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 […]
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 […]
In search of attractions to add to our Deep South itinerary, I came across a coon dog cemetery. I like dogs and cemetery strolls, but I think it’s enough to know that this coon dog cemetery exists. If you’re thinking of adding it to your list, Labor Day might be the time to go. An annual festival includes Bluegrass music, hickory smoked barbecue, decorated graves, and a Liars Contest telling tall tales. No, really, it’s true!
The Denver Aquarium seemed like a good place to find audiences interested in hearing my Stirring Sea Secrets presentations, and it is, but when I contacted the education manager there I found I’d stumbled on a motherlode. Colleen Shipley’s standards for volunteer enrichment programs are stringent. Every driblet of information in my hour-long talk had to be cited to respectable sources. My terminology needed updating too. Starfish and jellyfish are now sea stars and sea jellies because they aren’t fish–the very sort of nitpicking I needed to bolster my confidence and credibility. Colleen’s passion for education keeps her running hard, but […]
Believe it or not most visitors to the touch pool at the Denver Aquarium take me up on the offer and get a thrill out of their hug. Why do these sea urchins gently squeeze our finger between their spines when we give them a chance? I’d tell you, but I’m afraid that if I look it up I’ll find out that the “hug” is an unfriendly reflex of some kind, and that would spoil everything.
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 […]
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 […]