Here’s looking at you, kid!

As much as we think dolphins are cute, they are fascinated by us too.

At the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key in the Florida Keys, I saw dolphins giving visitors the eye and coming back for more than one look. The trainers told us that when a dolphin turns its head sideways in the water, it is looking in that direction (which means we were being checked out a lot). One dolphin liked to people-watch so much that his head kept getting sunburned. He’s the one with zinc oxide on its head!

The Dolphin Research Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to learning about and caring for bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. It encompasses 90,000 square feet of saltwater lagoons on the western shoreline of Grassy Key. Besides its education, research and rescue initiatives, the centre offers experiences where visitors can interact with the dolphins.

What made the visit of great interest to me was that it is the home of descendants of the dolphins who played Flipper in the movie and tv series in the 1960s. It was one of my favourite shows when I was growing up, and I was excited to see Tursi, the 40-year-old daughter of two of the original Flipper dolphins. She has had several children, who live with her at the centre, thus ensuring the family line continues. As well as the dolphins who were born at the centre, others include those who have been rescued due to injury or mishap.

One of the questions many people asked the trainers was whether the dolphins were forced to entertain. The answer was that the the dolphins aren’t compelled to do anything they don’t want to do; the trainers suggest certain types of behaviour and if the dolphins do those things, they get a fish. So, mostly, the trainers make use of what dolphins do naturally.

I could see this innate exuberance with two recently born baby dolphins who had not been trained yet. They were jumping and rolling and doing all sorts of hi-jinks all on their own. And, yes, they were very cute!