Our family traveled the full length of Florida last month, from the pan handle all the way down to the Keys. This month, I’m blogging about some of the interesting stops we made along the way. One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida.
If you are looking for huge aquarium arenas and flashy shows, you won’t find them here. What you will see instead is a network of shaded walkways lined with sturdy park benches overlooking peaceful lagoons that serve as home to dozens of playful, friendly dolphins who seem genuinely happy and well cared-for.
The dolphins love to be talked to and will come quite close when given a little praise and encouragement. How delightful it was to sit on a bench at the water’s edge, enjoying a cool breeze on our faces while a couple of dolphins frolicked at our feet! It was calm and relaxing — I could have stayed there all day!
Dolphin Research Center is staffed with a full complement of trainers, researchers, and students who spend their days going from lagoon to lagoon, working with each dolphin individually and giving them lots of positive attention and affirmation.
At each stop, they explain to the crowd of onlookers exactly what they are doing with the dolphins and why.
Dolphin Research Center is also home to four sea lions (one of whom came to live there after becoming repeatedly stranded)…
… several exotic birds (also rescued or donated to the Center)…
and some impressively large but shy iguanas that are native to the area and run wild about the place like squirrels do back home. (The posted signs warned us not to touch, but they were fun to watch!)
You can also see a few near “celebrity” dolphins there, including the grandchildren of a dolphin star I grew up watching on a popular TV show called Flipper and another named “Summer” who was rehabilitated at the same Clearwater Marine Aquarium that was featured in the Dolphin Tale movies.
The whole set up affords some incredible views, like this amazing flip I snapped with my iPhone:
For an extra fee, you can pet the dolphins, hold a T-shirt “canvas” for them while they paint, get into the water with them, or even serve as “trainer for a day.”
Income from ticket sales and dolphin encounters helps provide a permanent home for these smart, beautiful creatures who for various reasons would not be able to survive on their own in the wild.
The people at DRC are not only passionate about dolphins, but are also big on education.
The onsite educational facility even offers an Associate’s Degree in Marine Mammal Behavior, Care and Training.
For those who live too far from the Florida Keys to visit Dolphin Research Center, the Dolphin Research Center website offers an extensive online library full of resources for all ages, including some fun activities, riddles, and learning games for younger students.
You can also read online about some of the fascinating studies the research department has done over the years.
Dolphin Research Center allowed six of us to visit as part of a US Family Guide blogger promotion in exchange for this honest review, but we paid for the rest of our children’s admissions and consider it money well spent.