Flippers Grandkids at the Dolphin Research Center

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Dolphin Research Center, Florida Keys

Before heading to Key West today with our luggage in the back seat — because these darned Mustangs are not built like a Porsche, featuring rear and front luggage compartments, not that a person in my party has too many bags of luggage, and I’m not saying whom — my husband and I decided to drive luggage free yesterday to visit the extended family of Flipper at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon at Grassy Key.

I first heard about the bottlenose dolphin family of Flipper’s children and grandchildren from Myrl Jeffcoat when she visited the Florida Keys a couple of years ago. This woman is often my inspiration for travel as she comes up with the best ideas of places to go; however, I had forgotten her trip to Florida until the subject of dolphins arose. Not much has changed since Myrl was there.


The Michael Jackson Dolphin Moon Walk

This is not Sea World, by any stretch. Proceeds from the programs, entertainment, entrance fees and gift shop go to support this nonprofit in its research of dolphins. My husband says the **original owner went off the deep end after founding the place and becoming move involved with the dolphins, like he was certain that dolphins communicated with aliens. Hey, I say, if cats can do it, why not dolphins? I’m open-minded that way.

Each dolphin has a name, responds to an individual whistle and develops its own particular personality. They can live 25 to 50 years, obviously much less in the wild, although they seem to remain childlike. In some ways, they are much like humans. Mothers protect their children. They laugh. They play with toys. They can be bribed with food, and they can do stupid human tricks. They watch us. People walking down a boardwalk are great entertainment for them, much like sitting on the front porch, sipping a sarsaparilla and watching traffic, I imagine.

These marvelous sweet creatures will do flips in the air, walk backwards on their tail, swim at a super fast speed like superman, flap their fins in the water like they are marching, as well as take tourists for a ride through the water by letting them hang on their dorsal. Many visitors from all over the world come to the Dolphin Research Center. Most of the programs involve a separate fee, then a professional photographer takes photos of the tourists and sells those photos at the end of the session.

If you like, you can also buy a door draft — it’s a stuffed dolphin toy with an incredibly long tail. The staff at the gift shop counter ties them into long rope and plays jump rope after hours. Because we asked what was up with the goofy dolphin, stoner-like dude gave us that explanation after he joked that we would not imagine — just so we wouldn’t have to imagine a Portlandia-like episode of gyrating orgies on the counter, which it was too late for. I just bought a t-shirt and a tiny dolphin souvenir. Couldn’t help myself.

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Gambit at the Dolphin Research Center, Florida

Glued to the TV as a kid in the early 1960s, I had watched every episode of Flipper. Living in Florida seemed so exciting to this Midwestern girl, airboat rides through the Everglades and Flipper. What wasn’t to like about Florida? I asked how many dolphins played Flipper on TV, wondering if it was a situation like with the many dogs who played Lassie, but the tour guide swears it was only one dolphin with two stand-ins, in case Flipper was busy eating fish or something.

**My husband was mistaken — he was thinking about John Lilly from St. Thomas and NOT the founder of the Dolphin Research Center, and he apologizes for the mistake. Me? I just write what he tells me and when he realizes I have done so, he makes amends.

Photos: Elizabeth Weintraub and Adam Weintraub

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