“This was pretty much a perfect day,” said Rob Braddick of South Ayrshire, Scotland, as he toweled off, face glistening with the last of the days sun. Mr. Braddick, his wife, brother, Jack and sister-in-law Jessie were at the end of a day at Discovery Cove, Orlando , Florida.
They had enjoyed a perfect, land-locked island get-a-way on a bright blue-skied day filled with white sand beaches, friendly dolphins and peering into undersea worlds vies-a-vie the snorkeling mask.
For many the goal of visiting Discovery Cove, Orlando, Florida is a once in a lifetime chance to interact with their Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphins.
Which is a truly remarkable experience.
Prior to the visit, the pre-day conversation was all about what we knew, thought, expected from our day at Discovery Cove. There was the palatable anticipation of being able to be safely “this close” to one of the most exciting, intelligent and clever mammals on Earth.
Before you enter the water, and while they have your undivided attention, Discovery Cove trainers take full advantage of the opportunity to make sure you take home a bit of information on the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin and the need to step up your efforts to protect their environment.
This takes place in a grass-roofed gazebo and it is here that you meet a trainer, such as 29-year-old Gina Riley.
Gina is a senior animal trainer with Discovery Cove in Orlando working with the dolphins and facilitating the guest’s interactions with them. Her tasks at Discovery Cove also have her working the small mammals that include a two-toed sloth and tamandua, a member of the anteater family.
As with most trainers at Discovery Cove, Gina has always had a love for animals and began her career as an educator in Sea World Orlando’s education department. She earned a degree in Marine and Freshwater Biology form the University of New Hampshire.
For those who are here to listen to the environmental message, having access to young, dynamic people, such as Gina, who are so ready and willing to share their knowledge, is priceless.
“I think when people come in, it is for a once in a lifetime experience, an amazing experience,” said Ms. Riley “We try to show them, before they get into the water, the world they are going to enter. That these animals in the wild are always in danger due to environmental concerns – from pollution to man’s encroachments on their environments.”
A film and briefing on the animals, how to touch them, or not – stay away from the eyes and blowhole, for example and it is off to the cove to meet your dolphin.
Your group, or pod of eight or so people, is not alone in the water. There are other groups situated in the man-made inlets enjoying their experience. Behaviorists are there, watching the animals and photographers stand waist deep, ready to capture your awe.
During our encounter, Dexter the Dolphin comes up to the group, swimming by for a first meet and great. The animal presents itself to the guests so that you can see their softer hued pinkish underbelly, feel the strength in the dorsal fin, inspect their teeth as he presents a wide opened smile.