Dolphins and Taxes

Travelogue - April 11, 2009
"In the end we will conserve only what we love.
We love only what we understand.
We will understand only what we are taught."

-Baba Dioum
New Delhi, India 1968

The weather suddenly straightened up: the winds died down and temperatures increased. Up until now we've had every blanket Sea Gator owns piled on the bed. Gradually in Marathon we peeled them off. We were down to one blanket plus one chenille bedspread. It was a miracle!

We enjoyed our last few days in Marathon visiting around the Harbor and learning all about dolphins!

The Dolphin Research Center

Leaping fiberglass dolphins Here is another operation which, if I'd just spotted it from the road, I would have driven right on past. Seriously, who manufactures these giant fiberglass animals?

I've seen cows and steers, lobster, dinosaurs, chickens, fish, hot dogs, etc. Note that most of the animals that are rendered in fiberglass in the parking lot or atop a building are soon to be rendered in their own tasty juices on your plate. Not so the fabulous Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus).

How did we find ourselves photographing gigantic fiberglass dolphins leaping over a row of parked cars like a pair of aquatic Evil Kneival's, you ask? We were lucky:

During this year's stay in Marathon we became acquainted with Vesta and Dale, whose windows overlook the Boot Key Harbor mooring field. We could practically stand on Sea Gator's bow and wave at them. They and "Island Girl" Betty invited us to join them on the day's Quest for Knowledge, so on Sunday morning we dinghied over to their place and we all piled into their car. It was a ten-mile ride up to the Dolphin Research Center on Grassey Key, so we were very grateful for the air-conditioned lift.

Leaping real dolphins Despite first impressions the Dolphin Research Center was a fine facility. What began as the home of Flipper the famous movie dolphin, has changed hands repeatedly, each transition taking it closer to preservation and education and rescue of injured animals including manatees. On Sunday there was plenty to see and do and learn.

Vesta oriented us to the daily activities board and we found there were things going on all the time: talks, presentations, films, "dolphin encounters". We made our way directly to one of the back lagoons to meet the bachelor pod.

Bachelor Pod

Here are the boys! Males stick together, and there were three fellows in this large lagoon. One of them was encouraged to visit with a trainer for our amusement and edification, below. The other two were occupied with another trainer doing other behaviors at the same time, above, presumably for our education and also to maintain a semblance of decorum in the lagoon - if only one dolphin received attention there would be trouble. These fellows were fit and vigorous. Fiesty, in fact - what we assumed to be prop damage to the tops of their heads (remember, we were still dazed from our visit to the Turtle Hospital) was actually teeth marks from their rough housing - see a closeup of eyes, teeth and teethmarks, below.

Dolphin dancing on his tail These amazing creatures responded - when they felt like it - to verbal and hand signals and whistles. And snacks. Lots and lots of snacks.

The dolphins executed stunning leaps and twists and twirls, and walking on their tails, left. One fellow did a scary shark impersonation - he propelled himself with his tail panning horizontally, instead of the normal vertical arches. There were many many tricks and behaviors demonstrated. All the variety in training and attention is designed to keep their big brains entertained and interested, their bodies svelt and agile.

They also demonstrated some "medical behaviors" where the dolphins are encouraged to allow themselves to be tended to in various ways for their health. Below, trainers put a hose down a dolphin's throat and pour in fresh water. Dolphins get their water from fish normally, but when they are sick they may dehydrate. So they are trained to accept fluids daily against that event.

Trainer entubating dolphin We were thrilled to see how beautiful they are! Usually we see them in the wild from above, and only for short periods because they soon discover that Sea Gator's bow wave isn't much fun to ride. Here they hung around for quite a long while, since the action was with the trainers. They are very sleek, very adept, very powerful. They are flawless in their environment as though they are molded of the very water itself.

I loved it that the young woman interpreter kept interrupting her own lecture to laugh at the dolphins' antics. She'd talk to them and to us at the same time, saying, "Um, what are you doing now? He is so casual, he's like, I'm doing my own tricks now, here's what I feel like, okay, here I come, watch me!" and she'd laugh her glorious laugh (she reminded me of my niece Angela, Hi Angie!) and we in the audience would laugh, too.

I asked Rick, what was his favorite thing about the dolphin research center? He said, "The dolphins." Fair enough.

The next thing I myself loved is that the enclosing fences around all of these lagoons are very low, as you can see in the photos. So if any dolphin ever feels threatened he or she can easily leap over the fence and just swim out into Florida Bay. The enclosures are also designed to break away under pressure, so even in a panic the dolphin can escape the lagoons.

Playful toothmarks We learned that recently three of the fellows busted out in their high spirits and went on a sightseeing tour of the Bay. They were gone for several days and then came swimming back home. Probably smirking and elbowing each other with their flippers.

Which leads me to the single disturbing part of the experience. The dolphins are all hand-fed, three meals per day during training or tours or whenever. And there are now up to three generations of dolphins in the Center. In other words, grandma and mamma don't hunt and are therefore unable to teach the babies how to hunt or to fend for themselves in the wild.

I'm not sure how this affects the research into dolphin family behavior that is underway, but these creatures are now fully dependent upon humans for their lives. That's a tenuous position in which I don't even like to find myself.

Nevertheless. Baba Dioum's quote (above) was posted several places around the Center and transcribed on the backs of the Staff t-shirts. And they are true to their creed.

Dolphin Babies

Leaping dolphin On to the next cool thing: We attended a presentation about dolphin Babies. Cute cute cute! Dolphin babies are carried lengthwise in the mom's body, to avoid tipping off sharks who would quickly spot a centrally-located bulge. Babies are actually nearly half the length of their mothers when they are born - the fiberglass parking lot dolphins shown above are not to scale. The babies are born live of course, and their first act is to swim upward to breath.

Females live in groups consisting entirely of other females and youngsters, and females are fertile only when they choose to be (that elicited a lot of feminine sighs from the audience). The babes gestate for 12 months. Before and during labor the mom is accompanied by a midwife of her choosing, who immediately encourages and supports the tot in its first breaths. Then the infant joins the nursery group and learns to swim and continues nursing for a year.

How do they nurse under water, eh? Get this: The baby rolls its tongue into a tube - try it - and both sides at the back of the tongue have little finger-like nubs that interlace together. The mammary glands (there are two) are located inside deep indentations on either side of the mom's belly. The baby locates the indentations with its beak and then uses its rolled tongue like a straw. All without slowing down, they just keep a-swimming along.

Dolphin Encounter

More leaping dolphin This is a place where people can get in the water with the dolphins and interact with them. We saw several different groups feeding and attempting hand signals to the dolphins. One family was instructed to hold out their arm and catch the dolphin's fin for a ride as the dolphin swam by. When the boy tried it the dolphin gave him a fast ride - he emerged splashing and spluttering "That was awesome!!" Minutes later the same dolphin towed the boy's fragile younger sister gently and slowly around the pool. That was an impressive demonstration of either deduction or intuition.

One sour note was the young couple who held their infant child in the water with them. The baby's toes dangled, pink and squid-like, in the water alongside the fish snacks. Now, say what you want about dolphin intelligence, but that was just asking too much of animals who - as we had been assured repeatedly by the staff - are encouraged to have their own agenda. The baby was crying, he was smarter than his parents. I couldn't watch.

Dinner and an Amazing Coincidence

The dolphin discoverers: Vesta Dale Betty Pat Rick Well, no human infants were maimed during the production of this Travelogue, I'm happy to say. Vesta and Dale drove us all home in various stages of happy exhaustion.

In the backseat of the car I turned to Rick and said, "Rick, I gave Steve and Diane's contact info to Betty." Rick leaned past me to look at Betty and told her, "Good, you'll like them."

From the front seat Vesta said over her shoulder "Steve and Diane K.?" And I (who don't know their last name) said "No" and Rick (who does) said "Yes".

It seems that Dale met Aurora the night they all survived a tragic dock fire together and they've remained close. It's amazing how boaters get around.

Back at the harbor Rick and I took Bump Head home for a quick change and cat petting/feeding/grooming, then we dingied down to the harbor mouth and tied to Betty's swim platform. Rick got a tour of the boat while I socialized with the folks in the sailboat Anonymous next door (no relation).

Soon Nan arrived from Easy Silence and Vesta and Dale from the parking lot and we trooped on down the dock for dinner at a waterside restaurant. Rick and I ended the evening with a long, leisurely moon-lit dinghy ride home. It was a perfect day - thanks everyone!

Beam Seas to Key West

What's new? We spent a couple days getting ready and on Wednesday, April 1, we cast off from our mooring and motored out of the harbour.

SEA GATOR heels to starboard We soon encountered the expected seas rolling in off the Atlantic and tipping Sea Gator over on her starboard side. She rolled back of course, but the starboard side of the refrigerator received some new food items. Rick was thrown out of his chair once, that was the most ferocious wave. The tilt in the photo, left, was about average.

Listen to me, tra la la. Like it's no big deal. Well, I don't have to enjoy it (this IS a trawler, after all, not a sailboat) but it's not terrifying the way it used to be. Hooray!

Six hours later we turned into the channel leading to Key West Bight and I radio'd the City Marina. Terri Otto, dockmistress extraordinaire, arrived to wave us in and catch our dock lines. Soon we were snug in our "home" slip. Terri gave me a welcome home hug which was greatly appreciated; we tightened our bow and stern lines, set fore and aft springlines, fenders, hooked up to water and power. We are set for the month.

Interestingly, Sea Gator still continued to list to starboard. We theorized that her fuel - her two tanks are located on either side of the hull and are connected by an equalizing hose - had all moved itself to the starboard tank. Sure enough, by morning we were level again.

Renewed and New Acquaintences

Bob and Barbara of the sailboat Confiance stopped by to welcome us. They are great friends of Adventure, and are now our neighbors at All American Boat Storage. We all (including their new tiny yorkshire terrier) walked downtown to lunch at Caroline's one day - I can't believe I didn't take a photo of the trio but there 'ya go. They departed yesterday to return their boat to All American and to begin the long trip northward and home.

Fred and Kelly in their dinghy And we were really happy when Fred came calling. We met him last year when he introduced himself to discuss a sticker in Sea Gator's window. His 25' Catalina sailboat Happy Clam is anchored in the harbor. After a front came through last week we asked him how his boat fared out there. He shrugged and said "Only two boats dragged." Neither one was his (he's on a permanent mooring consisting of a sunken engine block stabilized by three anchors), but that's what we know about the holding in the harbor, and why we are here at the dock!

Anyway, Fred and Kelly spent several hours with us off and on as we all shared favorite anchorages and cruising tips on either side of southern Florida. A few days later Happy Clam departed for a cruise through the Caloosahatchee and down the west coast. There they go - out to Happy Clam on their dinghy and thence to Miami. We hope they have a wonderful time! Next year we intend to faithfully follow Fred's notes as we cruise the east coast.

Keith and Rick One day Keith Scott "hello'd" to introduce himself. He told us that things were slow down at Elite Canvas & Upholstery and therefore he was walking the dock to see if anyone had any work for him. Well, yes, we did. Between the ravages of Florida's sun and Goldie's claws Sea Gator's bimini cover needed some patching and some runs of new thread and all new zippers throughout (the canvas was currently attached with the emergency plastic zip ties). Then Rick remembered that our helm cover had been held down with parachute cord since its snaps had all broken, so Keith took that with him as well.

Our policy of saying "yes" to opportunities paid off: we were impressed. Keith soon phoned with the info we'd requested (the location of the best pizza joint in town) and then several days later he returned with our canvasses within the time and at the price promissed. His work was sound and our cost for the repairs is minor compared to all new canvas, so we are happy. Here, Keith and Rick reinstall the bimini cover. Thanks, Keith!

Liberty Clipper leaves the basin Unfortunately, our policy of saying "yes" needs some refinement. While walking Duval one evening I got suckered into what threatened to be a grueling 90-minute sales pitch for time-share vacation rentals. Well, I was wrong about the turtles and dolphins, maybe this would be entertaining? A quick search of the company's reputation on the internet proved otherwise. I got us out of it before any time was wasted. Live and learn.

The marina is still a great place to be. Here is our view from the back deck, right. We hung some sun fabric for afternoon shade and from that vantage point we watch the tall ships sail in and out. Sails aloft in the basin is unusual, but it sure was pretty.

Meanwhile I renewed my acquaintance with the folks down at the Common Problems Common Solutions club and I'm happy to sit with them for an hour or so almost every day.

USS MOHAWK Rick worked like a trooper on our taxes and filed them electronically well under the wire. He also had to spend a lot of time with my computer since a virus got me. But all is well now.

Vesta and Ann and some other friends from Marathon have been coming to Key West one evening a week for a class and I was thrilled to be asked to join them for a completely new and unexpected treat. Rick came along one evening for the post-class dinner and that was great too.

We've attended many movies at the fun Tropic Cinema, making up for the year in Wyoming during which we seldom bother.

That's it for this travelogue. Next time you hear from us we'll have visited the de-commissioned Mohawk, the last remaining Coast Guard WWII subchaser and ice breaker in existence, left. Her stalwart volunteers taught us a lot about their ship and put me in mind again of Baba Dioum's quote above, with which we began this Travelogue.

We also hope to visit the Gen. H.S. Vandenberg. She is a 500' WWII troop transport doomed to be torpedoed seven miles off the coast of Key West to create the world's second-largest artificial reef. On April 12 at 12:15 the Vandenberg departed Norfolk, Virginia, for the long tow to Key West. Imagine the job of towing such a vessel! No, don't bother imagining - just go to the Big Shipwrecks website to follow her daily progress, or Google "Sink the Vandenberg".

Weather permitting, the crew hopes to arrive in Key West a week or so when they will dock just behind the Mohawk. Then the fine folks manning the Mohawk will have a couple weeks to go aboard and "requisition" fittings, portlights, fixtures, and furnishings for the Mohawk before the Vandenberg is towed offshore to her final destination.

Until then, please y'all, keep all four tires and four paws and two feet firmly on the ground. Thanks for listening.

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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