aquariums have always been a cohesive team, working together for the welfare of our animals, this was the first time we’ve embarked on a unified campaign using social media as a global platform for animal advocacy. Look around your living room, public transportation, or even a restaurant; what do you see? Chances are that there are people of all ages, including teens and tweens, glued to their smart phones. And what are they doing there? Tweeting! Blogging! Facebooking! This is how our young people communicate and as part of that, it’s also how our young people will share their passions, their ideas, and their hopes for the future. With the survival of our animals and their habitats in the hands of our youth, joining them where they hang out – on social media – is the best way to ensure that they have all the crucial information that they need as they get older and become our environmental decision makers.
With this in mind, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums introduced MarineMammalMonday, TakeActionTuesday, AwarenessWednesday, CreatureFeatureThursday, FunFactFriday, SelfieSaturday, and ShareTheLoveSunday. Every day included inspiring photographs, useful weblinks, and scientific information about the marine species we love. The success of this campaign was so great that we’re not going to stop with the end of World Oceans Month. Keep your eyes open for more information coming from all your favorite marine mammal facilities at #AMMPA. As long as you want to learn, we want to teach!
Dolphin Connection Blog - June 2014 June 1, 2014
Last month, the team at Dolphin Connection was honored to be a part of Family Science Night at Treasure Village Montessori School here in the Florida Keys. Supported by the Ocean Reef Community Foundation, Keys Ahead, Inc., and Florida International University, this community-building event included a variety of science activities designed to engage students, parents and teachers.
As one of many special guests at this exciting event, we were excited to share our own passion and enthusiasm for marine science with the people of the Florida Keys community, and we were just as excited to learn from the other local scientists and conservationist represented. So, on a beautiful Friday evening we jumped in a car drove into the sunset on our way to Treasure Village Montessori in Islamorada.
Upon arriving at the school, we were greeted by a variety of other participants, all representing scientific organizations in south Florida. Included among these colleagues were The Turtle Hospital, NOAA Fisheries, The History of Diving Museum, and The Coral Restoration Foundation. Clearly we had a great night ahead of us!
We set up our booth full of activity sheets, conservation tips, career guides, and even some fascinating bones and skulls, and soon the doors opened and one by one, families, local community members, and teachers began to arrive. The school itself hosts students from pre-K through 8th grade, so the attendees at this event represented that age range, as well as all the associated parents and grandparents. One thing we know about dolphins is that they excite and inspire people of all ages, and this night was no exception. Who doesn’t want to see what a dolphin’s skull feels like or learn about the amazing role that their lower jaw plays in echolocation? This group certainly did!
Of course, one of the unique qualities defining children of the Florida Keys is that many of them are out on the water frequently and they’ve seen all the fish, sharks, birds and – yes, dolphins – that children in the rest of the country may only dream of. Because of this our focus wasn’t just, “Look how cool dolphins are!” – these students already know that, but instead we focused on safe, respectful, and law-abiding ways to share our oceans with the animals who call it home. So many of our local children have family members with boats and even family members who are professional fishermen, so what could be more important than to make sure that these children grow up with an awareness of the ocean as a home as much as it is a place for recreation? With this in mind, every individual who passed by our booth received a “Dolphin-Friendly Fishing and Viewing Tips” card and had the opportunity to learn more about wild dolphins’ natural behaviors and why it is so important to give them the space to hunt, parent, and socialize without fear of boats.
By the end of the evening, the adults had their hands full of take-home projects, informational brochures, and gifts, while the children were immersed in a spontaneous game of freeze tag in the school’s playground. Delighted with the number of people we reached at this special event, our team packed our bags and drove back to Hawks Cay Resort, ready for another day of Inspiring Conservation and swimming with dolphins!
Dolphin Connection Blog - May 2014 May 1, 2014
Here at Dolphin Connection in the Florida Keys, we are so grateful for our small island community. The friendships and partnerships that come from island life are priceless; nonetheless we certainly like to be reminded of the big world out there and our most recent visitor certainly did just that!
Last month we were honored with a visit from world-renowned marine mammal veterinarian, Dr. Geraldine Lacave. Hailing from Belgium, Dr. Lacave works as a consultant for multiple marine mammal facilities in Europe and worldwide. She is also a member and active participant with the EAAM (European Association for Aquatic Mammals), IMATA (International Marine Animal Trainers Association), and IAAAM (International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine). Recently, Dr. Lacave was in the United States for a marine mammal conference and we were lucky enough to convince her and her family to spend some time in the Florida Keys for some sunsets, beaches, and of course swimming with dolphins at Hawks Cay Resort. While she was here, she took the time to speak with the Dolphin Connection training team about marine mammal veterinary training, with a focus on pre- and post-partum care for bottlenose dolphin mothers and calves.
The trainers here at Dolphin Connection range from experienced professionals who have been in the field for over 20 years, to young beginners whose careers in dolphin training are just in their infancy. For all of us, regardless of our time in the field, opportunities like this are precious. In fact, one of our most senior staff members said, after listening to Dr. Lacave share her experiences with dolphin newborns, “No matter how long one has been in the field, there is always something to learn. The learning process with these amazing animals never ceases!” Other reactions from our team included, “Even though I know it, see it, and live it, the obvious dedication people around the world have for the animals under their care continues to be inspiring!”
Ultimately, one of the most important reasons for animal training is that it allows us to take better care of the animals we love. Directly or indirectly, every behavior we train our animals to do benefits their health. Have you met a dolphin and pet its tail fluke? Did you know that that behavior is crucial because it allows us to safely take a blood sample so that we can be proactive about our veterinary care? Have you ever rubbed a dolphin’s side as it lay out in front of you? That behavior allows us to complete an ultrasound exam to track a pregnancy or assess the health of internal organs. Hearing from Dr. Lacave about the benefits of husbandry (veterinary) training and learning about all the ways in which she’s seen it lead to advancements in the healthcare of dolphins is inspiring to all dolphins trainers and our team could not be more grateful.
Dolphin Connection Blog - April 2014 April 1, 2014
It’s Spring Break and everyone is flocking to the Florida Keys! College kids? Busy families? No, I’m talking about birds! Every March and April, many species of birds migrate through the Florida Keys from their southern wintering grounds in the tropics where they’ve been gorging on bugs and berries. Some of these migratory birds fly right over us on their way further north, while some of the birds stop for a while, resting and refueling before they complete their trek. Typically this great migration begins in March, but it really reaches its peak in April. In fact, the influx of birds is so great at this time of year that Doppler radar used for weather forecasting will pick up “clouds” of birds with densities of 10,000 birds per square mile! These animals are fast-moving, however, and they will have left our islands by mid May so now is the time to come see them.
If you have binoculars or a zoom lens, you’ll be in good company as you join the other birders who – along with the birds – flock to the Keys as the southernmost point of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Warblers, sparrows, herons, and spoonbills, are some of the birds you may be lucky enough to see if you spend some time on our island chain with your eyes to the sky!
What could possibly make a successful day of birding even better? How about swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Connection?! A vacation full of wildlife in the Florida Keys at Hawks Cay Resort with the birds above and the dolphins below: Well it just doesn’t get any better than that! So have a wonderful Spring Break and say hi to the animals in your neighborhood: both the permanent residents and those just passing through.
Dolphin Connection Blog - March 2014 March 1, 2014March has arrived, and along with it comes some very exciting news! Last month Dolphin Connection was inspected by both the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) and the International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA) and this month we can proudly announce our reaccreditation by these professional organizations. These inspections take place every five years and the resulting membership with these associations assures us, our colleagues, and most importantly YOU, that we are doing the very best for the animals in our care.Renewing our accreditation by the AMMPA is a process that began with a written application and ended with an on-site inspection by experts in the field. Topics included animal training and breeding, staff training and development, environmental quality, and so much more. Inspectors observe interactive programs and classes and visit any behind-the-scenes area they’d like. They look at animal records and they interview staff members. Ultimately their goal is to determine that the facility they are inspecting is doing everything it can to raise healthy animals, manage educated and informed employees, and present inspiring and informational programs.Renewing our accreditation by IMATA also included the completion of a written application and then a subsequent on-site inspection. In this case, the focus was primarily on the training and development of our staff. What are our requirements for hiring? How do we train our trainers? Are there exams they must take and readings they must complete for advancement? Is their growth evaluated and measured? Ultimately, their goal is to determine that our staff is as prepared and qualified as can be to provide a working environment that is safe and healthy and enriching for themselves, our dolphins, and you!Last month’s reaccreditations continue our long and proud history of membership in these professional organizations. As knowledge in the marine mammal training field has grown, we have grown too. Our animals are even healthier and happier, our expectations of our staff are increased, and our hopes for you are greater. So, thank you to our visiting inspectors from the Alliance of Marine Mammals Parks and Aquariums and the International Marine Animal Trainers Association! We loved having you here and having the opportunity to show you what we do every day and why we are so proud to be marine mammal trainers.And to all of our guests who have been here in the past, and will come in the future to swim with our dolphins at Hawks Cay Resort in the beautiful Florida Keys: Thank You. We enjoy every opportunity we have to share our animals with you.
Dolphin Connection Blog - February 2014 February 1, 2014
February is here and love is in the air. Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you, and also to all of the animals that we love here at Dolphin Connection and all around the Florida Keys. Luckily for these animals, we’re not the only ones who love them; many organizations here in our island chain are dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release or long term care of the local wildlife.
Just down the road from us is the Marathon Wild Bird Center. Located at Mile Marker 50 at the Crane Point Hammock, the Marathon Wild Bird Center is dedicated to animal care and community education. Whether it’s the native, year-round bird population or the seasonal, migratory population, the Marathon Wild Bird Center is here to help them. Typical issues causing a bird to need assistance are entanglement in fishing line, injury due to ingesting fish remains from fishermen, starvation, or premature separation from parents. While the Wild Bird Center does a wonderful job with all of their patients, we could all make their job easier by doing our part to make the Keys a safer place for birds to live.
Are you a fisherman? If so, the simple act of keeping your used fishing line and fishing hooks on board until you find a proper trash or recycling receptacle can save so many animals’ lives. Fishing line is designed to be invisible: that’s why it works so well with fish. Unfortunately, it’s also rather invisible to birds and other wildlife. Fishing line that is discarded from boats, bridges, marinas, etc. ends up floating in the water, tangled around pilings or electric lines, or wound around rocks or seaweeds. All of these final resting places for the line are also resting places for the birds, and one wrong step places the bird’s foot right into a pile of line that works just like a snare. Simply pledging to not let our line loose in a bird’s habitat can make such a difference.
Now, after you’ve had your successful fishing trip and all of your used fishing line has been placed in the recycling bin, you need to clean your fish. It seems completely natural to discard the skin, bones, and other unusable parts of the fish right back into the sea. It’s even satisfying when other animals like fish, sharks, and birds come to enjoy these remains. Unfortunately, most predatory marine life, including pelicans, are not meant to eat fish in pieces. Instead, they eat the fish whole. This means that their delicate bodies are protected from the fish bones until these bones are safely decomposing in the animal’s stomach acid. Pelicans who scavenge from a fisherman’s spoils can tear their fragile throat pouch on these bones. Throwing your fish bones into the trash rather than giving them to the begging birds is so much safer, despite what the birds might try to tell you!
Past the Marathon Wild Bird Center is the Turtle Hospital. Just like the Bird Center, the Turtle Hospital focus on wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, and release or long term care. Also, just like the Bird Center, one of the primary causes of injury to the wildlife that they see is ingestion of, or entanglement in, fishing line. So many of the patients at the Turtle Hospital have ingested a fishing hook and line and are now suffering as it tries to make its way through their system. Other common injuries are due to boat strike by boaters who are going too fast through the sea turtles’ home. Luckily, just like with the wild birds who need our help, the solutions to the sea turtles’ problems are so absolutely within our power. Care with our fishing gear, appropriate speeds on our water ways, and awareness of our impacts on the planet: these are all wonderful Valentine’s Day gifts that we can give to our fellow Keys residents this month.
We wish you all love, sunsets, romantic visits to Hawks Cay Resort, and of course fun times swimming with dolphins. But most of all, we wish for health and happiness for the wonderful animals walking beside us, swimming around us, and flying above us.
Dolphin Connection Blog - January 2014 January 1, 2014
Here at Dolphin Connection, we know how lucky we are to be able to spend our days training dolphins. We also know how lucky our dolphins are, because it’s training that allows us to provide them with the very best animal welfare in the way of health care and enrichment. In fact, you’re pretty lucky too. Did you know that it’s thanks to trained dolphins that you’ve been able to learn all that you know about dolphin behavior, natural history and adaptations? Last month we were reminded that it’s not just us and our flippered friends who benefit from training; many other people and animals around the world make the most of animal training as well. We all know how valuable a service dog can be for a visually impaired person or even a person with a seizure disorder or other health concern, and of course dogs are frequently used in the military or by the police force. It was one of these amazingly well-trained dogs who spent some time at Dolphin Connection recently, bringing a whole new view of animal training to both our trainers and our dolphins!
In December, Deputy US Marshal Smith and his explosives detection dog, K9 Wanda, came to visit the Florida Keys and we were lucky enough to have them stay right here at Hawks Cay Resort. Wanda is one of only sixteen dogs certified with the Explosives Detection Canine Program and she lives in Atlanta, Georgia. K9 Wanda started her career training to be a guide dog for the blind in New York but once it was determined that she was better suited for law enforcement, she began her training with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) Canine Training Center. K9 Wanda can detect 19,000 different types of explosives and firearms and it’s daily practice with Deputy Smith that keeps her skills so sharp.
K9 Wanda and Deputy Smith were here in the Keys on duty, but they had a little bit of free time to swim with the dolphins and exchange some trade secrets with our training staff. As it turns out, whether you’re training dogs or dolphins, and whether you’re training them for health care or safety or detection, the techniques used and the relationships developed are just about the same.
The Dolphin Connection training team spent some time introducing K9 Wanda to our dolphins from out of the water, and then Deputy Smith had a chance to climb into the lagoon to meet the dolphins in their world. Finally, and this was the most exciting part for those of us who work with dolphins every day but who love all animals, K9 Wanda demonstrated her detection skills and Deputy Smith walked us through the training process and showed off some of the most impressive trained behaviors.
Every day we are grateful for the opportunity we have to spend our lives caring for our dolphins. The science of animal training provides a system we can use to communicate with them, take care of them, and safely bring them into contact with so many people who can learn from them. Discussing the amazing benefits of positive reinforcement-based training with someone who is just as passionate and knowledgeable is the kind of stimulating conversation we dream of. Having that opportunity while also snuggling with a dog…well that’s just the icing on the cake of another perfect day in the Florida Keys.
Dolphin Connection Blog - December 2013 December 1, 2013
In July of this year, we told you about some very important research happening in Sarasota Bay on the west coast of Florida. The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP), an organization which Dolphin Connection has supported and partnered with for years, has been conducting health assessment studies on the local bottlenose dolphins for over 40 years. The data emerging from this study provides us with the majority of what we know about wild dolphin anatomy, behavior, natural history, and health. Whether it’s with financial resources, supplies, or personnel, Dolphin Connection is dedicated to contributing all we can to this incredibly valuable study.
This year, the data from the past 40 years is especially valuable because it provides baseline information about animals living in a relatively healthy environment which can be compared to data from health assessments conducted in parts of the Gulf of Mexico impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill disaster. In 2011 and again in 2013, SDRP and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted health assessments on dolphins in Barataria Bay and the Mississippi Sound, areas in the Gulf severely affected by the oil spill. Sample and data analyses for 2011 and 2013 are underway, but preliminary results show that many of the dolphins in the study are underweight, anemic, have low blood sugar and/or some symptoms of liver and lung disease. Nearly half also have abnormally low levels of the hormones that help with stress response, metabolism and immune function.
While these preliminary results are disturbing, there may be some good news in the form of inspiration: How does it make you feel when you hear about a manmade disaster threatening the lives of dolphins? Sad? Angry? Motivated? How about informed? Aware? Committed? With all of us living near the coast, or near waterways or drains that lead to the coast, we all impact the health of the oceans. What kind of an impact we make is up to us. Knowing how an oil spill may be affecting dolphins might be just the wakeup call we need to take action. Will it encourage a beach walker to bend down and pick up a plastic bag from the surf before it becomes a sea turtle’s lunch? Will it inspire a grocery shopper to purchase in bulk and use canvas bags to minimize the amount of plastic in their life? Will it inspire a busy family to take some time to go for a walk together and participate in a coastal cleanup?
With warm winter temperatures and beautiful sunsets, life at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys can feel pretty idyllic. Surrounded by the protected waters of a National Marine Sanctuary, it is easy to swim with our dolphins and enjoy the tropical fish darting around our toes and forget that not so far away are habitats and animals who truly need our help. So in the spirit of the season, rather than letting the bad news defeat us, let’s use it as a reminder to enjoy all that we have and help those in need.
Dolphin Connection Blog - November 2013 November 1, 2013
Happy November! One of our favorite months here at Dolphin Connection, filled with gratitude, good food, and beautiful temperatures. Migratory birds pass through on their annual trip south, cooler air brings less humidity, and the gorgeous sunsets come a little earlier in the day, but the most noticeable change for us will be the darkness that descends on the Florida Keys so quickly: November marks the end of Daylight Savings Time! Now, instead of having hours at the end of the day to appreciate the beautiful views from our islands, we find ourselves in darkness by supper time. Luckily for us, a flip of a light switch means we don’t miss any of the gorgeous sights at Hawks Cay Resort, so we can continue to enjoy our little slice of paradise. For dolphins, however, special adaptations are required to allow them to safely maneuver through a world in which they may not be able to see.
Bottlenose dolphins, and all toothed whales, have an adaptation called “echolocation”. This adaptation allows dolphins to use sound to see. By producing very special high-pitched clicks, and then using the fatty “melon” to focus these clicks at specific objects or across general locations, a dolphin can listen for the echoes created as the sound waves bounce back. These sound waves are altered depending on what kind of object they interacted with and so each returning sound is different and will produce a very specific and unique image in the dolphin’s brain. This image, much like an ultrasound image that you might receive at the doctor’s office, provides details as to the object’s shape, density, and movement. Even a fish buried under the sand is not safe from a hunting dolphin who uses his echolocation! The dolphin’s brain, which is dedicated in large part to the interpretation of sound, can identify these altered waves as having bounced off of a fish, a rock, another dolphin, etc. Pretty useful when you’re a predator who needs to find food, and even occasionally a prey animal who needs to avoid sharks!
When the sun is shining and the water is clear – which is true almost all of the time in the Florida Keys – dolphins rely most heavily on their eyesight. But in dark or murky conditions, this ability to use echolocation is as useful as our ability to turn on the lights when the sun goes down. So, as winter descends on the Florida Keys and our precious sunshine becomes a little more limited, it’s good to know that all of us have successful ways of surviving. We look forward to seeing you here as you celebrate the holidays by swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Connection!
Dolphin Connection Blog - October 2013 October 1, 2013
October is here and for those of us living in the Florida Keys, we look forward to celebrating fall holidays like Halloween with jack-o-lanterns, costumes and – of course – plenty of sweet treats! For you and me, that probably means chocolate, but what about the dolphins? If a dolphin were to go Trick-or-Treating, what would they want?
If we want to give the dolphins at Dolphin Connection a treat to eat, we might offer them ice cubes or unsweetened and unflavored gelatin! While not providing any important nutrients other than additional water, these items are just a great way to have fun with the dolphins in a way that they really seem to enjoy! Alternatively, we can give the dolphins a special treat that is not edible. This might be like you receiving something besides candy when you’re Trick-or-Treating. Maybe it’s a toy or a game or even just a warm and friendly greeting when you knock on the door. Believe it or not, all of these would be wonderful treats for our dolphins as well. A fun game of catch with a dolphin-safe ball, a rub-down with a loofah or a sponge, or even a water fight (which the dolphins are always sure to win!) are all just as much fun to the dolphins as the ice cubes or the gelatin treats are.
Even more than treats or toys, we all know there is something else that dolphins love the most: fish! Here at Dolphin Connection, our dolphins eat capelin and herring: up to 45 pounds each per day! Fish provides the dolphins with everything that they need in the way of protein, fats, carbohydrates, calories, and even hydration! Think of this as equivalent to a healthy menu of fruits, vegetables and protein for you. Not only is fish the perfect food for a dolphin, but our dolphins are fed only the very best of this perfect food. Every morning we sort through hundreds of pounds of fish, making sure to pull any out that don’t meet our standards. A scratch, a scrape, or a cut on the fish? Throw it out. Our dolphins get only the best, restaurant quality fish every day.
So, if a dolphin comes trick-or-treating to your door, now you know what they might like. Give them a fish and that’s like you receiving an apple in your bag – delicious and nutritious! Give them an ice cube and that’s like you receiving a candy bar – a special treat that’s completely separate from your daily meals. Throw a ball or offer a rub down and that’s like you receiving a warm greeting or a fun game – a chance to interact with folks you care about in a way that’s enjoyable and special.
Next time you’re here at Hawks Cay Resort enjoying a sunset, come on over and watch our trainers and guests as they swim with the dolphins. Of course you’ll see them providing lots and lots of fish, but if you pay close attention you’ll see treats, rubs, toys and affection being given out just as freely. October really is a wonderful month, and not just for the little ghouls and goblins in your neighborhood!
Dolphin Connection Blog - July 2013 July 1, 2013
We are the lucky ones: Not only do we get to spend our days swimming with dolphins, but we get to do it here on our island paradise. There’s not much that would make us want to leave the beautiful Florida Keys…not much except the chance to participate in amazing conservation research that can help us to better understand and protect wild dolphins everywhere.
One of the ways in which the entire Dolphin Connection team participates in global conservation is by joining with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program in their annual wild bottlenose dolphin health assessment projects. These projects, which began in the 1980s, provide scientists and veterinarians with information about the health of wild dolphin populations as well as environmental contaminants, life history, population structure and ecology. Understanding the overall health of these animals, including causes of disease and effects of pollutants, allows us to establish baselines to monitor the health of the oceans.
Every year, a team of experts, including scientists, researchers, veterinarians and animal care professionals, perform health assessments on the local population of dolphins living in Sarasota Bay. With the permission of the US government, samples are collected, measurements are taken and identification is made. In this way, information is gained about both the individual animals who may be seen year after year in these studies, and also about the population, and even the species, as a whole. Sarasota Bay is the only place where generation after generation of dolphins has been studied. As such, the research happening here is some of the most important in existence and it provides some of the most useful and reliable data about bottlenose dolphins in the wild.
Dolphin Connection makes valuable contributions to the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, including annual donations of both our time and our resources. Besides financial support, each year our animal care staff eagerly anticipates participation in the health assessment studies, which provide a wonderful opportunity to learn about and assist with the all-important research happening there. This year the study carried some extra importance because the results, under a federal research permit, will be used for establishing the parameters of a healthy population (Sarasota Bay) so that they may be compared when a similar study is completed in the Gulf of Mexico near the site of the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill. As part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) and with support from the Georgia Aquarium, Dolphin Quest, and Dolphin Connection, animals in areas of the Gulf affected by the oil spill will undergo standard assessments, sample collection, and remote tracking via satellite to begin evaluation of their health and behavior. Compared with the baseline data from Sarasota Bay, we will better understand exactly how dolphins, and all animals, are impacted by environmental disasters.
Beyond the obvious importance of this study to our planet, the Dolphin Connection team’s participation is also valuable to us as a company and as individuals. We gain skills, inspiration and a greater understanding of bottlenose dolphins beyond our own population. Information learned about conservation issues, cutting edge research and the fight for the survival of our seas inevitably makes its way into our educational messaging and to our guests. So as you plan your visit to Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys, know that more than just swimming with dolphins, sunsets and sand between your toes, you are joining a community that reaches past our island’s borders and into the greater world of marine conservation. If you would like to contribute to the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program’s all-important work, please visit their website to find out all the ways in which you can help.
Dolphin Connection Blog - June 2013 June 1, 2013
For those of you who follow us on Facebook, the news of the mass stranding of California sea lion pups on the California coast isn’t new. You’ve been receiving our updates about the situation as well as our pleas for donations to help support the animal care personnel and supplies needed.
Since the beginning of 2013, over 1,300 young, malnourished, underweight California sea lions have stranded between Santa Barbara and San Diego, along the southern California coast. Too weak and thin to forage for themselves, these animals are being brought to marine mammal stranding centers in Los Angeles County and Orange County. Rehabilitation typically takes 8 weeks before the animals are strong enough and healthy enough to be released back to the wild to try their hand at hunting for themselves. Four months into 2013, these stranding centers have already seen more animals than they did in all of 2012!
The National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) has been working closely with the National Marine Fisheries Service as well as the independent stranding centers in an effort to coordinate the financial and personnel assistance necessary for responding to this stranding event. A long-time supporter of NMMF and their research, Dolphin Connection is currently providing support for their research on the effects of the 2010 oil spill disaster on the wild dolphin population in the Gulf of Mexico. From the beginning, proceeds from sales at Dolphin Connection have gone to research benefitting wild dolphins, as well as to the care of our own dolphins here in the Florida Keys. But it doesn’t end there. We have sent in our donation to the NMMF, earmarked for the care of these stranded sea lion pups, and we encourage you to do the same. According to Cynthia Smith, Executive Director for the National Marine Mammal Foundation, “Not only are we working to help save these stranded pups, NMMF scientists are also working to uncover the reasons behind this marine mammal emergency. Donations in any amount from our supporters and friends are so important right now. This is one of those moments when people can make a real difference.”
The work being accomplished by the NMMF is bigger than just responding to these sea lions pups immediately in need. “Sea lions are a sentinel species and these strandings are likely a symptom of an unhealthy ocean.” The NMMF is currently working to discover the cause of these strandings: Why aren’t these animals able to feed themselves, and how can we help? As news, updates and discoveries come in, we will continue to keep you posted. In the meantime, we encourage you to click on the links above to find out more about what you can do to help these struggling sea lion pups. All of us and our beautiful dolphin family in the sunny Florida Keys say “Thank You!”
In the meantime, we hope to see you down here at Hawks Cay for some sunshine, sunsets, relaxation, and of course swimming with dolphins.
Dolphin Connection Blog - May 2013 May 1, 2013
Here at Dolphin Connection people tell us that we have the best jobs in the world. We couldn’t agree more. We get to make a difference to people, animals and the planet every single day. Believe it or not, sometimes we want to do even more. Dolphin trainers have big hearts, as is evident in the dedicated care they provide to the animals, and these big hearts make a big difference in our little Florida Keys community.
One member of training team is a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys. She says that after moving to the Florida Keys, she quickly learned that there was more to island life than coral reefs and dolphins. “I wanted to find a way to become more involved in our small town. As a dolphin trainer, you give everything to the animals you love. We give them top-of-the-line healthcare, we make sure their food is perfect, and we do constant maintenance on their home. Giving the same to people in my own community is just as important. Everyone deserves to have a home as nice as our dolphins have!” The parallels between our work with dolphins and our volunteer experience in the community continue: “At work we dedicate hours of our day to cleaning, preparing fish, and maintaining a healthy habitat for our dolphins. The reward for our hard work is indescribable - energetic, healthy animals that we introduce to our guests every day. As a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, we dedicate ourselves to fundraising, board meetings and land clearing and in return we get to watch a family accept the keys to their new house!”
Clearly, the motivation to provide a healthy and happy home for an animal is not all that different from the motivation to do the same for a family. What other job skills do dolphin trainers have that can benefit our local island community? One of our dolphin trainers volunteers as a soccer coach for a youth league. She says that coaching children has many similarities to training dolphins. “Dolphins and kids both have a lot of energy and they both respond best to positive reinforcement! As a trainer at Dolphin Connection, it's in our blood to give our all in everything we do. At the end of the work day, we don’t just turn that feeling off. I'm grateful that I've found such rewarding ways to give back to my town, both personally and professionally.”
While none of the members of Dolphin Connection team are originally from the Florida Keys, we have all made it our home. So much more than just beautiful sunsets and swimming with dolphins, our small island chain is a close-knit community and we eagerly invite you to visit us here at Hawks Cay Resort for some well-deserved relaxation. See you soon!
Dolphin Connection Blog - April 2013 April 1, 2013
For all the reasons that people love the Florida Keys – beautiful sunsets, sand between their toes, swimming with dolphins – one amazing aspect of the Keys is frequently overlooked. Did you know that the Florida Keys are home to the only living barrier reef in the mainland United States? Not only does this reef make an amazing home to beautiful marine life, it also provides residents and visitors to the Keys a unique opportunity to have a direct impact – for better or for worse – on one of the most diverse and rich ecosystems on Earth. Here at Dolphin Connection we strive to teach our guests about how to gently enjoy our barrier reef and maybe even leaving it better than they found it.
Several coral reef conservation groups in the area provide volunteer opportunities for anyone who would like to participate in long- or short-term reef research projects. Visiting the Keys for a weekend? For the summer? Forever? There are many ways that you can ensure that you have a positive impact on this precious island chain.
The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) has volunteer opportunities for divers to help with fish identification and population estimates. This ongoing project allows us to better understand the diversity and the health of some of the residents of our coral reef environment. Currently, one threat to our native species is the presence of an invasive species called a Lionfish. This voracious fish is not native to the Florida Keys but is now competing heavily with, and even preying on, our local fish species. The effects of the Lionfish on the distribution and population of native species is another conservation project that volunteers can assist with through REEF. Information about this organization, as well as the programs they’re involved with and all the ways in which you can help, can be found at www.reef.org.
The Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) is dedicated to creating offshore nurseries and restoration programs for threatened coral species. They have created an underwater coral nursery which they tend to and protect. With so many coral reefs, including our own in the Florida Keys, being threatened, this nursery may be crucial to their long term survival. CRF is always looking for volunteer divers who can help with the care of this beautiful nursery. If diving isn’t your area of interest, you can assist with education presentations at the CRF Education Center in Key Largo.
Here at Dolphin Connection, not only do we teach about coral reef conservation, we are also active participants. Members of our team volunteer on their own time with both REEF and CRF. As one Dolphin Connection trainer said, “I take so much pleasure from the ocean. It’s time I gave back.” How do you take care of our planet and our oceans? We’d love to hear all the wonderful conservation behaviors you’re already engaged in or intend to begin. Visit our website at dolphinconnection.com/share_your_experience. Meanwhile, as you plan your visit to the Keys in the coming months, why don’t you look into all the wonderful ways you can tread a little lighter and leave the Keys a little healthier? Thank you for loving our home as much as we do.
Dolphin Connection Blog - March 2013 March 1, 2013
Spring is finally here! As we look forward to welcoming all the spring breakers ready to soak up some glorious sunshine at Hawks Cay Resort, we’d like to share some wonderful news. Here at Dolphin Connection, we received the most amazing Valentine’s Day gift we could ever imagine: a new dolphin to join our family.
On February 14, a specially chartered airplane brought a very special 8-year-old, along with a specially trained crew of animal care and veterinary experts. This little dolphin came to us from our partners at the Brookfield Zoo just outside of Chicago, Illinois. With his body supported in salt water and protected in a padded and lined, custom-made stretcher, he made his way safely and easily to the Florida Keys. And there’s a secret that makes him extra special to us – our Dolphin Connection team is very close to his mother and father because they were both born and raised right here in our lagoon, and now live with some of our breeding partners. So you might say this little boy is our grandbaby, and we couldn’t be prouder!
Prior to his arrival, members of the Dolphin Connection team visited him in Chicago to learn everything they could about him. What’s his favorite toy? How does he like his fish prepared? What behaviors does he know? Then, upon his arrival here in the Florida Keys, members of the Brookfield Zoo team stayed with us to help with his transition. Everyone involved wanted to be sure that this little dolphin was as comfortable as he could possibly be.
Now we all know what brought us to Florida: sunsets, beaches and warm weather, but why did this little guy move fifteen hundred miles to Florida? Because he needed a buddy and we have the perfect friend for him! Because we know that a pair-bond between two male dolphins is one of the closest relationships found in the dolphin social structure, usually lasting a lifetime, we make every effort to pair bond our young males. Providing an appropriate social group for both of these young dolphins is something that we were honored to do!
So, as the temperatures warm up and Spring Break approaches, we hope to see you here. Come to Hawks Cay, enjoy a sunset, bury your toes in the sand, and come and meet the newest member of the Dolphin Connection family!