Sponsored by the Dolphin Research Center, Grassy Key, Florida.
Spring break is here and many are heading to Florida to remember what warmth is. When planning your next trip to the Florida Keys, be sure to include the Dolphin Research Center on your must-see list! Our family recently visited and had a truly magical experience. This small, intimate research center allows for an up-close and personal dolphin encounter.
Through education, research and rescue, Dolphin Research Center promotes peaceful coexistence, cooperation and communication between marine mammals, humans and the environment we share, with the well being of DRC’s animals taking precedence.
I was surprised at how close we were to these beautiful creatures. When I think about a dolphin experience, my imagination goes to that of Sea World and other large, amusement parks. This is not that type of experience. Instead you’ll find yourself standing just feet away from these amazing mammals of the sea. They tilt their head to peak at you as they swim by.
We started our day at the front lagoon where the female and juvenile dolphins live.
Older female dolphins teach the next generations of dolphins how to care for the babies. Pictured above are several adorable juvenile dolphins. There’s also a separate nursery area where babies are cared for and researchers spend their time observing and interacting with them.
The trainers present several educational programs throughout the day. It was amazing to see just how smart dolphins are. They present a shape (see the PVC square held above) under the water which corresponds with each dolphin. When their shape is presented under the water they know it’s their turn to participate.
The dolphins respond to both hand signals and whistle blows and seem eager and excited to play.
There’s not much more sweet than a baby dolphin showing off.
They had one routine performed to music. The rest of the education session was spent watching interaction with the trainer and opportunity to learn more about these amazing animals. Questions are welcome and encouraged.
A tour bus had arrived just before we did but there was plenty or room for everyone to see and shade from the sun.
Trainers interact with dolphins in a nearby lagoon.
I fell in love with dolphins during a trip to South Caroline with my husband and since that time interacting with a one has been a dream of mine. I was thrilled to find that the Dolphin Research Center had many educational dolphin experiences that we could purchase. Programs range in price from $25 to $695, making them affordable for a variety of budgets. You could swim with a dolphin, paint with a dolphin, see what it’s like to do research, be a trainer for a day, and many other up close and personal dolphin programs.
We chose the Meet a Dolphin program. Children under the age of 7 must have a paid adult accompanying them during the experience. There was no way I was missing out on this myself so that was no problem!
My parents have been staying in the Florida Keys for a month or two during the frigid winter months for several years now. This was their first visit to the Dolphin Research Center.
When we first got to meet the dolphins, my mom and I were sitting next to each other and reached out to feel their smooth back as they swam by. I looked over and both of us were holding back tears. It’s truly a magical experience to meet these gentle and curious animals.
Baby Kate didn’t know what to think about her dolphin encounter. Daddy held her toes out to touch the dolphin’s back but she preferred to wave from a distance instead.
My six-year old got to stay and learn from the trainer how they give the dolphins their vitamins for the day. It was fascinating to learn how they teach the dolphins how to interact to receive medical care from a young age. I was surprised to learn that they give them fresh water to drink each day. This helps keep them healthy but also allows for other medical interventions if necessary.
The back lagoons have the male dolphins and an area for dolphin encounters (shown to the right). All of the dolphins in the lagoon are being worked with during education times whether they’re part of an educational session or not which helps maintain their hierarchy within the group.
One of the rambunctious male dolphins did a huge jump for an education session and happened to make a huge splash near a group of trainers working with a pair of dolphins at a nearby platform. This guy had such a silly personality. Listen to him “laugh” at the end of the video clip above!
Trainers work with two male dolphins near the platform while another shows off his high jump for the crowd during an educational session. Wow! You can see the fence along the back of the lagoon which keeps the dolphins of the research center apart from those in the wild ocean, protecting them from a serious viral risk.
Two male dolphins show off for the crowd.
In addition to dolphins, the Dolphin Research Center is home to California sea lions, including Karen who, although blind, makes her way around the lagoon with ease.
It was also fun to hear how the famous movie, Flipper, was filmed at the Dolphin Research Center. They have a beautiful garden and sculpture dedicated to the dolphin/s who performed in the movie. In fact, several of the dolphin star’s descendants still reside at the research center. The trainers know each dolphin by name (using marks along their fins and the shapes and coloration of their face to tell them apart).
We were able to visit the photo hut at the end of our day at the Dolphin Research Center where we had opportunity to buy professional photos of our dolphin experience.
Because we were able to visit the center all day with our paid admission, we left for lunch at a nearby beach and returned with our older daughter while baby sister went home with grandma and grandpa for a nap. We had promised she could play in the outdoor splash pad. You can see part of the construction in the background where they’re building a new section of the research center.
The Dolphin Research Center is located in Marathon on Grassy Key in Florida. It’s easy to spot with their huge dolphin sculpture and sign out front. Although there’s no grand entrance or theme park, this tranquil spot in the keys is a must-see for visitors of all ages. Their dedication to the research and preservation of these beautiful mammals is evident.
Be sure to visit dolphins.org to learn more about your next visit to the Dolphin Research Center!
Disclosure: My family received admission and a dolphin experience at the Dolphin Research Center in exchange for my time sharing our memories. All thoughts and opinions are my own. All photos and videos here are of the Dolphin Research Center, Inc., Grassy Key, Florida.