Meet our Team
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.
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
Hi everyone! My name is Julianna and I am a trainer here at Dolphins Plus! Growing up I was blessed to have an ocean fanatic dad who passed his love for the ocean on to me. He used to pull me out of school early just to take me out fishing when I was younger! As I got older, all I wanted to do on my weekends was be out on the water. That’s when it clicked, and I realized I could never work inside surrounded by 4 walls all day. The summer of 2015 I did my first internship at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and then the following summer interned at Dolphins Plus Bayside. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the animals. Not to mention the team of trainers were amazing too! After my internship ended, I continued to volunteer while I was finishing my degree in psychology. I was born and raised in Miami and attended Florida International University, so the Florida Keys was not too far away. A few months after graduation, I was hired. Since then it has been a crazy adventure, and I have never been happier! Waking up and learning from these amazing animals is truly a dream job. Everyday I get to meet and educate people about marine mammals and how we are here for a bigger purpose. I am happy to call the Florida Keys my home!
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.
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, 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 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!
Hi! My name is Paula Aguilar and I am a marine mammal trainer at Dolphins Plus. Born in Colombia, my family and I moved to the United States when I was 12 years old. When I was 13 we went on a family vacation to Sea World Orlando where I fell deeply in love with dolphins. I earned a Bachelors of Science in Psychology and a Bachelors of Arts in Sociology from the University of Florida. The summer before my senior year I accepted an intern position here at Dolphins Plus, where I fell even more in love with dolphins, the field of marine mammal training, and the Florida Keys. Upon graduation, I was fortunate to gain valuable experience first with a summer internship back here in the keys at Theater of the Sea followed by a fall internship at Miami Seaquarium. After working very hard my dreams finally came true when I accepted a full time trainer position at Dolphin Connection, which brought me back to the Florida Keys! Things came full circle when nearly a year later I was offered a trainer position at Dolphins Plus and was lucky enough to return to the place that started it all. I am beyond happy to live my dreams and share my passion and love for these amazing animals each and everyday with our guests!