Although Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder (DPMMR) in Key Largo typically offers a locals special every year, this year’s special seems to hold a higher significance for both Monroe County Residents and the dolphins who call DPMMR their forever home.
If you’re like most people, the year 2020 has been less-than-stellar. Given the pandemic, civil unrest, a hurricane season that is anticipated to be more active than usual, and navigating the “new normal” in a virtual world, we can all use a little bit of joy. With this in mind, DPMMR will offer three of their most popular programs for only $50 per person during the month of September; the Interactive Swim, Splash & Wade Program, and Splash & Swim Program.
The not-for-profit organization moved the promotion from October up to September for this year in hopes that more locals can take advantage of the hugely discounted price of the swims. Members of the organization stated that it is a perfect opportunity for those who haven’t taken their typical summer vacations to get out and participate in a COVID-safe activity most people don’t experience in their everyday lives.
“Since reopening in June, our teams have adapted our model to keep our animals, guests, and staff as safe as possible amidst the pandemic” says Nancy Cooper, President of DPMMR. “Our programs all take place outdoors and we have limited the number of program participants to make sure each group of swimmers can be socially distanced from other groups throughout the duration of their time with us. Couple this with the added sanitization protocols, mask mandates, and other changes to our daily operations and we feel confident in our ability to provide a recreational activity that is safe to enjoy.”
The interaction programs all take place at the facilities headquarters in Key Largo, where 7 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins permanently reside. These dolphins depend on their caregivers for their diets, veterinary care, and physical and mental stimulation, all components that make up the facilities welfare program.
“Providing the best welfare for our dolphins is costly, but it’s something we’re dedicated to” says Hunter Kinney, a Senior Trainer at the facility. Kinney stated that funding the top-notch care the animals receive depends on people coming to swim at the facility, the number of which has dramatically decreased since COVID. “We were dead in the water for nearly 3 months, but never once sacrificed the care of our dolphins. Unfortunately, we need people to come and interact with the dolphins or donate to the organization to maintain the standard of care we pledge to give to the animals.” Kinney is hopeful the $50 promotion will help draw in local support of the organization.
DPMMR’s mission is surmised in the phrase “Connect to Protect.” The Connect side comes from the connections that guests make when interacting with the group of playful creatures, and the “Protect” that follows refers to the actions guests take following their interaction to help protect whales & dolphins in our Florida Keys waters.
Luke Bullen, who manages the Animal Care & Training department, states “Beyond seeing the animals happy and enjoying their lives, the best part of my job is seeing how many people leave with a smile on their face after leaving their interaction. The experiences they have are just something you can’t get from watching a TV show or reading about dolphins or even seeing them in the wild. There is just something special about interacting directly with a dolphin, and it definitely makes you want to protect them when you leave the facility and return to your everyday life.”
Beyond simply inspiring people to take action, DPMMR actively protects marine mammals throughout the year by being the only organization in the entire Florida Keys authorized by National Marine Fisheries Service to respond to whales & dolphins in need. Further, the organization is researching dolphins in the wild through a non-invasive Photo Identification program, the first step in a larger research study that looks at the human impacts posing threats to the local dolphin population. This work is funded through a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and proceeds from dolphin interaction programs at DPMMR.
The “Local Love” special is more limited than year’s past due to social distancing regulations and DPMMR’s commitment to providing a safe experience for all of their guests. Residents who are interested in booking the special can call the facility at 305-453-4321 to reserve their spot or go online to www.dpmmr.org to view more information about the special and programs. The special will run from September 1st – 30th, but the guest service team is already taking reservations for the promotion. Proof of Monroe County residency is required to receive the special rate.
“We all need a break and to dedicate some time to melt the stress away” says Cooper, “DPMMR is looking forward to giving back to our local community whilst still advancing our important mission.”