Meet our Team
Hi! My name is Alex Sneed and I am a trainer at Dolphins Plus Bayside. Although, I am originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, my heart has always belonged to the sea. From a very young age, I had a passion for marine mammals and this love has only continued to grow. My journey began when I graduated from the University of North Carolina, Asheville, in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. While in college, I completed an equine assisted therapy internship at Eliada Home in Asheville, N.C. After graduation, I moved to Clearwater Beach, Florida for my first marine mammal internship at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. My experiences there put me on the path to my next internship at Dolphins Plus Bayside. My internship began in August of 2015 and I completely fell in love with the facility, staff, and of course, the animals! I loved Dolphins Plus Bayside so much that I chose to stay on as a volunteer and was offered a full-time position as a dolphin trainer. Although I am just beginning my journey at Dolphins Plus, I have already learned so much. Marine mammals are my passion, this is my dream job, and I am so excited to be a part of this wonderful team!
Trainer/Research Intern Co-coordinator
Hey everyone! My name is Bethany Wallace and I am a dolphin trainer at Dolphins Plus Oceanside. I grew up with a variety of animals in Georgetown, Texas, ranging from farm animals to various reptiles. My parents were always supportive of my passion for working with marine mammals and for many of my birthdays took me to visit Sea World, San Antonio. I graduated from Texas A & M, Corpus Christi with a Bachelor’s of Science in Animal Biology, a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology, and a minor in chemistry. After I graduated, I received my Master of Professional Science (M.P.S.) degree in Marine Mammal Science from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Before working at Dolphins Plus, I completed two animal care and training internships; the first was at Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas working with the mammal department and the second at Mystic Aquarium where I worked with belugas. As a student at UM, I completed the animal care/research internship at Dolphins Plus, during which I was offered a full time position as a dolphin trainer and the rest is history. Though I have a lot to learn, I love working here at Dolphins Plus because of all the different activities and opportunities I experience each and every day. Each day is different and the dynamic pace keeps me on my toes! I am always excited about what is to come and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Trainer/Research Intern Co-coordinator
Hi there! My name is Brittany Poelma, and I am a marine mammal trainer for Dolphins Plus Oceanside. I attended the University of Southern Mississippi and graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Psychology with a minor in Dance. While in college, I was fortunate to be a part of the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory, where I gained a deep love for marine mammal research. After completing the Animal Care and Training internship at Dolphins Plus, I spent three years working for various marine mammal facilities. I was privileged to combine my love of both animal care and research while working with amazing animals like orcas, belugas, otters, and (my personal favorite) dolphins. Being a part of the Dolphins Plus family is a dream come true! My hope is to inspire people to care about these incredible animals and their ocean home, while also continuing to develop our knowledge of marine mammals. "In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught." - Baba Dioum.
Hi everyone! My name is Catherine Mathers and I'm a marine mammal trainer at Dolphins Plus Bayside. Growing up in Miami, Florida I fell in love with the ocean and the marine life within. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to work with marine mammals. I would constantly beg my parents to take me to the Miami Seaquarium and Sea World, where I experienced many programs including Sea World’s Trainer for a Day and dolphin swims at the Miami Seaquarium. Once I experienced marine mammals first hand, I was hooked. Additionally, at a very young age, I read books about animal training and would even apply what I read to train my very own pets at home. My training career began training great apes in Miami at the Monkey Jungle, where I worked with great apes for three years and loved every minute. I graduated from Florida International University (FIU) with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. After I graduated, I got accepted into the Dolphins Plus internship program where I learned what it takes to take care of marine mammals. Two months after my internship I was offered a job at Dolphins Plus. Today I work with dolphins and it has been a dream come true!
Hello, my name is Chantal Borguss and I am lucky to be a trainer here, at Dolphins Plus Oceanside. Although born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I was raised here in the Florida Keys and have been around dolphins for as long as I can remember. I learned how to swim at an early age, and from then on, I haven't been able to stay out of the water. I feel as though I was destined to work with marine mammals. I guess you can say that it is in my blood. My mother and father were the original trainers of these amazing animals and the founders of Dolphins Plus Oceanside. Dolphins Plus Oceanside opened to the public in 1980, when I was just one year old, and from then on these animals have been a part of my family. Although I have explored different jobs, I could never truly get marine mammals out of my system or off of my mind. I have worked and gained experience in every department at Dolphins Plus Oceanside, including reservations and photo, but have never been happier than I have been in these past two years as a dolphin trainer. One of my favorite aspects of the job is swimming with the dolphins in our natural swim, or snorkeling program. The connection I have with my "finned family" is unexplainable. However, the best part of all is being able to share my passion for marine mammals with the amazing guests I meet every day.
Hi! My name is Evan Norris and I am a dolphin trainer at Dolphins Plus Bayside. Although, originally from a small town outside of Cleveland, Ohio, I moved to Daytona Beach, Florida when I was six years old. My love for animals began at a young age. I grew up helping my grandparents, who bred Miniature Schnauzers and Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, and often spent time watching my grandpa train the dogs. During my free time I could also be found out at the barn riding my horse. I attended the University of South Florida in Tampa, where I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with a minor in American Sign Language. I began interning at Clearwater Marine Aquarium while still in college and fell in love with the field. I went on to intern with Dolphin Quest Bermuda and Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo Elephant department before I was offered a seasonal position as a Zookeeper working with the Non-profit Manatee Hospital and Florida Boardwalk Animals. After my time at the zoo, I made the move to Key Largo and began an animal care and training internship with Dolphins Plus Bayside. To my surprise, I was hired shortly after starting my internship and it has been an adventure ever since. My favorite part of the job is that I am always learning, whether it comes from the awesome team of trainers I get to work with or the amazing animals that have stolen my heart. I learn something new everyday. I love being able to combine my love for animal training and educating our guests about our dolphins and share to the public how they can make a real difference to help our dolphins' counterparts in the wild. A quote that I have always loved is, "In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught."- Baba Dioum.
Trainer/Animal Care Intern Co-coordinator
Hey everyone! My name is Hannah and I’m a dolphin trainer at Dolphins Plus Bayside. I’m originally from Greensburg, a small farm town in Southeastern Indiana. Since I’m from the Midwest, I was hardly exposed to marine life as a child. However, when I was 13, my dad and I swam at Dolphins Plus Bayside and it was love at first dolphin kiss! From that moment forward, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I began volunteering at my local animal shelter throughout high school and for two years participated in the Indianapolis Zoo’s ZooTeen program. After high school, I attended Ball State University where I received my Bachelor of Science in Biology, with an emphasis in Zoology. Before I began working at Dolphins Plus, I spent a month in Africa contributing to a local conservation research project, interned at Bayside in the fall as an animal care intern, then was hired at Dolphins Plus Bayside during an internship at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in the spring of 2016. As a newer member of the marine mammal training team, I look forward to learning from my colleagues and finned friends everyday. "Love what you do and do what you love. Don't listen to anyone who tells you not to do it." Follow your dreams they do come true!
Holli Eskelinen, Ph.D.
Assistant Director of Research
Learning about the ocean and advancing marine mammal science is my passion! My fascination with dolphins began early, with a visit to SeaWorld and from that day forward I was captivated. Although raised in beautiful Colorado, I always ventured to the ocean, from family vacations to schooling. I journeyed to California to obtain my Bachelor of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology. Between degree programs, I had an opportunity to intern at Island Dolphin Care, which further drove my passion to learn more about the species. After returning to California to further my education in Animal Behavior, I was offered the coveted position of working with the animals at Dolphins Plus Oceanside. Hired as an animal care staff in early 2001, my dreams of working with these amazing creatures were fulfilled. Learning proper care, training, and building relationships with the population took time, which I was more than willing to invest. During my first year, I had the pleasure of working with dolphins such as Fonzie, Squirt, Isla, and in the fall of 2001, I was placed with LB, Ding, and their son Cosmo. Over the next several months, I learned that training three dolphins simultaneously was challenging, but with proper training, I was able to be a part of their dynamic team and we worked harmoniously together. For over a decade, I have been one of LB and Ding’s (and their calves: Cosmo, Kai, Julie, BB) primary trainers. During this time, I developed amazing relationships with these animals, and learned more about animal behavior and myself than I ever dreamt possible. A few years into my career, my yearning to learn more about the animals became the driving force for advancing my education. While working full time at Dolphins Plus Oceanside, I acquired my M.S. and Ph.D. in Research Psychology and became the Assistant Director of Research. Through my schooling and mentors, I gained the knowledge to derive appropriate research methodologies, proper sampling techniques, and the means to analyze findings with statistics. Through my evolution of wanting to work with dolphins and desire to learn more about their behavior, communication, cognitive abilities, and how they perceive their world, I realized that learning more about our population of animals, contributing to the existing body of literature, and educating the public is crucial to protecting and furthering our understanding of the species. My passion for advancing marine mammal science is fueled daily by numerous non-invasive, independent investigations at Dolphins Plus Oceanside, including marine mammal development, social dynamics, communication, acoustic development, cognition, and conservation, as well as by serving on multiple graduate student committees (Masters, Ph.D.). I am blessed to live my dream working with and studying the species, and embrace the role of scientist, educator, and caretaker.
Trainer/Animal Care Intern Co-coordinator
Hey there! My name is Hunter Kinney and I am originally from southern Kentucky. Although I grew up hundreds of miles away from the ocean, nothing could keep me from chasing my dream of becoming a dolphin trainer. My professional career with animals began in high school when I began volunteering with birds of prey. This experience led me to become the director of a small nature center, a position that provided me the opportunity to build a foundation in animal care. Towards the end of my college career, I decided it was time to follow my passion of working with marine mammals and completed an animal care and training internship at Dolphins Plus Oceanside, after which I was offered a full time position as a dolphin trainer. While I accepted a position in the fall of 2015, I had to go back to Kentucky for a couple of months to complete my bachelor’s degree in Animal Studies. As soon as I could, I packed my bags and headed south to begin living my dream and haven’t looked back! I am so thankful for the amazing opportunity to take care of our dolphin family, to teach our guests how they can protect wild dolphins, and to come to work each day and learn from each interaction with the animals. Although I would love to spend seven days a week at Dolphins Plus, I also enjoy spending time by (or in) the water and hanging out with friends.
Dolphins Plus offers a unique opportunity to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as recent graduates, interested in obtaining practical experience in the marine mammal training field. Interns work both in groups and individually with our professional animal trainers, animal care staff, and research scientists in all aspects of day-to-day facility operations.
Trainer/Animal Care Intern Co-coordinator
Hi! My name is Jenna Billings and I am a dolphin trainer here at Dolphins Plus Bayside. Always an animal lover, I grew up in Bear, Delaware with my dog and pony. I loved horseback riding and cherished the responsibility of caring for such an amazing animal. My love of dolphins began at a very young age and was furthered by summer trips to various locations within Florida with my grandparents. My favorite of those trips was to SeaWorld, Orlando, where I first encountered dolphins at five years of age. From that moment forward, I fell in love with these mammals and dreamt of becoming a dolphin trainer. Eventually, I experienced the Trainer For a Day program at SeaWorld and learned what it would be like to be a marine mammal trainer. Needless to say, my passion for these mammals grew exponentially after that incredible experience. In May 2015, I graduated from the University of Delaware and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and animal science. Interestingly, my favorite class was Swine Production, where I was responsible for caring for a sow and her ten piglets, and learned a great deal about these intelligent animals. Happily, the summer after graduation, I was fortunate enough to complete an animal care and training internship right here at Dolphins Plus Bayside, where I learned a great deal about the dedication it takes to care for dolphins, as well as the critical role trainers have in teaching the public about the conservation and protection of marine mammals in the wild. After the internship, I packed my bags and moved to Bermuda for four months for another great internship at Dolphin Quest, where I continued to learn about dolphins and what it takes to become a trainer. Finally, my childhood dream became a reality when I accepted a dolphin training position here at Dolphins Plus Bayside. My favorite aspects of the job include the relationships built between the trainers and the animals and the continuing education we receive on the job. I learn something new everyday from the supervisors, staff, and the grey faces. I also love interacting with people from all over the world, sharing my passion for these animals with them, and teaching them about what they can do to help conserve marine mammals and improve the health of our oceans. One of my favorite moments with guests is fostering the connection they form with the dolphins in the interactive programs. Ultimately, making a difference and teaching guests about these animals is the most rewarding part of being a marine mammal trainer!
Greetings from Key Largo, Florida! My Name is Jessica Lilli and I have been a marine mammal trainer since 2004. I am originally from Pennsylvania, and worked my way through college at the Arc of Northeastern PA in Scranton. This agency provides many different services to adults with special needs including vocational, personal, communication, motor and other skills. Throughout my 6.5-year employment, I learned about the principles of behavior modification and held many different positions at the Arc such as job coach, recreational aide, and group leader at the Arc’s day services center. In 2003, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science/Biology degree from East Stroudsburg University. Later, in 2004, I moved to the Florida Keys to attain a position with a shrimp hatchery as an algae biologist. There, my position entailed growing food for the shrimp to eat. As my seasonal position at the hatchery came to an end, a training position opened up at Dolphins Plus Bayside. I quickly submitted my resume and, thankfully, was integrated into this family-run company (both dolphins and co-workers). Throughout my years at Dolphins Plus Bayside, I have learned about every aspect of life. Working with animals has always been my passion and to be honest I don’t feel like I have worked a day in the last decade. One of my favorite quotes is, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” - Confucius
Johanna Mejia-Fava, PhD, DVM
Hey there! My name is Katelyn Nance and I am the newest member of Dolphins Plus’s marine mammal training team. I grew up in a small town in Ohio and have always had a love for all animals, especially marine mammals. My interest in marine ecosystems continued to grow as I did. I graduated with a Zoology degree from Ohio Wesleyan University. After graduation, I accepted a seasonal position at the Columbus Zoo in their animal programs department. It was there where I realized my passion for training, and where I had my first animal handling and training experience from a team of amazing teachers, mentors, and now life long friends.
In the spring of 2015 I completed an internship at Dolphins Plus. This internship experience opened up my eyes to the possibility of combining my two passions of training and marine life into one.
After my internship, I returned home and continued to work for the Columbus Zoo. I continued to grow as a trainer and a public speaker, until the opportunity arose for me to join the Dolphins Plus team! I readily accepted the position and am more than thrilled about this opportunity. I am excited to see what the future holds with new mentors and grey finned friends!
Hi! My name is Katie Hernandez and I am the Veterinary Technician at Dolphins Plus. Originally from New Hampshire, I grew up with a passion for animals, and always yearned for experience with marine mammals. In 1998, at the age of nineteen, I initiated my career at Dolphins Plus in the Reservations Department, where I enjoyed interacting with people and was thrilled to work for a facility with marine mammals. Over time, I longed to be outside working more closely with the dolphins. Thus, I transitioned into the Dolphins Plus Photo Department, where I became the Supervisor of Photography and maintained this position for over ten years. In my eyes, this was the best of both worlds, as I was able to be outside, near the dolphins, and also interact with people (I have the gift of gab!). The more time I spent outside, the more opportunity I had to observe our veterinary team as they examined the animals and performed diagnostics such as voluntary blood samples and ultrasounds. I also participated in and observed husbandry training sessions with the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. From that point forward, I was hooked and began spending the majority of my time in the veterinary lab. When Dolphins Plus obtained their first ultrasound machine, I asked if I could learn to ultrasound the dolphins and jumped in with both feet, studying papers and learning about ultrasonography on my own time. The veterinarians became my mentors and the learning process continues to this day. Before I knew it, I was moved into the veterinary department as a full time veterinary technician in the summer of 2016 and I have enjoyed every minute. Over the twenty years I spent with Dolphins Plus, I also managed to start a human family and am grateful for my loving husband, Mike, of twenty years, a stepdaughter, Amanda, (two beautiful granddaughters), three daughters Savannah, Saharra, and Samara, and two wonderful foster children.
Kelley Winship, Ph.D.
Hi! My name is Kelley Winship, and I am a research associate and dolphin trainer at Dolphins Plus Oceanside. I grew up in Tampa, Florida, where some of my fondest childhood memories involve walking along Bayshore Boulevard looking for dolphins in the Tampa Bay. My parents were very supportive of my interest in dolphins, a passion I had since before I can remember, and strongly encouraged me to pursue my dream of working with these incredible animals. I attended the University of Miami where I double-majored in Marine Science and Biology with a minor in Psychology. Knowing that I wanted to attend graduate school to participate in marine mammal research, I joined as many marine science organizations that I could, including becoming president of the Marine and Atmospheric Science Honor’s Society and a member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Team. I even interned at Dolphins Plus Oceanside the summer after my freshman year! After receiving my Bachelor’s of Science at UM, I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a student in Dr. Stan Kuczaj’s Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Lab at the University of Southern Mississippi, where I specialized in Experimental Psychology. I spent the summer of 2013 collecting data for my Master’s of Arts degree here at Dolphins Plus, exploring cooperative problem solving behavior in dolphins (check out our research page for more information on this published study). I returned the following summer to assist the research department, and amazingly, Dolphins Plus hired me on full-time in the spring of 2015, a fantastic realization of my long-time dream job. Currently, I am a doctoral candidate through the University of Southern Mississippi, and hope to graduate with my doctorate this May. My primary research interests lie in animal cognition, or how animals perceive and interact with their world. Most of what we have learned about dolphin cognition has been discovered through controlled studies of these animals, and fortunately for me there is still so much more to learn. I feel extremely lucky to work at a facility where not only am I involved directly with the training process of cognitive behaviors and running research trials, but I am supported by fellow staff members who are just as excited about research as I am. My favorite parts of my day include being able to share the knowledge that we have learned about these animals with our guests, participating in cognition training sessions with Isaac, BB, and Alfonz, and seeing their excitement when they learn something new! When I am not working on a research project, I enjoy reading, watching “Chopped”, and taking advantage of living in the beautiful Florida Keys.
Hi, my name is Kim McCallister and I am the Assistant Supervisor of Dolphins Plus Bayside’s animal care team! My career began in 2011, shortly after completing my Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science from Eckerd College, in St Petersburg, Florida. I spent two summers interning with the Eckerd College Dolphin Project, participating in their ongoing bottlenose dolphin photo identification and acoustic surveys in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, I began volunteering weekly at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and eventually secured an internship position with Dolphins Plus Bayside the summer before my senior year. I fell in love with the Dolphins Plus Bayside family and affirmed my lifelong dream of pursuing a career in marine mammal training. After graduating the following spring, I returned home to Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania determined to make my dream a reality. A few weeks later I received the opportunity to interview with Dolphins Plus Bayside and was fortunate enough to be offered a position on their animal care team. I ecstatically accepted and moved to the sunny Florida Keys that fall. It has been an adventure ever since! They say if you love your job, you will never work a day in your life. I can honestly say that this is true. Being a dolphin trainer is as challenging as it is rewarding, and every day reminds me of how much more there is for me to learn. Our field is not just about swimming with dolphins, it’s about inspiring conservation through interaction and awareness. My favorite part of the job is not only working and learning with the animals, but also having the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for marine mammals with guests from around world. It’s a pretty great day at the office!
Hey there! My name is Krista Silva and I have been a marine mammal trainer at Dolphins Plus Oceanside for 3 years. I am originally from Sandown, New Hampshire and dreamt of working with animals since childhood. I attended a small college in Massachusetts, obtained an Associates degree in Liberal Arts, and then moved to sunny southern California to make my dream a reality. In California, I attended Moorpark College where I gained experience training a variety of species, from toucans to tigers. After graduating from Moorpark with an associate degree in Animal Behavior, Exotic Animal Training and Management, and Wildlife Education, I did an internship at the New England Aquarium where I worked with fur seals, California sea lions, and Atlantic harbor seals. Although marine mammals have always captured my heart and my focus, I craved training experience with other exotic animals. Subsequently, I was offered a position working with exotic animals in northern New Hampshire and had the time of my life running shows all over the northeast with animals from around the world. After sending in my resume and traveling to Florida for an interview, I was offered a position at Dolphins Plus Oceanside. I took the plunge to Key Largo and have loved my life ever since. I am now a senior trainer and have earned the title of Assistant Supervisor. My favorite part of the job is building relationships with the dolphins every single day. When choosing your career path, my advice is, “Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life”.
Hey, I’m Kyle Lane, and I’ve had the privilege of working here at Dolphins Plus Bayside and Dolphins Plus Oceanside since 1995. I originally hail from Long Island, New York, but moved to Miami in the seventies. Growing up in South Florida, I was exposed to the outdoors and developed a fondness for the ocean via water sports. I first experienced marine mammals and met my first dolphin when I was 8 years old at Miami Seaquarium. Subsequently, despite my interest in marine biology, I pursued a degree in Audio Engineering and enrolled in the University of Miami School of Music. There, I switched majors and received a Bachelor of Arts in Music Business and Entertainment. A few years after graduation, a great friend asked me if I was interested in a part time job doing underwater maintenance work at Dolphins Plus Oceanside. I jumped at the opportunity. The part time job has now lasted almost twenty incredible years. Most all of my training and education was “on the job" and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to work with amazing animals and people. My favorite part of this job is that I get to work where I can make a difference in the world. I have had so many rewarding experiences in my journey that it is hard to say which are the best. If I were pressed to answer, I would have to say it would be facilitating guest encounters with the animals. I cherish the very special moment when people first meet and learn about marine mammals and am allowed to be part of that every day.
Assistant Director of Training
Dolphins have been my passion for as long as I can remember, perhaps a strange passion for a young boy from London England. At the age of seven, my family surprised me with a visit to Key Largo Florida, and the opportunity to do the natural swim with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins at Dolphins Plus Oceanside. Since then, I have never looked back. Year after year, I would return to swim with and learn from these incredible animals, while pursuing degrees in Animal Science and Developmental Psychology. During this time I worked with and trained horses, traveling around the United Kingdom and Europe as a competitive show jumper. In 2010, I moved to Florida full time and I am happy to say, Dolphins Plus is now my home!
I am the Assistant Director of Training at Dolphins Plus Oceanside and I am responsible for training the dolphins and the trainers alike. Since I started at Dolphins Plus, I have been lucky enough to work with and train all of the dolphins located at Dolphins Plus Oceanside. I built unique relationships with each of them and am currently working with our two youngest dolphins, Tug and Jett. I look forward to watching them grow and learn in the same way I have watched so many of their siblings and fellow pod members. I equally enjoy training younger staff members, and watching them grow and form their own relationships with the dolphins whilst, developing their knowledge of animal training.
Dolphins Plus, the staff, and most importantly the dolphins are my entire life and I cannot imagine doing anything else.
Assistant Director of Education
“Live the Dream.” That was the theme of an airshow I attended a few years ago. Attending these yearly airshows always refuels my first true love of flying, but this particular airshow made me realize I had not chosen between two flight paths, but rather I had found a way to fulfill all of my dreams. While growing up as a contributing member of a farm family on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I not only learned the value of good old-fashioned hard work, but I developed a lifelong love for animals. Naturally, being surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, that love for animals translated into a love for anything in the ocean. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Science and Policy, my flight path took me to California where I was able to cultivate my teaching skills and experience first-hand the value of experiential education. I finally landed in Key Largo, where I have been afforded the opportunity to really ‘Live the Dream.” I started at Dolphins Plus Oceanside in 2001 as a member of the animal care team. My first few years were filled with learning animal behavior, animal training philosophies, and most importantly, building relationships with our resident dolphins. The bonds I have been encouraged to create with these amazing animals are a gift that I will always treasure. Over the years, my role at Dolphins Plus Oceanside has evolved. Currently, I am part of the animal care team, a primary trainer for several of the animals that have become my family, and take on the many responsibilities of being the Assistant Director of Education. It is a dream come true to balance my love for these animals with my passion for education. I hope to inspire each and everyone I meet to find their passion in life and truly “Live the Dream.”
Hey everyone! My name is Melissa and I am a marine mammal trainer here at Dolphins Plus Bayside and a proud parent of two beautiful girls. Growing up on Long Island, I was in awe of the ocean, and for as long as I can remember I have wanted to work with marine mammals. As a child, my family would go to Disney World every other year and I would beg them to take me to Sea World. For my 30th birthday, I decided it was time to at least swim with dolphins. I took my family to Discovery Cove and when it came time to leave I felt an intense feeling of emptiness. I knew, then and there, my life would never feel complete until I followed my dreams. I immediately went back to school and began volunteering at Maymont’s Nature Center in Richmond, VA. I also completed two workshops for animal training while I was in school, a Dolphin Lab at Dolphin Research Center and the ABC Animal Training’s, Dolphin Trainer Academy. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University, I moved my family to sunny Key Largo, Florida, where I completed an animal care and training internship at the Oceanside facility. I fell in love with the facility and decided to volunteer at their Bayside location. Ten months later, I accepted a position as a full time trainer and I love every minute of it. I am living proof that it’s never to late to follow your dreams!
Nancy Cooper, M.P.S.
Director of Training
Hey guys! My name is Nancy Cooper and I am the Director of Training for Dolphins Plus Oceanside and Dolphin Plus Bayside in sunny Key Largo, FL. My job is to train the humans and the dolphins and, as you may suspect, the humans are considerably more challenging! Since childhood, I dreamt of becoming a dolphin trainer. However, I was born in Lexington, KY, where there are no dolphins. I graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, GA with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology and Human and Natural Ecology (Co-Major). During college, I acquired volunteer experience with The Dolphin Project, where I participated in wild bottlenose dolphin population studies along the east coast. Subsequently, I moved to Louisville, KY and worked as a veterinary technician at a 24-hour animal hospital, then for an equine veterinarian, Hermitage Farm, and finally for a group of veterinary specialists. Longing to work with dolphins, I sent my resume to Dolphins Plus Oceanside, flew down for a two-day interview, and in 1998 was hired to become a part of this amazing dolphin family. My experiences as a veterinary technician benefit me everyday, as ensuring and maintaining the health of our dolphin population is a crucial part of my job. After many years at Dolphins Plus Oceanside, I decided to enter graduate school, as there is always more to learn about marine mammals. Thus, in 2013, I obtained a Masters of Professional Science (MPS) degree in Marine Mammal Science from University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. In addition to my dolphin “kids”, I have a human child, Riley, who is my inspiration, my amazing husband, and two dogs, Jessie and Libby. Today, I am lucky enough to call Dolphins Plus Oceanside and Dolphin Plus Bayside my “happy places”, as going to “work” doesn't feel much like working at all. Love what you do, do what you love, and trust that your experiences along the way are meant to be.
My name is Taylor Barvais and I am a dolphin trainer at Dolphins Plus Oceanside. I am originally from Wichita, Kansas, but came to Florida to attend the Florida Institute of Technology and to follow my dream of becoming a marine mammal trainer. In May 2013, I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology. Throughout my college career, I worked with armadillos at a local zoo and volunteered at animal shelters in my free time. My childhood dream was to work with dolphins. Thus, in order to gain experience in this field, I accepted an internship with Dolphins Plus Oceanside in August 2013. During the last week of my internship, I was graciously offered a job at Dolphins Plus Oceanside. I began employment in November 2013 and have yet to look back. I work directly with our lovable dolphin family and am responsible for monitoring their health and wellbeing and to help people make their dreams come true. When I’m not working, I love working out, reading and making mini-cupcakes. I also love relaxing with my “second family”, which includes all of the staff and animals at this facility. My favorite part of working at Dolphins Plus Oceanside is building relationships with these amazing animals. I love coming into work everyday and being able to smile because this is my dream job!
Hi! My name is Wendy Kellam and I'm a dolphin-aholic. Over 25 years ago, my parents brought me to Dolphins Plus Oceanside to experience the natural swim and participate in a ten-day marine mammalogy class. The rest? History. I never left. I was intrigued with the idea of interacting with another species on their terms and sharing that experience/knowledge with our guests (and dolphins!). This is still my favorite part of the job. While my job title is dolphin trainer, I see myself more as an “interspecies facilitator”. I train humans to interact with the dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) on their terms and dolphins to interact with humans in both our Guided and Structured programs. I also have many years of experience working with dolphin assisted therapy, crewing on and facilitating swims with wild dolphins in the Bahamas, as well as swimming with humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)in the Dominican Republic. During my first year at Dolphins Plus Oceanside, there were several mass strandings of pilot whales (Globicephala) in the Keys. Thus, I was immediately indoctrinated into the world of marine mammal rescue, helping to rescue, rehabilitate and/or release many animals. Originally from Wilton, Connecticut, I graduated from Kalamazoo College in Michigan with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. I've always had a strong affinity for animals and behavior and have experience with animal assisted therapy with not only dolphins, but my ferrets, chinchillas, rabbits, guinea pigs and hedgehog as well. When not working, you’ll find me at home in Key Largo with my three sharpeis, Kismet, Shiitaki and Scrat. I love hiking, kayaking, skiing, travelling, music, mountains, forests and avocados… and my amazing friends, human and other! I have an interest in alternative health and am intrigued by the paranormal.