It’s that time of year again! The dates June 1 – November 30th ring clearly in the minds of all Floridians as the mark of the dreaded hurricane season. The time of year when we all become best friends with the Weather Channel and experience an increase in blood pressure at the sight of Jim Cantore. Names such as Irma, Dorian, Wilma, Katrina, Andrew, and Donna strike fear in the hearts of our communities. After several years of unforgiving storms and devastating hurricanes, it’s no wonder we are all classically conditioned to be trepidatious at the formation of any disturbance off the coast of Africa. We are all now certified as novice meteorologists and have learned to celebrate Sahara dust and seek out Home Depot sales for flashlights, batteries, and generators.
In 2017, DPMMR sustained heavy damage to the facility just before opening to the public months later.
Luckily, all of our animals did great throughout the storm under the careful watch of our ride out team.
So, how does DPMMR prepare for hurricane season? Well, we do a lot of the same preparations that most homeowners do, however, we do everything with the dolphins’ health and safety at the forefront of our minds. We have an Emergency Evacuation Plan for the dolphins that is well laid out in the event of a direct hit by a category 5 storm. However, as Irma demonstrated, predicting the path and impact zone of a major hurricane is not an exact science and there is much room for error. Additionally, with thousands of people jamming the highways during their own evacuations, the idea of sitting in a semi truck with seven dolphins and getting stuck on the road in high winds is a dangerous concept. In fact, we have learned that most often the dolphins are much safer in the water at DPMMR than they would be in a transport vehicle in the middle of a hurricane.
All of the dolphins do remarkably better than the humans during major storms.
Typically, they pod up and swim together and come up every 5-10 minutes for air.
Our hurricane prep begins with tree trimming. Yes, any tall tree or loose branch can become a projectile in high winds and/or fall over and end up in the dolphin lagoon injuring or trapping a dolphin. So, DPMMR staff significantly trims our trees, proactively, prior to hurricane season. In the event of an impending storm, the staff removes anything around the dolphin lagoon that could be picked up and moved by wind. This includes picnic benches, potted plants, benches, dolphin toys, umbrellas, hoses, etc. We literally turn the facility into a bare bones, ghost town.
Umbrellas? Perfect projectiles. They must be stored away until after the storm is long gone!
Additionally, a group of very committed and dedicated trainers agree to stay at DPMMR during the hurricane, despite mandated evacuations of residents. The dolphins need care whether there is a storm or not and our crew is committed to their care no matter what.
As part of preparation, we fill 5-gallon jugs of purified water to use for making the dolphin's jell-o and daily water amounts in case the water or electric goes out and we can't get purified water.
We had a brave crew of 5-6 team members stay during Hurricane Irma, and despite the ocean surge creating flooding around the dolphin lagoon with chest deep waters, our team endured high winds, rain, lightening, and flying debris to ensure the dolphins did not end up out of habitat and on land when the waters quickly receded. Our crew also helped other local dolphin facilities, care for their animals during this time of need.
Not only do our resident dolphins need care (food, hydration, shelter) during major hurricanes, but wild whales, dolphins, and manatees also experience issues during hurricane season. Our responder team is on alert during this time of year, as hurricanes cause high winds, rough seas, and most importantly intense storm surges that can carry individual animals out of their normal habitat and into shallow areas with little to no water. These storms can cause individuals to be separated from their pod, disoriented, and malnourished/dehydrated. The DPMMR responder team has responded to several out of habitat marine mammals over the years that were left severely compromised post-hurricane. If you see a marine mammal in distress please call 1-888-404-FWCC. Our rescue team relies on tips from fisherman and boating locals to locate these animals and provide assistance.
We rescued this out-of-habitat Bottlenose dolphin shortly after Hurricane Irma passed in 2017.
Despite the significant damage incurred at the DPMMR facility after Hurricane Irma, our resident dolphins at DPMMR tend to ride out these storms safely and seem to have a sixth sense as to when a major storm is approaching. They have a “herd” mentality and tend to group together, swim low/close to the bottom of the lagoon, and come up for air much less frequently. Maybe we should all take this lesson from the dolphins and huddle up, support each other, and stay close during challenging times?