Frequently Asked Questions

Here's a list of our most frequently asked questions. If you don't find your question on this list, please reach out to us via phone or chat. We'd be happy to answer any questions you may have our dolphin encounters, our facility, and trainers.

Guest Services FAQ

Do I need to make a reservation?

Reservations are recommended to ensure that you get a spot.  Walk-ins are welcome, but we may be booked and you may not have the chance to participate.

How do I make a reservation?

To make a reservation, please contact Dolphins Plus directly by phone at 1-866-860-7946 and one of our Guest Services Agents will be happy to assist you.  You may also make a reservation through on our website

What is your cancelation policy?

Payment in full is required to book a reservation.  Once reserved, our cancellation policy is as follows:

  • 7 days or more notice from program date – there is a full refund less a $10.00 service fee.
  • Less than seven days notice – 50% refundable
  • Within 24 hours of program – non-refundable

What if it rains?

Our programs take place rain or shine and as long as the water temperature is 55F or higher.   We do delay if there is lightning.  Most storms are quick to pass.   If we must cancel your session due to weather, you will receive a reschedule or a full refund, depending on which you prefer.

What do you recommend for sun protection?

Please bring a towel and bathing suit.  Regarding sun protection, we prefer the use of a long sleeve rash guard.  If sunscreen is needed, please use a mineral-based sunscreen; both are available in our gift shop.  Our mineral-based sunscreens are made of natural ingredients, which are biodegradable and tested safe for fish and coral larvae. Once you make your reservation, we will send a coupon code for our online store.  This coupon code gives you a 20% discount on rash guards and sunscreen.  This discount code is available online only - not valid in store. Select in-store pick up to receive your items when you check in.

Taking Photos

May I take a camera in the water?

Typically cameras are not allowed in the water.  The only exceptions to this may be a GoPro type camera that has a head strap.  If you have such a device, you may bring it with you and the Animal Care staff will determine if it is appropriate to use in water.

If you have spectators in your party, they are welcome to bring a camera or video camera. They will be shooting from the designated viewing area.  They may be shooting at an angle or distance, depending on where the participants are located in the lagoon.

Can my family come and watch?

Yes, your family can come and watch.  There is a general admission fee for spectators - $10.00 for adults and $5.00 for children.  Children six-years-old and under are free to observe.  If you have spectators in your party, they are welcome to bring a camera or video camera. They will be shooting from the designated viewing area.  They may be shooting at an angle or distance, depending on where the participants are located in the lagoon.

Why should I pre-book photos?

You should pre-book photos if you’d like to take advantage of our book-in-advance discounted rate of $89.95.  If photos are purchased after the session, they cost $109.95.   Each photo package includes (on average) 50+ medium- to high-resolution images of your encounter, which were taken by our photographers.  The images will be sent to you via email.

How do I view my photos, if I didn’t pre-book photos?

If you didn’t purchase the photo package, but would like to purchase photos later, you may request to view your photos on our website.  At the top of our home page, click on the words "request photos".  Please select this and provide your personal information in the form along with the date and time of your swim, as well as the names of the dolphins you encountered.  We will respond in an email with a link to view your photos online as quickly as possible.

You may also contact one of our Guest Service Specialists directly at 1-305-451-4060 or by emailing us.

In the photo link that was emailed to you, select the photos you would like to purchase or the option to purchase all to be added to your cart. Once you have loaded items in your cart submit your order. A Guest Service Specialist will contact you to confirm payment

Why aren’t observers allowed down on the dock to take pictures?

Only guests participating in our dockside or in-water interaction programs are permitted on the training platforms.  Space on our floating docks is limited and therefore, for guest and animal safety, is reserved only for training staff and guest service personnel assisting individuals directly involved in our dolphin encounters. Spectators are permitted along the concrete walkway, adjacent to our dolphin lagoon, and may take photos or video of our sessions from this designated area. Additionally, our facility does its best to provide professional photographers to take pictures of every program participant.  If a photographer has been assigned to your friends’ or family’s program, he or she will be more than happy to provide you with the information and steps on viewing the photos online after the session.

Interactions rules and safety

Why do I have to wear a flotation vest? I am a great swimmer!

Our insurance policy requires that our swimmers wear vests for all programs, and is meant to increase overall safety.  The structured swim requires guests be in deep water, thus, the vest allows you float comfortably in the water, enabling you to focus on the dolphins.  This will be helpful when doing behaviors with the dolphins (body rubs, kisses, handshakes), which require you to float in a standing position.

Can pregnant women swim with the dolphins?

No. Our insurance policy does not allow pregnant guests to enter the water with the dolphins. However, pregnant women are permitted to participate in any of our dockside interactions (Dolphin Dockside, Kiss Program and Paint Program). It is sensationalized information that the animals become aggressive towards pregnant individuals - it is simply untrue. Dolphins’ echolocation gives them the ability to detect if a woman is pregnant in the water, and the ability to see the baby and heartbeat. Anecdotally, staff have actually seen the animals become quite curious, attentive, and gentle towards pregnant trainers.

I have a 5-year-old who has been dying to touch a dolphin, can the trainer just have him come down and touch them at the end of the session?

Unfortunately, the trainers are unable to invite guests down onto the dock unless the individual has been signed up for an interactive program.  If a young child is interested in touching one of our dolphins, we do have 3 programs that might interest you: Our waist-deep, Shallow Water Encounter involves hands on interactive behaviors with the dolphins like body rubs, handshakes, or kisses.  The Dolphin Dockside program is similar, but guests remain dockside and this program also includes a custom painting by one of our dolphins. The minimum age for each of these programs is 3 years old and may require an adult to participate as well.  We also offer a Kiss the Dolphin program for guests as young as 6 months old.  All of these programs are offered daily.

Our Programs

What should we expect from your swimming programs?

All swim programs and interactions at Dolphins Plus are fun and immersive educational experiences.  First, guests participate in an educational segment in which they learn about dolphin physiology and behavior.  Additionally, guests learn about marine ecology and things that you can do in your own lives to help protect this fragile ecosystem.

Following the educational segment of the program, guests are introduced to the dolphins and enjoy the swim program they registered for.  Interactions with the dolphins are untimed and are based on a series of behaviors. Everyone will have the opportunity to participate in the same number of interactive behaviors with the dolphins.

What is it like to swim with dolphins?

Swimming with dolphins is a one-of-a-kind experience! Sharing space with these magnificent creatures can be quite exhilarating, to say the least.  When swimming with dolphins at Dolphins Plus you may experience a variety of behaviors such as: holding on to their dorsal fin while they pull you through the water; floating on your back while they push you by your feet; and give rubs, kisses, and handshakes.

How long will I be in the water?

Our dolphin interaction programs are not based on time but rather on number of behaviors per guest.  This is done to ensure that everyone has a similar experience, regardless of dolphin attention. Dolphin participation is voluntary, and the dolphins sometimes do not interact continuously with guests.  Dolphins are social animals and may periodically take breaks to interact with each other. Our dolphins live in a natural lagoon and are very aware of changes to their environment (a manatee at the fence, boats/kayaks coming and going).  If the dolphins come and go, guests may be in the water longer because the total number of behaviors will take longer for the dolphins to complete.  The length of the session is also dependent on the number of swimmers as well as outside influencing factors, including individual guests needs (translators, swim assists, etc).  However, the entire program (including check in, the educational briefing, your interaction, and check out through the gift shop) should take approximately an hour to an hour and a half.  The swimmers will be in the water a portion of that time.

What is the difference between the Structured Swim and the Shallow Water Encounter?

Our Structured Swim is a hands-on, deep-water interactive dolphin encounter. You will be floating and treading in water you cannot stand up in (wearing a flotation device). You may experience a variety of behaviors such as: holding on to their dorsal fin, while they pull you through the water; floating on your back, while they push you by your feet; and, give rubs, kisses, and handshakes. The cost is $210.00 per person.  

In our Shallow Water Encounter, you are not swimming or floating, you are in the water standing comfortably on a submerged platform.  You will meet the dolphins up close while going through a series of behaviors like rubs, kisses, and belly rubs.   The cost is $165.00 per person.  

If you cannot decide on which program, discounts are available when the same person does both the Structured Swim and the Shallow Water Encounter.

Programs and Participation Requirements

Structured Swim

Our Structured Swim is a hands-on, deep-water interactive dolphin encounter. You may experience a variety of behaviors such as: holding on to their dorsal fin, while they pull you through the water; floating on your back, while they push you by your feet; and, give rubs, kisses, and handshakes. The cost is $210.00 per person.

Program Requirements:
Participants must be comfortable in water 12-15 feet deep, wearing a flotation device.  Participants must have a good understanding of the English language or have a translator present.  Pregnant women are not allowed to take part in the structured swim.  Participants must be at least 7 years old.  Additionally, a paid participating adult must accompany children between the ages of 7-9 years old.  Participants between the ages of 10-17 years old require a paid adult observer.

Shallow Water Encounter

We have a shallow water dolphin encounter where you will meet the dolphins up close while standing comfortably in the water on a submerged platform.  We will take you through a series of behaviors like rubs, kisses, and belly rubs.   The cost is $165.00 per person.

We have a new upgrade feature to add the dorsal tow to your shallow water encounter for $30.00.

Program Requirements:
Participants must be comfortable standing in water waist deep.  Participants must have a good understanding of the English language or have a translator present. Pregnant women are not allowed to take part in the shallow water encounter.  Participants must be at least 3 years old.  A paid participating adult must accompany children between the ages of 3-5 years old and any children under the height of 48 inches.

Trainer for a Day Programs

Our Trainer for a Day programs are educational experiences designed to give you an inside look at what it is like to be a dolphin trainer.  They are available in full or half day schedules and they include the in-water encounters with dolphins.  The cost ranges from $350.00 for a 1/2 day and $630.00 for a full day. Participants must be 7-years-old or older.

Dolphin Dockside

Join us for Dolphins Plus' newest program, Dolphin Dockside! This up-close and personal meet and greet with one of our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins has guests join their trainer on a floating platform to experience behaviors like kisses, rubs, and handshakes. Guests receive an introduction to dolphin anatomy and may even have the opportunity to learn some of the dolphins' hand signals before testing out their own training skills! But that's not all! Participants take home an original dolphin painting to help cherish their memories for years to come. The cost is $150 per person.

Program Requirements:
Participants must be at least 3-years-old.  Participants between the ages of 3- and 17 –years-old require a paid adult observer.   Pregnant women are allowed to participate.

Dolphin Paint Program

We offer a dolphin painting session.  You can pick up to three of your favorite colors and assist one of our dolphins in creating your very own work of art.  The cost is $125.00 per painting. You can add this program to your shallow water encounter or structured swim for a discount of $25.00 off the cost of the Dolphin Paint program.

Program Requirements:
Participants must be at least 3-years-old.  Participants between the ages of 3- and 17 –years-old require a paid adult observer. Pregnant women are allowed to participate.

Kiss By A Dolphin: Dockside Encounter

The Kiss By A Dolphin program offers guests the chance to meet one of our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) while kneeling on a floating dock.  Guests will receive a kiss from a dolphin and a digital photo.  The cost is $59.00 per person.

Program Requirements:
Participants must be at least 6-months-old. If under the age of 3, a paid adult observer is required to hold them while on the platform.  Pregnant women are allowed to participate in the Kiss By A Dolphin program.

Touch Tank

Dolphins Plus is excited to announce a brand new interactive exhibit!  Located adjacent to the Florida Bay, our dolphin population has the unique opportunity to investigate the other animals that call the Florida Bay home and now you can too! Lead by one of our staff educators, guests will learn about, touch, and explore some of the amazing marine invertebrates that reside right here in our own backyard!

Animals will vary based on the season.  We allow photography and encourage questions.   This program is designed to be a marine invertebrate experience.  This does not allow guests to touch or physically interact with the dolphins.

Behind the Scenes

Join us for a quick and exciting look behind the scenes!
From diet preparation to vitamins and nutritional supplements, participants will get a sneak peek at how our marine mammal specialists care for our dolphin family.  Be prepared! This can be a smelly fishy, experience!

We allow photography and encourage questions!  Space is limited!

Exclusive Program

Our exclusive program is a private dolphin encounter, which can be set up to include our Shallow Water Encounter, Structured Swim, or a combination of both.

Your private encounter includes the following amenities:

  • Beach Towels for all participants
  • T-Shirts for all participants
  • Two Dolphin Painting programs
  • Photos of the encounter(s) (on a CD or flash drive)
  • Refreshments

Prices:
Exclusive Dolphin Session $2,800.00 (up to six guests).  Additional guests may be possible, please call for pricing.

Our Dolphins and the Environment

Where did these dolphins come from? Were they rescued?

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, there are certain provisions that allow wild marine mammals to be taken from the wild. Such provisions require extensive permits for research, educational, and public display purposes, or even enhancing survival of a marine mammal species (NMFS).  Our original group of dolphins was collected from the Sarasota Bay area in the late 1970s and early 1980s to begin a Natural Swim program at Dolphins Plus.  Over the years, Dolphins Plus has expanded due to many successful births, and these dolphins make up our current population.

In the past, Dolphins Plus housed a rescue dolphin named Castaway.  She had stranded herself in Castaway Cove, off of Jensen Beach, on the east coast of Florida.  Castaway was rehabilitated by the Marine Mammal Conservancy and was moved to Dolphins Plus in 2007.  Additionally, we have temporarily provided care for two California sea lion pups that were deemed non-releasable by the government due to restranding issues in 2013. They transitioned to another USDA regulated facility in 2016 and continue to thrive at their long term home.

 

What happened to Samantha’s jaw?

Samantha's dislocated jaw occurred as the result of a social interaction with another dolphin.  It is unknown if the social interaction was related to sexual, aggressive, or play behavior.  This injury happened over 20 years ago, at night, thus leaving the staff unsure of the exact scenario.  Our staff veterinarian decided not to surgically reset her jaw as this could have potentially caused more harm than good.  Since this time, her jaw has healed offset and she is able to open and close her mouth without a problem.  The healed injury does not inhibit her from eating (from trainers and foraging), echolocating, communicating, or interacting socially with other conspecifics.  In general, the lower jaw on dolphins is vulnerable, due to the fact that it is hollow and filled with fluid.  Thus, there are a small percentage of dolphins in the wild that share this same injury.

Do the dolphins eat the fish in the lagoon?

Absolutely!  The behavior has been documented with all of the animals at Dolphins Plus: wild caught population and captive born individuals.  The dolphins receive most of their diet from the trainers in the form of previously frozen and thawed fish, but supplement their diet with fish from the lagoon.  The trainers have seen the dolphins chasing after mangrove snappers, minnows, lobsters, and even shrimp.

How can that dolphin distinguish your whistle from another trainer’s?

Dolphins have an excellent sense of directional hearing.  All of the trainers use the same type of whistle, so rather than distinguishing the pitch or tone, they judge the direction the sound comes from.  They do, however, occasionally misjudge the direction.  It is important to remember that even dolphins make mistakes.

Why do you hydrate the dolphins?

Research supports the positive effects of proper hydration in mammals as beneficial to overall health.  Dolphins in the wild receive fresh water solely from the fish that encompass their diet. At Dolphins Plus the trainers proactively supplement the animals’ diets with extra hydration via gelatin and through a trained behavior called a hydration – for example this has shown increased benefits in preventing and managing kidney stones. The trainers strive to assist the animals through training to be active participants in their own husbandry care; thus, we train our dolphins to hydrate via the tube daily (as determined by the veterinary staff).

What do you do with the dolphins if a hurricane is coming?

The Curator and managerial staff have comprised a multi-level safety plan that outlines multiple proactive strategies we would execute should the need arise.  These plans take into account the direction, strength, and potential duration of the storm. Basic preparation is needed regardless if a tropical storm or hurricane is approaching to ensure animal safety.  High winds and water levels are of major concern, so the removal of all objects around the lagoon is of the utmost importance, as these objects have the ability to become projectiles in severe weather. As animal care professionals, it is our duty to ensure the animals are properly fed prior, during, and post storm, thus many individuals will be at the facility during these times.  Each plan is a proactive approach to the safety and well being of our population, and prevents us from being reactive during these times.

How do you feel about captivity?

The animals at Dolphins Plus serve as ambassadors to their wild counterparts, helping promote conservation of the oceans worldwide by raising public awareness. It is hopeful that through the education we provide and the appreciation our participants gain for these animals, conservation efforts will increase for all marine mammals.

Facilities that have dolphins under human care provide a service to the general public by enabling guests to observe and interact with them in a regulated way.  It is important to note that interacting with wild dolphins is considered harassment and therefore is illegal under the MMPA (Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972)).  These rules and regulations are in place to prevent their natural behaviors from being disrupted.

How often do you feed the dolphins?

Every day is a little different to ensure variability for our dolphins.  At a minimum they have 3 feedings, one during each of our guest interactions times, to ensure their intended daily diet it administered.  However, on most days, trainers plan additional training sessions throughout the day over which their total diet can be variably administered.

How do you train the dolphins?

In training dolphins we implement positive reinforcement techniques.  That means that we don’t have a word for no and everything is predicated on a basic pass or fail basis. We use different manners of reinforcement with our dolphins.  Reinforcers can be primary, which are food, or secondary.  Secondary reinforcers can be tactile, being able to play with their favorite friend, or being able to play with their favorite toy.  

We’ve created a system where our dolphins get reinforced with food multiple times a day, separate from their interaction with guests.  We don’t want our animals to exist under a set of circumstances that their sole means of getting food is by interacting with guests.

Do the dolphins like doing these behaviors or are you making them do this? They only do this for food, right?

Ultimately, the animals will not do anything that they do not want to.  Participation in training sessions is voluntary.  Trainers never force dolphins to do behaviors with the swimmers: behaviors with and without guests are requested.  Trainers have the inability to physically make the animals participate; thus, the animals choose to complete a behavior asked of them.  If they choose not to interact, the dolphins can simply swim away.  For the most part, the dolphins appear to find interacting with the swimmers reinforcing.  This is especially true of swimmers with a high comfort level in the water and those who respect the dolphins’ space.

The dolphins are rewarded with fish throughout the program, which is called primary reinforcement.  However, the dolphins are not always rewarded with fish after every behavior.  Secondary reinforcement (e.g. ice, body rubs, clapping, cheering) is also applied in response to a correct behavior, and the animals find them very reinforcing.  In addition to guest and trainer sessions the animals enjoy human interaction in between sessions, even when they walk down to the lagoon without food.  This suggests that the trainers are also reinforcing to the animals.

Are these animals bored?

The dolphins are extremely stimulated throughout the day.  A typical day is comprised of three to four sessions where the general public is invited to interact and observe the dolphins, as well as several other shorter sessions for trainers to concentrate on husbandry and new training.  As trainers, it is our responsibility to ensure the animals are entertained throughout the day with a variety of different sessions (e.g. husbandry, training, relationship, research, enrichment).  In addition to interactions and training, the natural lagoon is filled with a variety of species of fish, and even wild dolphins and manatees will approach the fence, which is enriching for our population.

Is there enough space for the dolphins?

The space provided for these dolphins exceeds the requirements set forth by the USDA, the division of the government, which regulates animal welfare at marine mammal facilities.  The Dolphins Plus dolphins are all coastal Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, which typically inhabit shallow inshore waters.  All lagoons are 5 feet deep in some areas, but can be 18-20 feet deep at the center.  This provides adequate swimming and diving variability for them.  Of the three lagoons, no swimming space is less than 3000m3.

Do you ever let them go out into the bay (ocean)?

For many years, Dolphins Plus would have a weekly “dolphin day off”.  The gates to the lagoons were opened, and the animals could go in and out of their enclosures.  Although the animals could have left permanently, typically, each of the animals stayed in close proximity to the facility.  In 1994, the USDA banned this practice.  This combined with increased public activity, the animals’ safety would have been compromised, so we no longer let the dolphins out into public waterways.  While we are not concerned about sharks or their ability to find food, there is a strong apprehension for careless humans.  The dolphins do not possess a natural fear of humans, so there is a concern to them being struck by a boat, or injured if given inappropriate food.  Today, in order to allow a dolphin under human care out to the open ocean, a facility would have to obtain consent from the government in the form of research permit(s).

Has your facility been affected by the Red Tide and/or Algae Bloom?

At Dolphins Plus we are concerned about the red tide and harmful algae bloom that is taking place on the west coast of Florida.  Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder (DPMMR), our local not for profit, is the marine mammal stranding response team covering South Florida waters.  So, we keep a close eye on the marine environment for the entire Gulf of Mexico. The current red tide and algae bloom are over 225 miles north and west of Key Largo.  Here in Key Largo, we have not seen any local effects from either event nor have we historically had effects from either of these events this far south.

Dolphin Questions/Misconceptions

What are the natural predators of dolphins?

Natural predators of dolphins include several species of sharks and sometimes killer whales.  These natural predators have very little impact on dolphin populations compared to the harmful effects humans have on marine mammals.  Humans are the number one threat towards dolphins.  Bad fishing practices, marine debris, noise pollution, and toxic dumping are examples of man-made threats to dolphins.  Research suggests that humans contribute to approximately 200,000 dolphin deaths yearly.

What are some common threats to marine mammals?

Unfortunately, one of the characteristics marine mammals share is that most are, or have been, exploited by humans.  Whales, sea otters, sea cows, and seals have been historically overexploited, which has resulted in the extinction of some species (e.g. Stellar sea cow, Caribbean monk seal, and the Atlantic gray whale) and the endangered status of many.  Though there are laws that protect marine mammals, not all countries abide by these laws.  So, the direct harvesting of whales, seals, walruses, dugongs, and dolphins still occurs today in various places throughout the world.

Another threat to marine mammals is entanglement in fishing gear and nets.  Many marine mammal species are accidentally caught in nets used by fishermen.  This is called “bycatch”, which is the non-target portion of the catch.  Bycatch includes not only marine mammals, but also other species of fish, invertebrates, reptiles, and even birds and is a very wasteful practice.  Passive, or discarded, gear and trash cans also cause a significant amount of marine mammal mortality each year.  Lost and discarded nets wreak havoc on marine organisms as they drift for many miles and sometimes many years.  When a marine mammal gets entangled in a net, they often lose the ability to swim to the surface to breathe and then drown.

Marine pollution, specifically toxins, can cause serious health issues in marine mammals.  Chemicals such as PCBs, organochlorides, pesticides, and heavy metals are related to reduced immune function (i.e. the ability to ward off infections and disease), an increase in the mortality of newborns (also called “neonates”), sterility, fewer births, birth defects, skeletal abnormalities, various types of cancer, and neurological dysfunction.  

Oil spills suffocate marine environments and cause serious issues for many marine organisms.  Marine birds and marine mammals tend to suffer heavily from exposure to oil, because they lose their ability to float and insulate themselves when their feathers/fur become soaked with oil.  The long-term effects on marine mammals from oil spills are associated with the ingestion of the oil and the inhalation of hydrocarbon vapors.  The Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989, resulted in the death of approximately 250,000 seabirds, sea lions, 2800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 22 killer whales, and billions of fish.  The recent BP oil spill is said to be the equivalent of 13 Exxon Valdez spills as of July 2010.  

Other threats to marine mammals include sound pollution (interferes with communication, breeding, diving, migrating, and feeding), collision with vessels (particularly manatees but also occurs between dolphins and whales and large ships), river regulation devices (causes drowning of manatees and river dolphins), habitat destruction, and climate change (e.g. global warming and the loss of polar bear habitat and prey).

How intelligent is a dolphin? Are they as smart as my dog?

Dogs and dolphins are typically trained in a similar way, with the use of operant conditioning.  To study dolphin cognition, training is often employed for some tasks, but not always necessary, as certain cooperation and feeding strategies (no training) suggest higher cognitive abilities.  Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, and is very difficult to measure from culture to culture with humans; thus, intelligence is even more challenging to attempt to measure it from species to species.  The study of dolphin cognition gained popularity in the early 1970s when researchers derived tasks to showcase different cognitive abilities (e.g. memory (episodic, semantic), problem-solving, novel or creative ability, tool usage).  It has proven to be most challenging to devise a meaningful scale of intelligence for animals.  To date, research studies have supported the ideology that dolphins have the ability to understand grammar, reason and answer anomalous questions, are self-aware, and exhibit problem-solving skills.  Tool-use has also been observed in several wild dolphin populations (dolphins have been seen in Australia carrying sponges on their rostrums to use in foraging).

Although not always supported, intelligence can also be measured primarily through comparative brain anatomy and psychology.  A more complex measurement of this is the encephalization quotient (EQ), which examines the allometric effects of differing physiques and forms, as well as species.

Do dolphins heal people?

Dolphins DO NOT heal people, but they have an amazing ability to act as motivators.  Dolphin Assisted Therapy and other forms of Animal Assisted Therapy have gained popularity over the years for various reasons.  However, these are all different forms of recreational therapy.  For certain children and adults, finding the proper motivator for advancement (socially, medically, emotionally) is key in their therapeutic care.  Often times, dolphins are an individual’s motivator, thus producing advancements in certain areas of concentration.  However, these results have also been seen with hippotherapy (horses) and dogs.

I’ve heard that dolphins rescue drowning victims at sea. Is that true?

Although there have been many stories and myths told, there is limited valid documented evidence of a wild marine mammal saving a human’s life.  There was recently video footage released of dolphins in Australia herding a group of swimmers together when there were sharks in the area.  Although dolphins have been documented participating in altruistic behavior towards other animals, there is not sufficient evidence documented that it happens with humans.  One should be cautious in believing these stories at face value.  A wild animal participating in such behaviors would be subjecting itself to danger (predators, risk of separation from the group) to save a human life; this does not serve any biological purpose.

Is it true that when there are dolphins in the water, there are no sharks?

This is not necessarily true as dolphins and sharks are often found living harmoniously in the same waters.  It is possible for sharks to be predators of dolphins and vice versa, but this is rare behavior.  However, mother-calf dyads will typically avoid areas where sharks frequent in order to keep younger pod members safe.

OTHER/MISCELLANEOUS

I have my period. What will the dolphins do in response to this?

To our knowledge, dolphins do not have the ability to detect if women are on their period, so this is not an issue.

How can I become a dolphin trainer?

The process to work with marine mammals in this industry is complex.  A bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university is now the norm when pursuing a career in marine mammal training.  Majors including but not limited to psychology, biology, marine biology and zoology are all acceptable for most facilities.  Other institutions that hold merit within the field include Moorpark College, which offers a two-year degree in exotic animal training.  

Completing internships at marine mammal facilities to gain hands on experience is an important part of acquiring any job.  ANY animal experience (dog training, zoos, aquaria) you can attain while pursuing this job is beneficial, including volunteering.  Also, educating yourself with the most up to date information about marine mammals (books, journal articles, training forums) will assist in making you a more qualified applicant.

Obtaining SCUBA certification is ideal, and having excellent swimming skills is mandatory.  Lastly, becoming a member of the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association (IMATA) will allow you to read forums, related training articles, and have access to job and internship postings.  The individuals that put extra effort into pursuing the career are the ones that acquire the position.

How much of the revenue taken in goes to helping wildlife?

Most of our income goes into running the facility. Dolphins Plus is also involved in many ongoing and published research projects and articles. And whenever there is a stranding of cetaceans in The Keys we release a lot of our staff to help, while maintaining their pay throughout the volunteer time and quarantine period.