Since incorporation in 1972, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium has been a valuable asset for sea animals as well as the residents of the Tampa Bay area. In fact, the non-profit working aquarium is dedicated to public education as well as to marine research, assisted animal therapy and the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sick or injured marine animals.
During my tour, I learned that Panama had lived in the wild until she’d beached herself in Panama City, Fla., in 2000. At the time, she was severely underweight, dehydrated and seriously sun burnt. Further examination showed that her teeth were extremely worn down, a fact that would have made it difficult for her to catch fish in the wild and that led the National Marine Fisheries Services to declare her “not releasable.” Since her 2001 transfer to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, she is progressing in her training and her personality is beginning to shine once again.
For his part, Presley is an adult male bottlenose dolphin. Born at Sea World in San Diego, Calif., he’s at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for an extended period and was once a daily performer at the New York Aquarium, to which he’d been “loaned” for several years.
These two dolphins are both in the aquarium’s Marine Mammal Program. Trainers work with both animals on a daily basis, providing them with a structured, nurturing and stimulating environment.
Those who work with the animals offer vital public education through the Marine Mammal Program, which features two ongoing educational programs: “Day with a Dolphin,” which offers a behind-the-scenes look at dolphin training, care and conservation; and “Trainer for a Day,” which allows participants to shadow trainers through daily routines of food preparation, animal care, exhibit maintenance and animal training.
The enthusiasm surrounding the dolphin tanks touched every other exhibit I saw. Obviously, seeing Presley jump in the air thrilled the children, but so did the opportunities they had to touch silky stingrays in the nearby hands-on beach exhibit or to learn first-hand about caring for sick and injured marine animals. At every turn, my pride in being involved with such a worthwhile enterprise kept growing.