Meet our Team
Hi, my name is Anna Whisenhunt and I am a trainer here at Dolphins Plus. I am from the great state of Texas where I graduated with a major in psychology and a minor in biology from A & M University of Corpus Christi. When in college, I was lucky enough to get my first internship at Texas State Aquarium. Upon graduation, I attained a trainer position there. It wasn’t until my best friend Tara moved to Key Largo to be a trainer here at Dolphins Plus that I decided to do the same and follow my dreams. I am proud to say I am living out my dream that I have wanted and worked for since I was a girl!
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.
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.
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.
Hello, my name is Jenna Burgess and I am a part time trainer here at Dolphins Plus. Ever since I can remember, I have had a tremendous passion, dedication and love for marine life. I am originally from Saint Louis, Missouri so for the majority of my life I was landlocked. Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to travel with my family at a young age. It was my first experience with the ocean that I became hooked. I knew from the moment I laid eyes on the ocean, wiggled my toes in the sand, and saw my first dolphin jumping along side our boat during an excursion that this was the career path I wanted to pursue. This career path was solidified after my first trip to SeaWorld San Diego when I was about 6 years old. I remember looking up at my parents and saying, "I want to be a dolphin trainer when I get older." From that point on, I have focused my entire life on making this dream a reality. I later moved away from home and attended The University of Tampa where I graduated with my B.S. in Marine Science-Biology and minors in Chemistry and Environmental Science. During my college career, I traveled to South Africa where I studied great white sharks as well as their local marine mammal populations. After graduating and completing another shark related internship, I moved to Key Largo to continue my journey of becoming a dolphin trainer. I became part of the Dolphins Plus family first as a Guest Service Agent and later as an intern. I completed an internship first at Island Dolphin Care and then at Dolphins Plus working with their Atlantic bottlenose dolphin populations. After completing both internships, I began working once again as a Guest Service Agent at Dolphins Plus. A few months later, I was offered a part-time trainer position and of course I accepted! I am one step closer to becoming a full-time dolphin trainer and fulfilling my ultimate dream. I am beyond excited to continue my journey as a trainer with my Dolphins Plus family and am happy to get the opportunity to learn from their truly amazing, talented, and knowledgeable staff! It has been a long time coming, but the wait was dolphinately worth it!
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
Johanna Mejia-Fava, PhD, DVM, originally from Tarrytown, NY, is a graduate of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She completed her PhD in marine mammal ophthalmology, testing intraocular pressures in the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) to establish a normal reference range. Sugar, one of the Dolphins Plus female sea lions, was the first animal she studied. Dr. Mejia-Fava made the commitment twelve years ago to start the study and travel weekly from Miami to the Keys to collect eye pressures with her husband Joe after the original study in Gulfport, MS was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina. She spent a year working at the Miami Seaquarium and then was accepted to an aquatic internship at Cayman Turtle Centre. She then completed a residency in zoo and aquatic medicine at the University of Georgia and Georgia Aquarium. Her goal was to return to the Florida Keys where she had grown to love the Dolphins Plus family of animals and their unique way of caring for each individual animal. She is currently the director of veterinary medicine, research associate, development consultant, and holistic medicine advisor for Dolphins Plus, Inc. Her research interests include ophthalmology, nutrition, supplementation, and discovering ways to better support geriatric animals naturally. She is also the co-founder of Animal Necessity, LLC, a company devoted to researching the benefits of natural supplements in domestic, zoo, and aquatic animals. “Dr. Jo” (as we call her) is always trying to find the best holistic, diagnostic, and treatment protocols to provide preventive medical management for our animals.
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!
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.”
Hi! My name is Sarah, and I am a trainer here at Dolphins Plus. I am from sunny San Diego, CA, where I spent my childhood in the ocean as much as possible. I was lucky to have my dad introduce me to SCUBA diving at a young age, and this constant exposure to the undersea world developed my passion for marine mammals, conservation, and exploration. I then was able to fuel my passion for marine mammals during my college years at Colorado State University by doing two animal care and training internships with the Navy Marine Mammal Program, and also was a Ram Handler for CSU’s mascot, CAM the Ram. After graduation, I secured a trainer position at Dolphins Plus and quickly packed my bags and headed to Key Largo! Every day I am inspired by the beauty of the keys, and my dolphin family here!
Hey everyone! My name is Tara Blaise and I am one of the trainers here at Dolphins Plus. Working with marine mammals has always been a dream of mine since an early age. My first trip to sea world at 6 years old made me realize that this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. During high school I volunteered at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut with belugas and stellar sea lions. While I was in college, I acquired an internship at Sea Life Park in Hawaii. I was hired on after my internship where I worked with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins as well as sea lions. From there I moved to Texas to become a trainer at the Texas State Aquarium, where I worked with 4 male Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and North American river otters. Knowing working with dolphins in Florida was my main goal, I applied to Dolphins Plus! After I was offered the position I drove down and started my new training position. I’m so excited to be part of this team of amazing animals and people and cannot wait to see what Dolphins Plus has in store for me!