Dolphins, Florida Keys
Located on Grassy Key, just outside of Marathon, the Dolphin Research Center makes a wonderful stopover for an hour or so as you make your way down the Keys. Home to Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and lovably obnoxious California sea lions, this is not the kind of place where you'll find Flipper jumping through pink hoops for public entertainment. Instead, the trainers at this education and research facility conduct sessions with the dolphins every half hour, allowing the general public to witness the amazing communication and interaction capable between man and dolphin.
If you have the money, you can actually be a part of these sessions and swim with the dolphins. (Arnold Schwartzeneggar and Jaime Lee Curtis swam with the dolphins here when they visited during the filming of True Lies). Even if you can't afford that, the center also has a great gift shop with lots of great souvenirs for sale.
It's certainly not as big as Sea World, but it is still a great way to spend an afternoon. The schedule of shows run right after the other, so you are always doing something. If you follow the exact order you'll begin with the guided tour of marine life exhibits (fish, sharks, turtles, aligators), the parrot show, the dolphin show, the sea lion show, and then the bottomless boat ride. It is so amazing what the animals have learned to do. Some of my favorite things were watching a parrot count, watching dolphins pretend to be sharks, and watching the sea lion stick out his tongue at the audience.
Theater of the Sea also offers swim with dolphin/sea lion programs. My mother and I participated with the dolphin swim and yes, it is worth the money. Dolphins are very gentle, yet strong.
Who doesn't like watching dolphins? They are so smart and seem to really enjoy being around humans. I believe I saw on Discovery that in terms of "intelligence" the dolphin is 4th in line (after #1 human, #2 chimp, and #3 gorilla). At the Dolphin Research Center you can pay the regular admission price and just watch the dolphin shows all day (the trainers have them jump, flip, zip through the water, play with toys, etc) or you can participate in the many programs. Some programs offer water time where you actually get in the water and play with the dolphin, other programs let you stay dry and pet the dolphin, or you can really shell out the $$$ and do trainer for the day programs.
Hours of Operation: Open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Closed to the public on New Year's Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day & Christmas Day.
General admission: Adults-$19.50; Seniors 55 and over-$16.50; Children 4-12-$13.50; Children 3 and under-Free.
***military discount, but only during low season (fall/winter)****
We see the mammal dolphins from our boat frequently. I've even swum with them when I was diving in Belize.
I have not been to the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key, but I understand they do terrific work here and the dolphins can leave if they want to.
The picture is of some dolphins that were hunting in the shallows behind our boat. They would round up the fish and drive them into a small area so they could eat them. There were 5 or 6 of them including some babies.
Their website says:
"Dolphin Research Center (DRC) is a not-for-profit education and research facility, home to a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. Over half of our family was born at the Center, while the other members either have come to us from other facilities or were collected long ago by previous management"
Daily, they have the Dolphin Encounter swim and DolphinSplash wade-in programs; Trainer for a Day; Hands on Training; Play with a Dolphin; Paint with a Dolphin; Meet a Dolphin & Behind the Scenes with Sea Lions.
Admission Price: Adults $17.50, seniors (55+) $14.50, children (4 - 12) $11.50, children under 4 free.
Approximate time required: 2 hours
Dolphin Research Center is a not-for-profit education and research facility located on Grassy Key. Booking are made from the first day of each month and it can be quite difficult to get through on the phone. They do not accept bookings by e.mail. I managed to book on to the dolphin encounter and I swam with Tursi, daughter of one of the original Flippers, and Merina. It was a fantastic experience and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of my interaction. At $165 USD it was, for me, worth every dime but for a family I could see the cost being prohibitive.
Dolphin Research Centre is a not-for-profit education and research facility, home to a family of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions, located on Grassy Key in the heart of the Florida Keys. There are various dolphin encounter programs available, although on this occasion we just spent the day wandering round, watching the various education sessions, and just enjoying the environment.
Dolphin encounters are a must see activity at the Hawks Cay Resort. Hawks Cay is the only resort that has this program available for adults and children. Depending on your age you can swim with the dolphins or feed them.