One of our favorite parts of traveling to new places are the opportunities to learn about and interact with the local animals. On our trip to the Florida Keys we spent a morning at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key near Marathon.
Whether you just want to observe and learn, or really jump in and get hands-on with dolphins, this fits the bill!
Dolphin Research Center, Florida Keys
You can’t miss the Dolphin Research Center with these big dolphins out front! The kids will be excited before you even walk through the door. And this place is completely family-friendly and perfect for children of all ages.
The Welcome Center is beautiful and includes a lot of photos of the founders, Jayne Shannon-Rodriguez and Armando “Mandy” Rodriguez, who started the Center as a way to ensure that their dolphins always had a place to call home.
Some of the dolphins that have resided (and still do!) at the Dolphin Research Center have had medical conditions that require advanced care, are coming to the Center after rescue and rehabilitation, or come from other facilities. Those dolphins have gone on to have babies and now there are multi-generational families at the Center!
You can grab your tickets inside, and one of the neat things about the Dolphin Research Center is that you can spend an entire day, or just a couple of hours here. General admission tickets will allow you to observe and enjoy all of the educational programming, and then there are more hands-on activities for an additional fee. More on those below.
The daily schedule and a map of the habitats is located just inside the entrance, so take a peek at that to start and head toward the next activity. We were able to observe a bunch of these and they’re so neat!
One of the main purposes of the Dolphin Research Center is….research! Of course, right? This staff person on the lookout was observing the dolphins in the lagoon below, and she was counting breaths. We learned that this kind of monitoring of respiration rate is sometimes one of the first things that tips trainers off to health issues.
Everything they learn here contributes to the worldwide body of knowledge on dolphins. Pretty cool!
One thing that really stood out to us is how willingly these dolphins participated. You can see they are so well-treated and loved. In this photo, two of the trainers are hydrating this dolphin, who just willingly rolls over and opens his mouth.
Training a dolphin to do this is important because if they need medicine at any time, this is how it would be given to them.
If you really want to get right in there with these beautiful creatures, the Dolphin Research Center offers a bunch of more interactive programs. This young man was doing the Trainer for a Day experience. Amazing!! He got hands-on experience and up-close learning opportunities with these dolphins.
Imagine how cool this is for young people who are thinking about going into marine biology. What an awesome experience to gain this kind of insight into what it’s really like to work with sea animals.
And it looks like a total blast, too! Anyone is able to watch and observe this program (like we did!). One thing I love about this facility is that the dolphins are all kept in lagoons, not in small tanks. It feels like a much more natural environment for them and they thrive here.
Aren’t they so smart, and so beautiful?! These dolphins are Delta and Reese, and when the trainer was done working with her young participant, we were able to go over and meet them!
This was such a cool experience for the kids, and for us! My whole family loves animals and how often do you get the opportunity to touch a bottlenose dolphin?!
You can actually add on this Meet The Dolphin experience to your admission ticket for anyone in your group that wants to make a new dolphin friend.
We each had the chance to shake fins with the dolphins. So fun!
My kids really enjoyed being able to spend a few minutes up close with these animals.
I really liked that after we were done, these dolphins got a break and some quiet time. With a bunch of different lagoons and programming going on in different spots throughout the Center, the animals get plenty of time to relax and enjoy their dolphin friends.
Swim With Dolphins in The Florida Keys
The Dolphin Research Center does allow the opportunity to swim with dolphins, too! As with all of their programs, this is as educational as it is entertaining.
That’s one high jump!
Splash time! Participants definitely get wet, but when you’re in the Florida Keys and it’s HOT, that is a welcome experience.
Sea Lions at the Dolphin Research Center
There are a few other animals at the Dolphin Research Center, including these adorable sea lions! There were three of them there during our visit and Kilo is the big guy in the middle. Isn’t he huge?! We love how they all positioned themselves like this all on their own.
Staff give the sea lions ice as a treat to cool off. These gals are California sea lions, and this one, Luna, kept being rescued on the beaches in California when it was finally decided that she needed a home that could care for her, and she was brought to Florida.
Support The Dolphin Research Center
Something I learned that I wasn’t aware of, is that the history of dolphin research is pretty short. We’ve only been studying them for about 40 years, which is just one dolphin lifetime! There is still a lot that is unknown about these amazing creatures. The Dolphin Research Center contributing to that research knowledge, and they are doing it by providing safe and loving homes for dolphins that need it.
If you love dolphins, there are a bunch of membership and donation opportunities to contribute to the important work being done here. Not only are they educating the research community about dolphin behavior and cognition, but they are also educating all of their guests on how to be good stewards of the sea where these beauties live.
You can learn more about the Dolphin Research Center on their website, and by following along on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram. I would highly recommend adding a stop here on your Florida Keys vacation! We loved seeing these sweet dolphins and hearing about the good work happening here.
Vacation in The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys and Key West are the perfect place for a family vacation. Visit their website, and check out their social profiles for tons of ideas to help plan your adventure: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
How to Plan a Florida Keys Family Vacation:
Where to Stay in The Florida Keys
Best Places to Eat in The Florida Keys
- Marker 88 Restaurant in Islamorada
- Angler & Ale Restaurant, Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key
- Morada Bay Beach Cafe, Islamorada
- Robbie’s of Islamorada: The Hungry Tarpon + Feed the Tarpon
- Turtle Kraals Restaurant in Key West
- First Flight Restaurant & Brewery: USA’s Southernmost Microbrewery
Things to With Kids in The Florida Keys
- The Turtle Hospital, Marathon Key
- Dolphin Research Center, Marathon Key
- Robbie’s of Islamorada: The Hungry Tarpon + Feed the Tarpon
- Aquarium Encounters in Marathon FL: Coral Reef Encounter
- Bahia Honda State Park – Best Florida Keys Beaches
- Key West Butterfly Conservatory
- The Cats of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida