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March 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Here at Dolphin Connection we dedicate our lives to the care of bottlenose dolphins. This is, after all, our local species of dolphin which can be found around the Florida Keys and in fact all around the entire state of Florida! We are lucky because this animal that has captured our heart is not an endangered species. Every night we can rest our minds knowing that our dolphins and their counterparts in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico are healthy and thriving. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for other species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) worldwide.
In the Gulf of California, the very small body of water separating Baja California from the Mexican mainland, lives a species of porpoise called the vaquita. The vaquita, Phocoena sinus, is among the rarest of all mammals with population estimates in the low hundreds. Listed as “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) since 1996, the population has continued to decrease due primarily to pressures from the commercial fishing industry. While not itself a hunted species, vaquita fall victim to accidental entanglement in fishing gear (bycatch). With the current loss of animals to bycatch exceeding the species’ birth rate, the future is grim for this tiny porpoise, but there is hope.
The Mexican government has committed to vaquita conservation measures and has reached out to international partners for assistance. This assistance can be provided in a variety of ways. First, a public awareness program is essential. Bringing the attention of the masses to the situation will be a crucial step in recruiting resources, and where can you find millions of animal-loving, dedicated people? Zoos and aquariums of course! Additionally, alternative fishing strategies are needed for the local population who depend on the commercial fishery around the Gulf of California for their own survival. Technology that can maintain – or improve – the fishermen’s success while protecting the vaquita from entanglement will benefit everyone.
So today, from our beautiful home in the Florida Keys as we swim with dolphins and admire the sunsets at Hawks Cay Resort, we begin Step 1: Public Awareness. Reaching out to all our fellow dolphin lovers and making sure that you are all aware that cetaceans need our help and knowing that if anyone is dedicated to this cause, it is you. Next we will tackle Step 2: Recruiting Resources. Dolphin Connection, in partnership with the other members of the Bottlenose Dolphin Breeding Consortium, is looking at ways we can help the vaquita. Through research, financial donations, staff knowledge and supplies, those of us who have already devoted our lives to the health and well-being of animals hope to provide everything we possibly can to bring the vaquita back from the brink.
If you would like to learn more about the endangered vaquita, please visit these websites for information:
Ahhh, the dog days of summer. Chances are that no matter where you’re reading this from, it’s hot! Hopefully you can cool off with a refreshing swim, but don’t forget your goggles, your fins and your snorkel. The truth is that humans aren’t all that well adapted for life in the water and all that gear we have to bring with us when it’s time for a dip is proof of that. There are some air-breathing mammals, however, whose bodies come equipped with all of these supplies “built in”. Dolphins have lubricating tears which protect their eyes from the salt water like your goggles do for you. They also have powerful tail flukes which propel them through the water in much the same way that your dive fins assist with your swim stroke. And, while you use a snorkel to allow you to efficiently take a breath of air without needing to raise your whole head from the water, dolphins have a blowhole conveniently located at the top of their head which can open and close as needed.
For dolphins, the adaptations they have for life in the water are more than just skin-deep. Their internal anatomy is also specially designed for keeping them safe in a world where they cannot breathe. Think for a moment of how challenging it must be to breathe air but live in a world full of water. Now imagine trying to hunt and play and explore in your world without accidently inhaling water. With anatomy like ours, that would be next to impossible. For dolphins, this is their reality and their body is perfectly designed for just such a challenge. Unlike many animals, a dolphin’s mouth does not connect to its lungs. Because of this, an open mouth under water cannot lead to choking or drowning like it could for us. This, of course, also means that a dolphin cannot breathe through his mouth. Luckily, the blowhole on the top of the dolphin’s head serves this purpose perfectly. Not only does its location allow for efficient breathing without slowing down, it also can be opened at closed at will so that the dolphin can be sure it’s sealed shut when under water and can open it to take a breath when at the surface. Much different from you, dolphins are conscious breathers meaning that they think about and control every breath they take. It might seem like a lot of work, but it is just one of the many amazing adaptations that dolphins have that allow them to live in a world that we can only visit.
Whether you’re planning a visit to Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys, or just dreaming of swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Connection as summer comes to a close, we hope that your appreciation of these amazing animals has grown even more now that you know what a successful life they live in such a challenging environment.
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 wildbottlenose 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, includingscientists, researchers, veterinariansand animal care professionals, performhealth assessments on the local population of dolphins living in Sarasota Bay. With the permission of the US government, samplesare 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 hasbeen 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.
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.