On an unseasonably chilly day, the Social editorial team found ourselves driving down A1A on the way to Marineland Dolphin Adventure. For the past couple of weeks, our excitement at being a part of a dolphin encounter was overwhelming, but the overcast sky and 50-degree weather had dampened our spirits. I hoped that the staff’s promise of wetsuits had not been insincere.
Luckily, we were almost immediately assured that we wouldn’t have to brave the waters without extra protection from the outside temperature, and we all visibly relaxed. All suited up and ready to go, our trainer Dylan walked us through dolphin anatomy on the plastic dolphin that lives by the habitats, pointing out the best places to pet the animals, informing us of the rules for safety, and educating us on the way dolphins interact with their environment. We would be meeting, he told us, Casique – his favorite dolphin (though we weren’t allowed to tell any of the others).
The session started with Dylan leading Casique by us and letting us pet her. Each time we observed something about her – her color, the grittiness of certain parts of her body, the way she moved – Dylan would chime in with the science behind it. More and more, I realized that this wasn’t your average amusement park-style encounter; trainers were there to enrich the experience through education.
As Casique became more comfortable with us, Dylan drew attention to the hand signals he had been using to interact with and direct the dolphin. And now it was our turn to try some. He had us signal together to make her jump and to dive to the bottom of the enclosure. Moving slightly apart from each other, we each tried our own signal. Mine was to make her blow bubbles, though I (apparently) was doing it wrong since instead of bubbles, I got repeatedly splashed in the face. Periodically throughout the encounter, Dylan would call for a fish and offer Casique a treat. He laughed, “She’s very food-motivated.”
Casique, it turned out however, was most motivated by toys (which were referred to by a more scientific-sounding name that was entirely lost on me). We had her fetch a ball and dive for brightly-colored sticks while Dylan explained that these toys were a good way to keep them engaged. “We always make sure that they never have two days the same. We wouldn’t want them to get bored.”
It wasn’t long, though, before we had to wave goodbye to Casique and struggle out of wetsuits that somehow meld to your skin. We left not only feeling exhilarated with the experience but more informed and just a little bit more in touch with the world around us.