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.
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!
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.