Our Quest


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 […]


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 […]


How Fun is That?

A dolphin named Tanner whistled wheezy squeals as Emily Guarino, Administrative Director of Research, explained the research games we would ask him to play.  Maybe because the sound came from his blowhole instead of his mouth, I couldn’t be sure where it came from.  Emily said that the sound is associated with high levels of dopamine, meaning Tanner was indisputably HAPPY. He was excited to play research games with me. Imagine my dopamine level. Many thanks to the dedicated staff at Dolphin Research Center who engineered that joy-fest.


Sea Lion Love

Both of the dolphinariums I visited last week host a couple sea lions amid their extensive dolphin collections.  There’s obviously a far greater demand for dolphin time than sea lion.  I asked Mary Stella, Director of Media and Marketing at Florida’s Dolphin Research Center what it is about sea lions that makes them less appealing than dolphins. She called that “an invalid question.”  Sea lions, she assured me, are charming and so smart that DRC’s Kilo responds to over 150 different requests from his handlers.  The only explanation Mary could offer for the disparity in popularity is that no sea lion rock star like Flipper has come forward to inspire mass adoration. I hope you won’t judge me when I admit that […]


Death Squirt

A beetle picked his way along a branch above a mangrove swamp. Wham! A geyser of water smacked him right in the kisser, dropping him into the water where he was snatched down a hungry gullet. On the other side of the globe, in Denver’s Downtown Aquarium, an innocent child climbs a ladder to stretch his arm over an exhibit and offer the fish a cricket. Wham! A powerful spurt smacks his palm dead-center, jolting the little guy with backsplash. The exhibit and swamp are each populated by hand-sized archer fish which specialize in precision squirts ranging to six feet.  I’d been captivated by an article about archers sometime back and am thrilled to find that the Denver aquarium not only has archer fish, it […]


Dreaming Deep

I had a bug-face.  I was floating near the bottom of a swimming pool, playing Frisbee–badly–with other bug-faced beings. Though my dreams had led me here, I wasn’t dreaming.  I was testing the waters to see if we had the right stuff for scuba diving.  I’d never dreamed that scuba was so physically challenging.  Not the swimming part, we hardly swam.  The strain came from coaxing a terrestrial body, long set in its ways, to accept a new order.  My lungs whined even before I took them down, and at just a few feet of depth, my head threatened implosion. Getting the ear canals to equalize to increased pressure sounded simple–take it […]


A Way With Whales

If all our research trips for Cruisers’ Guide to the Sea are as good as the one we took to Gloucester, this dream I’m wading into is even better than I thought.  Thanks to Cynde McInnis and Captain Jim of the Cape Ann Whale Watch, Steve and I cruised the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary for a week. As a volunteer on whale watch tours, I used our commute to the feeding grounds to talk to passengers about kinds of whales and their eating habits.  When the first spout lofted, we educators ran to the wheelhouse to help spot and record sightings, making ticks on charts to count the times we saw specific shale behaviors or body parts. […]

Man at ship's wheel statue