Dolphin Connection Blog
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!
Dolphin Connection Blog - December 2012 December 3, 2012
Have you ever relocated for a job? How about for family obligations or just to see the world? And honestly, don’t you sometimes dream about relocating to warm, tropical places like Hawks Cay Resort in the beautiful Florida Keys? Sometimes it’s necessary for dolphins to relocate too. Recently we transported one of Dolphin Connection’s adult male dolphins, Semo, from the Minnesota Zoo to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California. Semo has fathered many calves in the past and we have high hopes for him in his new home. But it’s not this dolphin’s fertility that makes him so well-known and well-respected among those of us who work with dolphins; it’s his age. At 48 years old, Semo is the oldest male dolphin living in any zoo or aquarium in the North America!
One of the biggest marine conservation events to happen during Semo’s lifetime was the passing of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, and if you’re good at math you’ve already realized the Act is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this Act was created “in response to increasing concerns among scientists and the public that significant declines in some species of marine mammals were caused by human activities. The Act established a national policy to prevent marine mammal species and population stocks from declining beyond the point where they ceased to be significant functioning elements of the ecosystems of which they are a part.” At the time, nowhere else in the world had a government made the conservation of healthy and stable ecosystems as important.
Throughout Semo’s life, he’s undoubtedly made quite a few people smile. He‘s likely been many people’s first dolphin encounter. He has certainly helped connect animal lovers to the oceans, made them aware of all the ways in which we depend on this incredible habitat, and how vitally important it is for us to work to conserve it.
So as 2012 comes to an end, a year that brought us the 40th anniversary of this historic Marine Mammal Protection Act, we thank Semo and other marine mammals like him who educate and inspire people every day. And we thank you, and people like you, who care enough to see the value in protecting our wildlife, our wild lands, and the beautiful planet we call home. From all of us here at Dolphin Connection, we wish you a very happy and healthy holiday season full of love, laughter and dolphins!
Dolphin Connection Blog - November 2012 November 1, 2012
Fall in the Florida Keys is one of the most beautiful times of year, and one of the quietest. The weather is still warm, the breeze so notably absent in the summertime returns, and the crowds have all gone back to school and work. Here at Dolphin Connection we like to take advantage of this slower time of year to expand our knowledge in the fields of marine mammal training, conservation and education. Toward this goal, the team here has been engaging in some exciting professional development opportunities.
In September, we were joined by a representative from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary who spoke to us about NOAA’s Dolphin SMART program. This program aims to promote responsible stewardship of wild dolphins in coastal waterways and to minimize the impact on wild dolphins by commercial tour boat operators. One of the most important educational points in our programs at Dolphin Connection is about the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the danger to wild dolphin populations from interactions with people and boats. Even the most well-intentioned dolphin lovers are breaking the law when feeding wild dolphins or creating any situation that will disrupt their natural behavior. For this reason, tour boat operators have a very important obligation and opportunity when they take their guests into the ocean to ensure that the dolphins with whom they share that habitat are not being negatively impacted. People on these boats are learning by observation from the expert crew on board so the lessons demonstrated are crucial. The Dolphin SMART program provides recognition for boat operators who abide by the law while educating their customers about appreciating and observing wild dolphins from a respectful distance of 50 yards. Voluntary participation in this program demonstrates to the world that their company is lawful and ethical. The team at Dolphin Connection was so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about this program so that we can better support the Dolphin SMART-certified companies operating here in the Florida Keys.
In October, the Education Committee for the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums held its annual meeting in Orlando, Florida. Dolphin Connection’s Education Supervisor was honored to attend this meeting and excited to bring home all the latest information in environmental education, conservation studies and field research. Expect to benefit from all she learned next time you come to swim with the dolphins here in the Florida Keys!
Now, with our heads full of inspiring and exciting information, we look forward to your arrival to Hawks Cay Resort so we can share it all with you.
Dolphin Connection Blog - October 2012 September 28, 2012
Here at Dolphin Connection, we know without a doubt that we have the most wonderful job in the world, and it turns out lots of other people feel the same way! Last month the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association (IMATA) held its Southeast Regional Workshop in the Florida Keys and while many of the attendees were animal trainers looking to gain new skills and meet new people, the majority were students looking for jobs, internships or continuing education opportunities. They want to do exactly what we get to do every single day!
After several busy workshop days filled with presentations, demonstrations, seminars and discussions, the animal trainers and trainers-in-training made their way to the Dolphin Deck at Hawks Cay Resort for a luncheon of tropical delights. When bellies were full and energy was recharged, many of the meeting attendees joined the Dolphin Connection team for some very special time with the dolphins. It’s not often that we have the privilege of welcoming our colleagues into the water with us, so it was with much excitement that we invited them down to see how we spend our days here in our island paradise. While there are many similarities among dolphin facilities, certainly standards of care that all IMATA and AMMPA (Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums) accredited facilities adhere to, there are also many differences. These differences are wonderful: they make us all unique and exciting and they’re the reason that you can visit zoos and aquariums around the world and never have the same experience twice. It is these differences that make it always so intriguing for people in the animal training field to visit each others’ animal parks, and the questions we have are typically somewhat different from those of the guests we usually host: How did you train that behavior? What kind of life vests do you use? Are you hiring?!
What an inspiring and fun group of folks to introduce to our dolphins! By the end of the day there were new friendships made, stimulating conversations happening and inspired students ready to reach for their goals. There’s nothing like seeing your life through someone else’s eyes to remind you of all you have to be grateful for. Is it really our job to swim with dolphins in the tropical waters of the Florida Keys? Why yes it is!
Dolphin Connection Blog - September 2012 September 3, 2012
Life in the Florida Keys is famously slow-paced and easy going, and it typically does not involve much in the way of fancy technology. Most people here would rather watch a sunset, go fishing or swim with dolphins than sit in front of a computer screen. Nonetheless, we understand that websites are many people’s primary source of information – it is how you’re reading this story after all - so with that in mind Dolphin Connection is proud to announce our new website that will entertain, educate, inform and inspire you.
When the Dolphin Connection team sat down to discuss our dream website, many issues came up. We wanted it to be an educational powerhouse where anyone of any age could come to learn about dolphins, the Florida Keys, marine conservation, dolphin training and of course visiting Dolphin Connection. We wanted to provide fun and learning opportunities for people whether they were planning a visit to the Keys, already here, or just surfing the web from half way around the globe. We wanted it to be current, accurate and relevant. Now that it’s complete, we’re fairly certain we’ve succeeded!
Are you a family planning a visit to Hawks Cay and you want to know more about the options for meeting dolphins? Are you a college student who wants to be a dolphin trainer and you need to obtain some work experience in the form of an internship? Are you a parent or a teacher and you’d like to find educational activities to do with your children whether you’re at Dolphin Connection, in your living room or in your classroom? Do you like to play games? Do you like to read? Do you want answers to your questions to be quick and easy to find? Do you want to know more at the end of today than you did when you woke up and do you want to start tomorrow feeling inspired and prepared? It’s a lot to ask of a website, but when you visit the new www.dolphinconnection.com, expect to be impressed!
One of the features we’re especially excited about on this website is its interactive capability. We’ve always wanted to stay in contact with our guests. We know that you leave Dolphin Connection wanting to save the world. We are touched every day by children’s promises to organize beach clean ups, begin recycling projects and spread the word. What we don’t know is what happens in the weeks and months following your time with us. Do you still remember the dolphins you swam with? Do they still inspire you to do your best every day? Dolphin Connection strives to Inspire Conservation and we want to know that we’re succeeding. Along these lines, we’ve created a “Share Your Story” page on our website where you can tell us how your time with our dolphins changed your behavior and your life. Your story might even be published!
As summertime draws to a close, we hope everyone is enjoying the beautiful weather and all the best that nature has to offer, but next time you step indoors and get plugged back in, please stop by www.dolphinconnection.com and let your mind wander into our world. We can’t wait to see you here, both literally and virtually.
Dolphin Connection Blog - July 2012 July 2, 2012
For some people, a vacation to the Florida Keys is a time to celebrate. For some people, it’s a time to relax. And for some people, a vacation to the Florida Keys is a time to reconnect with family. The Auxier family called upon their trip to Hawks Cay Resort last month to provide all of those things. If ever there was a family in need of some celebration, some relaxation and some family bonding, this is it!
Nancy Auxier, like any mother, has a very busy schedule. She lives in Florida with the two youngest of her four children while the other two are stationed in California and North Carolina where they are active-duty marines. For these reasons alone, a family vacation to watch the sun set in the Florida Keys would be priceless. But there’s another detail in this story. James, Mrs. Auxier’s 13 year old son, is suffering from inoperable brain cancer: Anaplastic Astrocytoma. He’s always wanted to swim with dolphins – as have his siblings – so the Marty Lyons foundation arranged for the family’s visit to Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key and some very special extracurricular activities.
On a blustery Tuesday in June, Mrs. Auxier, along with three of her four children, as well as her son-in-law, made their way to Dolphin Connection. Although her oldest son who had just returned from Afghanistan was unable to join them, this group represented the first almost-complete family reunion they’ve been able to have in while. Reconnecting with family? Check!
As the group of five slipped into the water with four beautiful dolphins, the love that this family has for animals and their fascination with marine life, was clear. James – who along with his mom watches every animal show they can find on television – wanted to know about the dolphin’s belly button. “Does it mean that they were connected with an umbilical cord?” He especially liked Lucky the dolphin and said he’s wanted to get in the water with dolphins since the first time he saw them when he was a kid. James’ little sister, Maria, is even considering being a dolphin trainer! The smiles and giggles coming from the dolphins’ lagoon could be heard all around. The Auxier family seemed to be having fun. Relaxation? Check!
In between kisses and hugs with the dolphins there was a lot of kissing and hugging going on among the family. There is clearly a lot of love here, and for Jennifer who is the oldest sister, the love was magnified. Not only was she reconnecting with her mom and sister and little brother for the first time in quite a while, she was also celebrating her first wedding anniversary with husband Corey – a fellow US Marine. Celebration? Check!
After chatting with this very gregarious and extroverted group for a while, I asked them to describe their mom. James spoke up first, and then took a while to really think through his thoughts and choose his words. Ultimately, he narrowed it down into one simple sentence. “She’s a very concerned mom.” Of this, we have no doubt. Here at Dolphin Connection, we hope that a Florida Keys vacation at Hawks Cay Resort, complete with some play time swimming with the dolphins, provided Mrs. Auxier and her entire family the opportunity to relax, smile and connect. We were honored to be a part of your special visit and very touched by the love that you all clearly have for each other.
Dolphin Connection Blog - June 2012 June 1, 2012
Hawks Cay Resort was recently honored to host the Junior and Senior classes of New York’s Tottenville High School for a very special “Exploring the Possibili-seas”. The physical and occupational therapy students at Tottenville are frequently unable to participate in their school’s senior trip so every year they plan their own adventure, and this year they came here! With the enviable energy of a teenager, the group took advantage of just about all that Hawks Cay has to offer. According to Gail Benson, Tottenville’s Occupational Therapist, “Our students participated in the paddleboard races, hula hoop competitions, basketball, hockey, miniature golf and Wii sports. They also loved being in the hot tub and playing in the pool and just being able to swim at night in such warm water. They also loved being around the fire pit talking with each other.” What else did these Tottenville High School students do while they were here? They played with dolphins, of course!
The team at Dolphin Connection joyfully dedicated the entire day to this very special group of students, as well as their therapists, teachers and chaperones, in order to make sure that everyone had the chance to come face-to-face with our dolphins. We know that meeting dolphins is amazing for everyone, but for these students it provided the opportunity to “experience things they never thought possible because of their disabilities, including Autism and Cerebral Palsy as well as a myriad of other cognitive developmental delays.” According to Ms. Benson, “For most of their lives these students have been told they will never be able to do the things their age-group peers can. These trips have shown our students that this is myth, and we have literally seen their independence and self esteem blossom before our eyes.” Some students took the opportunity to meet the dolphins from the floating docks in the lagoons, while the rest of the students hopped into the water and met the dolphins in their own watery world. The students described the dolphins as “rubbery and soft”, and were “amazed about the [behaviors] they did.” The Tottenville staff said that their students, especially ones affected with autism, rarely interact with each other but did interact with the dolphins. “Experiences like this have fostered hope, social interaction, and independence in our students who need it most. Besides improving their quality of life during these trips, we know our students will learn lessons of confidence, self esteem, and leadership they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
Hearing from the staff about how important these experiences can be is moving, but hearing directly from the students is truly inspiring. Alyssa told us that “Dolphin Connection was a wonderful thing. I really like how we got to connect with the dolphins. My favorite part was when I got to feed the dolphins. Hawks Cay is a beautiful place and I had such a great time there.” Meagan said that for her, “the opportunity to meet dolphins was very meaningful. It was always my dream to go swimming with them and to interact with them the way we did.”
You know who may have loved the experience most of all? It was the dolphin trainers at Dolphin Connection. Every day we strive to inspire, but on this day the Tottenville High School students provided the inspiration. To them we offer a truly heartfelt thank you and a standing invitation to come back any time to enjoy a sunset, lounge under a Florida Keys sky and of course play with some very special dolphins.
Dolphin Connection Blog - May 2012 May 1, 2012
2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Under this act, all marine mammals, including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, manatees, walruses, sea otters and polar bears, are protected in the United States. Here at Dolphin Connection, we teach our guests every day about the importance of this legislature and what it means for all of us who spend time on the water and who love these animals. If ever there was a time to celebrate the power that concerned citizens and a responsive government can have, this is it. So around the country this anniversary will be observed in a variety of creative and even unexpected ways. For instance, in Washington D.C. at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, a temporary exhibit will run this summer entitled, “Crimes Against Marine Life” (http://www.crimemuseum.org/Crimes_Against_Marine_Life.html and http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2012/05/05_21_12_crime_against_marine_mammals.html). This exhibit will highlight violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act as well as crimes against other marine life and the law enforcements efforts to investigate these violations.
Part of the exhibit will focus on marine life affected by pollution in the oceans. Ghost nets, plastic bags, balloons, and other plastics and trash have an enormous and deadly impact on all marine life. While littering is always illegal, some communities have gone beyond that to ban balloon releases and the use of plastic bags by grocery stores or straws by restaurants. Regulations of some fishing practices and fishing equipment have also been implemented in an effort to minimize the damage to the ocean itself and to the animals who are frequently the unintended victims of the fishing practice.
Another area of focus will be shark conservation. Each year, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed, purely for their fins. The rest of the animal is dumped back into the sea as “trash”. This cruel and wasteful practice is illegal in 17 countries – including the United States – but it is still permitted in many others, and laws on import and export are weak. The populations of some species of shark have declined by as much as 99% and this reduction of a top predator weakens the entire food web. All animals, including dolphins, will suffer from the consequences of this tragic loss.
Of course, marine mammals will also be highlighted at this exhibit through stories, photos, and hands-on samplings of some of the illegal animal products that have been smuggled into or out of this country. But there’s another role that marine mammals play in discussions about conservation: people love them. We love dolphins; we’re guessing you do too. So while some folks’ heartstrings won’t be pulled by stories about sharks or fish, everyone wants to keep the oceans safe for dolphins and this is where Dolphin Connection can make a difference. Come and swim with the dolphins at Hawks Cay Resort and you’ll never be able to walk by a plastic bag on the beach, or let your fishing line fly off your boat, again. We guarantee it.
Now it’s your turn. If a museum dedicated to Crime and Punishment can find a way to honor the ocean, you can too. How will you celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act?
Dolphin Connection Blog - April 2012 April 2, 2012
On February 27 of this year, history was made. In fact, on February 27 of every year, history is made. It was on this date in 1953 that a dolphin named Nellie was born at Marineland in St. Augustine, Florida and every year on her birthday she breaks her own record for being the oldest dolphin in any oceanarium in the world. This year Nellie turned 59 years old and with the average lifespan of bottlenose dolphins in accredited zoos and aquariums being 25 – 30 years of age, and the average lifespan of wild bottlenose dolphins being half of that, 59 is an impressive age anywhere. For this reason, every year Nellie’s trainers and everyone who loves her celebrates her momentous birthday.
One decade after Nellie was born, and three thousand miles away, at Marineland’s sister facility in California, another animal was beginning her own long, record-setting career. Bubbles the pilot whale came to Marineland of the Pacific in the 1960s where she wowed guests for over 20 years. In 1987 Bubbles made her move to SeaWorld San Diego where she still continues to wow the guests today. At well over 40 years old (and over 3,000 pounds!), Bubbles is yet another example of the extreme longevity that we’re seeing in marine mammal facilities around the world.
The list goes on. Visit accredited zoos and aquariums internationally and you’ll find sea lions in their 20s, walruses in their 30s and killer whales in their 40s. In fact, here at Dolphin Connection with animals in their late 30s, we are proud of our very own thriving population of senior dolphins. Without a doubt, the lives of these geriatric animals benefit greatly from the quality of everything from the food to the veterinary care that they receive while under human care. But it isn’t just the science of animal care that’s improving and lengthening the lives of marine mammals. It’s also the emotion. Come on down to Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay resort and watch the dedicated trainers with the dolphins. In a heartbeat you’ll feel the CARE in animal care. Under a beautiful Florida Keys sunset, we raise our hats to Nellie, Bubbles and to all the senior animals being cared for in facilities around the world. Thank you for all we’ve learned from you and with you.
Dolphin Connection Blog - March 2012 March 1, 2012
When you’re a fifth grader in Wisconsin, things like sunshine, palm trees, dolphins and iguanas are probably not what you’d expect to see in February. But a group of students in Mr. Gaudio’s class at Frank Elementary School in Kenosha, Wisconsin were able to see all of these things last month, thanks to the wonders of modern technology.
For kids in Wisconsin who’ve never been to the beach, it may be tricky for them to really picture the sparkle of sunlight on a blue ocean or appreciate the way a pelican glides over the surface of the water, riding the air currents. For teachers in Wisconsin, it can be practically impossible to inspire marine conservation in these children when the sea seems a million miles away and their ability to have an impact on it – for good or for bad – feels so unlikely. Inspiring Conservation is what we do here at Dolphin Connection, so when Mr. Gaudio’s class began studying the oceans, we jumped at the opportunity to be involved. But how could we reach these students when Wisconsin is 1,500 miles away? While we couldn’t literally bring them to the Florida Keys, we could certainly do it virtually via distance learning, so as a classroom full of students announced that it was 1° in Kenosha, their message traveled through the wireless internet and arrived to us loud and clear on our computer at Hawks Cay Resort. Wearing shorts and t-shirts, we sent back our 75° weather forecast and the game was on! From that point forward, the students couldn’t wait to hear about this world so far away, where dolphins jump and where the sun seems to shine permanently. We began with a discussion about careers with dolphins, moved on to some personal stories about the individual dolphins who live at Dolphin Connection, and finished with a conversation about the science of dolphin training. After this presentation, we opened up the floor to questions, as one-by-one the students approached the web cam, notebooks in hand. “What’s your favorite part of your job?” “How did you become a dolphin trainer?” “Have you ever seen a baby dolphin being born?” The questions kept on coming, and as we answered we could see that behind the students other teachers and even the Frank Elementary School principal walked into the classroom to get a glimpse of the Florida sunshine, the dolphins, some pelicans, and even an iguana through the computer.
As the class came to a close, these students who admittedly have a hard time staying focused were shining examples of good behavior. Was it the cool technology being used or was it the beautiful dolphins at Dolphin Connection who are sometimes the best teachers of all? Whatever it was that brought such success into the classroom on this day, also brought chills to everyone involved. Trainers, teachers and parents all remarked afterward that this was something that we should do again, and it wasn’t just the students who benefitted. While we try our best not to take the beauty that surrounds us for granted, sometimes it takes seeing it through someone else’s eyes to make us appreciate what we have. For this, we send a huge thank you to the students of Mr. Gaudio’s fifth grade class at Frank Elementary in Kenosha, Wisconsin. We hope to see you all again. And we hope your weather warms up soon!
If you are a teacher or know a teacher who would like to participate in a virtual class at Dolphin Connection, please give us a call. As it turns out, you don’t have to be in the Florida Keys to be inspired by our dolphin family!