Florida


Dolphins Boosting Wounded Warriors

Since 2009 the Dolphin Research Center in Florida has been partnering with the Wounded Warrior Project to ease severely wounded heroes into healthy civilian lives.  Project Odyssey, named for Homer’s saga of a hero’s journey home, helps brain injured and PTSD warriors work through challenges and improve their outlook.  The warriors participate with peers in a three day retreat which includes dolphin dock interactions and a dolphin swim.  The atmosphere and activities are designed to invite warriors to connect with their outer world in a stress-free, nurturing environment. In addition to core goals of bonding with others on similar journeys, connecting with nature, and learning new skills in a novel setting, the program supports the warriors […]


Suffering Sweetness

After a walk in a Minnesota park I glanced at my shoes and started tearing my clothes off.  Ticks were swarming my laces, storming my socks, and breaking ground on my shins.  The battle was epic.  In Florida, mosquitoes ravaged my legs right through my leggings until I looked like I’d been kick-boxing cactus.  In Newfoundland, heavy clothes helped, but blackflies left knots all over my neck.  Then a Peruvian butterfly garden specimen perched on my arm and begin shoving its proboscis at my skin…drinking my sweat? Steve may be right about my being a bug magnet.  My parents used to call me “Sweetness” which sounds nice, but I’m beginning to suspect it […]


Weird Job

When our local paper asked for wacky, wonderful job stories, I had to share mine: “Can I squirt him in the eye?”  I felt weird being so blunt with the brave little geek in braids, but having graduated from high school in the seventies, I knew I’d feel weirder negotiating with five teens over shark tagging tasks.  So when the grad students got our shark situated under their bodies, I got to test his reflex, and his eye membrane nictated nicely which meant that he wasn’t too stressed.  On the next round I clipped a bit of tissue off another […]


Sea Quest: Florida


I Was a Dolphin Pool Toy

Imagine the patience and skill it takes to train these powerful, free spirits to play these games with any dolphin lover who signs up to be the ball.  The artistry required to make such programs safe using only positive reinforcement is mind boggling.  Many thanks to the Dolphins Plus team for their absolute dedication to helping dolphins support themselves by having fun with people like me.


Co-opted Super Hero

What does it take to make a superhero flight at parks like Dolphins Plus?  Two uber-educated dolphin specialists like Krista and Hunter–one to direct the dolphins, one to direct the “hero”.  I played the improbable, hero with marginal swimming and direction taking skills.  A photographer, and two exquisitely trained dolphins round out the team, though a group of enthusiastic spectators will add flare. The team makes the stunts look easy, but having played the hero, I marvel at the chemistry.  When I missed grabbing BB’s dorsal fin for a team pull, Isaac idled forward allowing me to catch BB and get situated before they punched it.  That coordination is child’s play for dolphins.  They regularly […]


Toothy Timberlands

A young woman put her foot on the boat rail, bracing herself to haul in a two-foot lemon shark for tagging.  As Environmental Specialist Pat O’Donnell grabbed the shark, he did a double-take on her boot–Really, Timberlands?  The extra-take took no more than a quarter-instant, just enough for the shark to sink its teeth into the boot toe. Once that shark chomped, there was no shaking it off.  The lemon was there to stay.  Pat assessed the situation and asked his volunteer crew if anyone had a camera. After the photo-shoot, tagging, and data collection, he used a screwdriver to pry the shark off and let it swim away.  The imprint of the shark […]


Who Doesn’t Want to Hold a Shark?

Photo provided by Patrick O’Donnell, Environmental Specialist in Fisheries The question came from Vanessa, a South Fort Myers High School girl who joined our Rookery Bay shark tagging trip with Pat O’Donnell.  Oddly enough, I seriously wanted to hold a shark.  Having read so much about them, I wanted to experience a living, gill-breathing, not too dangerous little shark in my hands for a heartbeat or two.  Sadly, all we met while fishing Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands were catfish, isopods, and several zillion mosquitoes.  Still, it was a thrilling experience, and I’m so glad that Pat is out there offering that opportunity to […]


Sharks as Science Bait

On a mission to meet sharks, I worked with students and teachers from schools on both Florida coasts.  The two instructors had gone above and beyond in prepping their classes.   We met four of Steven Wilkie’s freshly polished shark experts on our visit to the Ten Thousand Islands estuary with Environmental Specialist Pat O’Donnell.  Wilkie, of South Fort Meyers High, gives up uncounted evenings and a good deal of sleep to expose many such tiny groups to real-world research. He and O’Donnell also took pains to individualize their onboard lecture for Yazmin, a wannabe accounting major, by emphasizing the importance of statistics and data software in research.  […]


Stardust Dance

One of my Florida missions was to see the fluorescent algae that blooms on certain lagoons in June. Patrick O’Donnell, Environmental Specialist in Fisheries, showed me where to watch for the occasional greenish flashes from bioluminescent creatures that were disturbed by the passage of our boat. Comb jellies made saucer-sized flashes when bumped.  That was as good as it got that night because Steve and I had opted for May’s less sultry temps. When the fluorescent algae blooms, it leaves a shimmering wake behind the boat, or even a paddle stroke. Patrick once watched night rain transform a bay into a psychedelic dance floor, every drop bringing shine […]