Welcome to the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key in the Florida Keys 🙂 !
The Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key is at MM59 Bayside ~ a short drive from Islamorada or an easy trip from Key West. You can spend a few hours or an entire day, depending on your desires. The DRC grounds are easily navigated on a self-guided tour, with excellent signage telling about the history of the facility, the mission and current programs. It’s the filming location for the original FLIPPER series, and as someone who grew up with Sandy, Bud, and Flipper, it was a must stop on our Florida Keys road trip!
The bayside lagoons are extensive, with different viewing areas and programs at various times throughout the day. There is a master plan and capital campaign for the facility, a wish list for specific items (hula hoops to computers!) and a program to extend the causeway and provide dolphin shade. As someone who has to work hard to avoid sunburn ~ and enjoyed the shade from the tiki causeway during my visit ~ I can really relate to this one! There are beautiful gardens, water playgrounds, food carts and picnic areas, and the facility is pet friendly! A bargain for general admission ~ you can enjoy the grounds, watch the animal programs and take endless photos.
It is sooooo hard to resist jumping in these lagoons ~ especially when the sun is hot and the dolphins are swimming and playing all around. I demonstrated admirable restraint ~ but it was hard! WAHHHH ~ I wanted to play with the dolphins! Ok, I’m better now. I momentarily forget I’m an adult, sometimes.
There are many different options for dolphin interactions and reservations are strongly recommended. The day of our visit, the programs were full or I would have been unable to resist the opportunity! Having done the wild dolphin scuba encounter at RIMS in Roatan, Honduras, I at least had that memory to relive as I watched the dolphin programs around the center. Dolphins are AMAZING animals. Seeing them and interacting with them up close in research programs, or experiencing them in the wild are magical encounters. Dolphins are highly social and in some ways smarter than the land mammals. Read my Esteban story. I rest my case!
Anyone who has watched dolphins draft the bow or surf the wake from a boat, can feel the fun they’re experiencing. In the wild they do these things because they enjoy it. Captive dolphins respond to trainer requests and signals as they please. It’s really difficult to make a thousand pound adult do something they dislike, especially if they can drown you in the process. I love the photos of the kids in the dolphin encounter giving the hand signals for the “dolphin twirl”. Look at those photos ~ the dolphin knows who is the star, and is doing what they choose ~ the fish reward is a bonus 🙂 . Those children will always remember that moment and hopefully will carry a love for the ocean with them always and forever.
Each dolphin’s dorsal fin and tail flukes are part of their unique identity ~ curves, notches, pointy tips and scars are immediately recognizable on each animal as you get to know them. Of course they also have names and distinct personalities. Learn more about the DRC animal family here. You can “adopt” a member of the family, share a “bucket of fish” (on their birthday!) and visit via webcam. Could be a great gift idea for the future conservationist or ocean lover on your list ~ especially if paired with a future DRC visit reservation. You would be the holiday gift rockstar!! You can thank me later 🙂
Jax is a special member of the DRC family. Orphaned as a calf and attacked by a bull shark, Jax was rescued and eventually relocated to DRC, where he was adopted into the dolphin family. Jax lost a chunk of his dorsal fin and tail fluke in the shark attack. The day we visited, we talked at length with a trainer about Jax. He was in his favorite spot near a walkway, where the current flows through from the bay. He loves the water flow and shade ~ chillin’ out in sort of a stationary flume ride.
Jax is also a special part of the DRC work with the Wounded Warrior project and it is easy to understand why. Please share this with any veterans and their families you may know and help get the word out on this great program.
Though the dolphins are the stars, there are other members of the DRC animal family. There are exotic birds, a cat brigade for “rodent deterrence” and a group of three “retired” sea lions. I believe this is “Karen” aka “Care-bear” enjoying both the sun and a water sprinkle between programs.
I’ll leave you with a couple of beautiful views out to the gulf horizon. Dolphins, whales, fish, sharks, turtles ~ it”s their ocean, we just get to visit 🙂 Aren’t we lucky?
We LOVED our DRC visit, and on the next trip I’ll be in the water with some of the family. Like I need a reason to go back. I swear I’m coming back as a dolphin in my next life ~ at least, I hope I get the chance. We should all be so lucky. In the meantime, I can share a bucket of fish with my buddy Jax on his birthday. Pretty cool, huh?