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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.
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!
Here at Dolphin Connection, we’re blessed with clear blue water and seas that are protected as part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. As part of our mission to connect our guests to dolphins and the ocean habitat they call home, we have the opportunity to speak with visitors who care about the water and all its inhabitants on a daily basis. Nonetheless, even here in paradise we see signs of debris in our oceans. Fishing line, plastic bags, disposable bottles: all items that could be safely disposed of, should be recycled, or - best of all – reused, are commonly seen littering our bays, rivers, estuaries and ocean.
One of the biggest threats currently facing our oceans and our ocean animals is plastic. As a waste product that never decomposes in our land and in our seas, this plastic is contaminating our soil, our water and our wildlife. Plastic trash that is not recycled often ends up in our waterways. From there it breaks down into tiny pieces that become islands of trash in the seas, some as large as the state of Texas! Even more dangerous, these pieces of plastic can be eaten by, or tangled around, our wildlife. Sea birds, sea turtles, whales and dolphins are especially at risk from plastic marine debris. The good news is that this is an easy problem to fix! By sipping our water out of reusable cups, glasses and water bottles, we will greatly decrease the amount of plastic pollution harming our planet. By recycling fishing line, we are helping to protect our sea life from entanglement. By bringing our own cloth bags to the grocery store rather than using their plastic bags, we are reducing the chance that a bag might end up in the ocean to be ingested by a hungry sea turtle who mistakes it for a jelly fish. Any time we can reduce the amount of plastic we use, reuse the plastics we already have, and recycle the plastic we no longer need, we are committing to a making a positive difference. By choosing one – or more! – of these actions that you can commit to, you are making a decision to take care of our seas.
As with many things, it is the individuals who truly have an impact and can initiate change. While you alone may not feel like your actions make a difference, you are one of many people and all of us together are incredibly powerful. One way that we use our power is through our purchases. Supporting environmentally conscious companies is a clear way to have an influence. One particular company that Dolphin Connection believes in is Method brand dish soap. They not only use recycled and recyclable plastic when making their soap bottles, they are even using the plastic debris recovered from the oceans in the processing of their bottles (http://methodhome.com/ocean-plastic/). Companies like Method that truly walk the walk give us reason to believe that healthy oceans are a very real part of our future.
Whether you’re reading this blog from a landlocked state, a dry desert or even another country, you do impact the health of our oceans. All water ends up in the seas, and all soil runoff ends up in the water, so even if you’re only dreaming of the turquoise paradise of the Florida Keys, you still do make a difference. And for those of you who are here with us on Duck Key at Hawks Cay Resort, you are on vacation on an island! Look around, you have 360 degrees of opportunity to be inspired by, and care for, the ocean. Weeks, months or years from now, when this vacation is but a happy memory, we hope that you will continue to be inspired to do wonderful things for the oceans and the animals who depend on it.
Happy New Year everyone. Here at Dolphin Connection, we certainly hope your holiday celebrations included beautiful sunsets, saltwater waves and of course swimming with dolphins. If not, maybe it’s a good resolution to make for yourself in 2013: The promise to spend more time enjoying nature’s beauty. Along with a love and appreciation for our planet comes an obligation to take care of it, and now that the season of celebrations is over, we thought we might share some ideas with you for doing just that. In fact, the two are not mutually exclusive: How about a party for the planet?!
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 40thanniversary 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 40thanniversary 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!
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.
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!
Public Confirms Overwhelming Support for Important Conservation Education Missions of Marine Parks, Aquariums and Zoos
National Poll Finds Marine Parks, Aquariums and Zoos Best Places for Children to Learn About, Connect with Marine Mammals
A new review of data from two separate national opinion polls demonstrates there is consistent and overwhelming public support for marine mammal facilities and their role in conservation education.
Ninety-seven percent of people agree that marine life parks, aquariums and zoos are important because they educate children about marine mammals – animals that children might not have the opportunity to see in the wild.
The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums commissioned Harris Interactive® to conduct online polls released in 2005 and 2012 that evaluated public attitudes toward marine mammals in public display facilities. The overwhelmingly high percentage of support – 97 percent – remained consistent in both polls.
In addition, many continue to feel that people are more likely to be concerned about animals if they learn about them at marine life parks, aquariums and zoos. In both 2012 and 2005, 93 percent agreed with this statement.
“People feel that being able to connect with dolphins, killer whales, beluga whales and other marine mammals in facilities is important for education and conservation,” said Marilee Menard, executive director of the Alliance. “This is clear not only from the consistent support over time, as demonstrated by the two polls, but by the 45 million people who visit Alliance-accredited marine life parks, aquariums and zoos every year.”
Data from the 2012 poll shows that 94 percent of those polled agree that children are more likely to be concerned about animals if they learn about them at marine life parks, aquariums and zoos, and that visiting these facilities can inspire conservation action that can help marine mammals and their ocean environments.
The 2012 poll also found that 94 percent of people agree that zoological parks and aquariums offer valuable information about the importance of oceans, ocean environments and the animals that live there.
Additionally, the latest poll found that 89 percent agree that children learn more about marine mammals at an aquarium or zoo than in a school classroom, and 88 percent agree that you can learn about animals at marine parks in a way that can’t be replicated by watching film or TV programs. Some 91 percent agree that seeing a marine mammal at these facilities fosters a connection to the animal.
“When children – and adults – see and experience the excitement of being close to marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, and sea lions, it resonates in ways that even the most vividly illustrated book or video cannot. It is an emotionally enriching experience that fosters a sense of caring for these animals and their ocean environments,” said Menard, whose Alliance membership represents 55 accredited facilities that account for the greatest body of experience and knowledge about marine mammal care and husbandry in the world.
Other findings from the latest public attitude survey include:
• 94 percent believe the people who care for the animals at marine life parks, aquariums and zoos are committed to the welfare of the animals.
• 97 percent (ages 18-24) would be interested in swimming with dolphins.
• 93 percent believe that many of the successes to save endangered or declining species are at least in part a result of work done in marine life parks, aquariums and zoos.
• 90 percent agree that species in the wild benefit when their biology and physiology is studied in marine life parks, aquariums and zoos.
• 40 percent of Americans (about 125 million people) have visited a marine park, aquarium or zoo in the last 12 months, including 56 percent of households with children (about 20 million households).
• 90 percent believe that interacting with dolphins in a marine life park, aquarium or zoo offers people a deeper understanding and appreciation of this mammal.
“We pride ourselves on providing an educational and enjoyable experience for families,” Menard said. “Professionals at Alliance member institutions work every day to inspire guests of all ages to share their commitment to marine mammals, the need to protect them in the wild and to conserve ocean habitats.”
Harris Interactive® conducted the studies online within the United States on behalf of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums among adults age 18 and older. The 2004 study was conducted between Sept. 15-21, 2004 among 1,102 qualified respondents, and the 2011 study was conducted between August 29 and September 6, 2011 among 1,011 qualified respondents. The data were weighted where necessary to be representative of the total U.S. adult population on the basis of age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income. The propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.
The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums is an international association of marine life parks, aquariums, zoos, research facilities, and professional organizations dedicated to the highest standards of care for marine mammals and to their conservation in the wild through public education, scientific study, and wildlife presentations.
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!
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!