Dolphin Research Center
In March 2020, my husband and I planned a vacation in the Florida Keys. It was his first trip and my second visiting the Keys. We packed up our bikes and headed down to the condo we had rented. The plan was to meet some friends who had flown down from New Jersey. They rented a house about two blocks from where we were staying. Since there were twelve of them and only two of us, somehow our plans never jived. Thankfully, my husband and I enjoy spending time together. While they were off doing their thing, we planned our own excursions. Yet, we managed to get in a couple of dinners with everyone.
Each Key or island has a different name. We were in Marathon, which is part of the Grassy Key. On our way to our condo, we passed the Dolphin Research Center. I love dolphins, so I told my husband I wanted to check it out. We found ourselves at their welcome center a couple of days later.
We took a map, and away we went to the lagoons. As we walked along the docks, we saw Bottlenose dolphins staring up at us. We heard two trainers talk about all the characteristics of Bottlenose dolphins. Some I knew from working at Sea World San Diego, and others were new to me.
There are approximately forty-four species of dolphins. While the word “dolphin” is often used interchangeably, they are a group of diverse aquatic mammals with differing physical characteristics and habitats. Their scientific name is Odontoceti, but each has its own scientific and common name.
They are warm-blooded mammals who breathe air. They are highly intelligent, sociable, and playful animals. Found throughout the world’s oceans, dolphins are close relatives of whales.
Dolphins are carnivores. They hunt in pods and need to eat 3-6 percent of their body weight in fish. They have teeth but only use them to catch and hold their prey. Dolphins swallow fish whole.
These marine mammals evolved from land mammals whose legs were underneath their bodies. As a result, dolphins’ tails move up and down when they swim, unlike a fish’s tail, which moves sideways.
Dolphins do not mate for life. Male dolphins compete with other males over the females. They have an inbuilt compulsion to reproduce to preserve their survival. They have low reproductive rates because their growth is slow and do not mature sexually for 5-6 years. Females, after an eleven-to-seventeen-month gestation period, give birth to only a single calf. After delivery, calves may take a year or more to reach independence.
The dolphin’s number one enemies are humans. Due to their size and speed, they have a minimal number of natural enemies. Dolphins are social mammals among their own species and also to humans. They are easily trained to perform playful and entertaining stunts.
It was during one of these entertaining stunts we learned about Luna. Luna is a Bottlenose dolphin who was born in captivity at the DRC. She is the daughter of Pandora and AJ. Born on January 29, 2010, at 12:57 a.m. on the second full moon, making it a blue moon and inspiring Luna’s name. She also has a moon-shaped birthmark above her right flipper. I felt an instant attraction to her. She is curious like her mother and fearless of new objects; she has her father’s good looks. Luna loves to snuggle up to the trainers and get her belly rubbed.
Luna loves to be the center of attention. She enjoys athletic behaviors such as her ‘banana jump.’ And loves the mental challenge of various research games. I didn’t want to leave her. The pull to her was as strong as the moon’s gravitational pull on the ocean.
We learned Bottlenose Dolphins all have different dorsal tails. At DRC, a clever silversmith molded the different tails of each dolphin into silver charms for a necklace. Of course, I had to buy Luna’s!
DRC has an ‘adopt a dolphin’ program. The money is tax-deductible. It supports the dolphin of your choice for food and medical supplies. Luna became our adopted daughter. DRC, forced to close during the 2020 pandemic, meant no money coming in for food for the dolphins.
Our monthly donation of $75.00 helped and ensured the dolphins would have plenty of food. We currently donate $100 to be a ‘Pod Pal’ and plan on an estate planning donation, which our lawyer will put in our wills. Luna turned twelve this past January, and she can live to be fifty. We want to ensure her care after we’re gone.
If you ever find yourself in the Florida Keys, stop off at the Dolphin Research Center. One look into a Bottlenose dolphin’s eyes, and they’ll hook you too.