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 […]
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.
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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.
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]