Have you ever wondered if it's possible to really make a difference on behalf of the oceans, and to really do something to help the incredible animals that live there? Well the team here at Dolphin Connection want you to know that there is currently an excellent opportunity at hand! An overwhelming number of very malnourished sea lion pups are showing up on the California coastline. With nearly 1,000 pups to care for, the rescue teams and stranding centers are overwhelmed. Their resources are stretched thin and they need our help.
So please join Dolphin Connection and all of the members of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums in offering support and donations to these hard working professionals as they strive to save these starving pups. You can donate directly to the National Marine Mammal Foundation (www.nmmf.org) or to any of these stranding centers: Marine Mammal Care Center, San Pedro. (www.marinemammalcare.org); Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Laguna Beach (www.pacificmmc.org); Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute, Santa Barbara (www.cimwi.org); or The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito (www.marinemammalcenter.org).
Please also consider supporting our amazing colleagues at SeaWorld San Diego, who are providing enormous support to this effort. Since January 1, they have rescued 350 sea lion pups, and currently have 207 in rehabilitation. What an incredible effort! (http://seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-sandiego/animals/animal-rescue/)
You may remember that back in January of 2013, a very similar event took place. That event was deemed as a UME, or an unusual mortality event. What is that? According to the NOAA Fisheries, Office of Protected Resources website, a UME is defined as "a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response." Understanding these events is important because they can serve as indicators of ocean health, giving insight into larger environmental issues which may also have implications for human health and welfare.
But why are these sea lion pups stranding in California? We really don't know, but studies indicate that there is a lack of sardines in the ocean, which scientists believe is one of the most valuable food sources for nursing mother sea lions and for newly-weaned sea lion pups. Even though other fish are available, it appears they are not providing the proper nutrition. A lack of high quality fish appears to be the problem.
To help the pups, our colleagues in California are working overtime, and with great results. During the 2013 event, over 50% of the pups survived and were released back into the ocean. Many were outfitted with satellite tags, so that they could be monitored. Tracking data shows that most survived following their release.
We hope you will join us in supporting the incredible efforts to save the sea lion pups! And the next time you visit Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay Resort on your vacation in the fabulous Florida Keys, we hope you can smile, knowing that our reach to inspire conservation and protect our oceans goes far beyond our own beautiful tropical lagoon.
The temperatures are dropping, you’ve pulled out the heavy sweaters from the back of the closet, and snow is falling from the sky: It must be winter time…unless you’re in the Florida Keys. Without all these obvious cues, how do we know it’s winter here? Believe it or not, it does cool off here just a little bit, and once our water temperatures dip below 68 degrees Fahrenheit something very dramatic happens: all the manatees disappear. These amazing mammals, so common in the canals of the Florida Keys all summer long, move en masse to warm water springs in the winter time.
Despite their robust shape, manatees actually have very little body fat. Without this insulation to protect them, their only defense against the cold is to leave. Luckily for the manatees, Florida is the home to several natural warm-water springs that bubble up from underground. These springs remain a delightful 75 degrees year round, just perfect for a manatee. Two springs hosting the largest winter gathering of manatees are Blue Springs on the east coast of Florida and Crystal River on the west coast. Manatees have even been known to search out manmade warm water sources such as the output drains at power plants!
Manatees are protected in this country under the Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. They are also incredibly loved, and so every winter people travel en masse, just like the manatees, to Blue Springs and Crystal River to see them. From boardwalks, boats, or even underwater, people can slowly, quietly, and unobtrusively have the priceless opportunity to see these gentle giants up close. With specific direction, and requirements for “Manatee Manners”, people from all over the world have learned to love this animal who, legend has it, was the inspiration for the first mermaid sighting. And for those who are unable to make the trek this winter, the Save the Manatee Club provides a live feed from the manatees’ wintering grounds on Manatee TV.
Why is all of this so important? Because when the water warms up, and the manatees once again venture into oceans, bays, rivers, and other heavily-traveled waterways, these slow-moving herbivores will find themselves in dangerous territory. With boat strikes posing serious threats to manatees’ survival, the most important thing we can do to protect them is to remain watchful from our boats and respectful of speed limits. What is the one thing that may cause a hurried family or an impatient boater to slow down and be careful in manatee habitat? Love and respect for these animals. So, with our absolute belief that up-close interactions with animals inspire conservation behavior toward these animals and their habitats, we encourage you to enjoy the manatees this winter and ensure their survival next summer.
“The Florida Keys: it’s like going to the Caribbean without needing a passport!” We hear this all the time from our American visitors appreciating the simplicity of their in-country travel, but for our international guests coming all the way to the Keys, a little assistance from a knowledgeable source is very helpful. With so many of our visitors coming from the United Kingdom, we are grateful to work with informed and ethical travel operators like Virgin Holidays.
More than just a travel agency, Virgin Holidays has a non-profit foundation called Virgin Unitewhich strives to “…unite great people and entrepreneurial ideas, reinventing how we live and work to help make people’s lives better. We believe business can and must be a force for good in the world – and that this is also good for business!” While this business philosophy extends to all areas of the Virgin Holidays destinations, it plays a very key role in their organized trips to destinations with whales and dolphins in human care. Wanting to remain true to their mission of ensuring that “business is a force for good in the world”, Virgin Unite recently published the Virgin Pledge on Sea Mammalswhich defines their commitment to ending the wild capture of whales and dolphins for tourism.
The Virgin Pledge was a result of thorough research, unbiased investigation, and taking the time to truly listen to all sides of the issue of marine mammals being cared for at zoos and aquariums, as well as the demands of their own clientele who expect stimulating and conflict-free travel opportunities. Dolphin Connection has proudly signed the Virgin Pledge on Sea Mammals without hesitation. After all, we have never and will never collect dolphins from the wild. We are proud to work with Virgin to create enriching and enjoyable experiences that transform the way its customers engage with and learn about the oceans and marine life.
We are excited about the possibilities this new partnership will offer, and we are not alone: over 30 marine mammal facilities around the world have signed the pledge. Together, zoos, aquariums, and ethical businesses and citizens can work to inspire conservation on behalf of animals everywhere. With this in mind, Virgin Holidays recently sent their Responsible Business Manager, Mirieme Hill, to attend the annual meeting of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums’ Education Committee. Wanting to know and truly understand more about our dedication to conservation education, Ms. Hill attending the entire three day workshop hosted last month at SeaWorld San Diego. Impressed by the quality and diversity of programming offered by members of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, Ms. Hill opened up the potential for partnerships even wider. Pre-visit programming, post-visit programming, coordination of follow-up conservation activities? The possibilities are endless when you allow ethical, dedicated businesses to truly listen to the requests of their clients for enriching activities that can change their lives and the planet for the better.
So as you plan your next visit to Dolphin Connection in the Florida Keys, you can feel confident knowing that we are part of a larger group of organizations who work to ensure that your heart, your soul, and your mind can all feel good about your well-earned vacation. Enjoy!