Swimming With Dolphins Not Out of Reach
There's a place just a short trip away where you can get a much more up-close-and-personal experience.
By Dan Breitwieser, WCJB TV 20 News.
Interacting with dolphins is something you may have always dreamed of, but didn't think was possible. There's one spot south of St. Augustine where playing catch, being a trainer for a day or a little smooch on the snout is within reach.
You may have been to Marineland before, but it was nothing like this.
The clicks and whistles I think means "feed me" in dolphin. Which is something dozens young and old are happy to oblige. Even though you may get a little wet.
A small admission fee will get you a good look at a few of the 11 dolphins living at the park. Hands-on experiences start at 65 dollars and up per person.
There's plenty to see, do and touch. And you can even take home a piece of artwork individually designed with help from a flippered friend.
Chad Stouffer has been in the Marine Mammals Director for the last two years. He says watching people connect with dolphins keeps the job fun.
"It's a joy to be able to see a guest that has been dreaming about this all their life to get in the water and interact with them," says Stouffer.
Finally! It's my turn!
My date with the dolphin was supposed to start off with a kiss. At first, i was nervous "Pebbles" wasn't going to pucker up. It looked like she was ready to take a nip out of my nose. But, I gave her a second chance. She must have warmed up because this time she kept her mouth closed.
But after it was over, she had plenty of back talk. Or maybe, she just wanted more fish. Trainers use fish to teach dolphins certain behaviors. Although poses might look simple, it took several months and lots of fish.
"We'll throw toys in there," says Stouffer. "We'll throw ice. We'll rub the dolphins down and get in and play with them. So fish will only go so far but eventually they'll get tired of eating so you do need to reinforce the behaviors in other ways."
After a little more "horsing" around, it was time for the grand finale. I threw my hand to the sky--and that's just where Pebbles went.
The world's first oceanarium opened here in 1938 to tens of thousands of visitors. It was the first time most people had ever seen the ocean habitat up close. Marineland also served as the location for the first trained dolphin.
Today that tradition continues. But if you've ever visited before, you'd hardly recognize the place now. It's completely re-built and designed to give you an intimate encounter with dolphins.
"The thing that makes us different and sets us apart from everybody else is when you come here and do an interactive program, it's a very intimate experience," says Stouffer. "We don't try to squeeze a bunch of people in the water, there's usually very few people involved in it. We focus on intimacy here and that's our goal."
A very special thanks to Chad and the entire Marineland crew.
If you want take a trip there yourself, Marineland is right along the Atlantic Coast about 17 miles south of Saint Augustine. Driving south on A1A, it's on your left just as you cross into Flagler County.
Admission is 5 dollars for adults and half price for children. Hands-on experiences ranging from a 10-minute interaction to being a trainer for a day vary in price from 65 dollars a person up to 400 dollars.
Next week in Dan's Day Trip, we leave the water behind and embrace the open road on two wheels. Don't forget to bring your helmet.
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