Swimming with the Dolphins at Dolphinaris
Swimming with dolphins should be at the top of anyone’s “to do” list of lifetime experiences. Lucky for residents of Arizona, Dolphinaris provides such an experience. But, as Scottsdale.com found out, Dolphinaris is as much about ocean conservation as it is about having a fun experience with dolphins, one of the most social animals on earth.
Our experience could certainly be considered life changing. Whatever you thought you knew about dolphins will be expanded upon and lifted to the highest levels of respect and inspiration. The experience we participated in was the Trainer for a Day, which is the most immersive opportunity that we could have.
The Dolphin Trainer Experience
Before we got into the water with the dolphins, we had to prepare. Dolphinaris provides lockers, towels, wet suits (you probably won’t need one in summer) and pointers for what you need to know before getting into the water to meet eight different dolphins. The water is either heated or cooled (depending on the time of year), to 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
We sat with a team of trainers and learned a bit about the dolphins that live at the habitat. First, we reviewed what was in store for us for the day, and learned about the “Blu” conservation program, which will be reviewed later in the article. Next, we got into the water to meet the dolphins, pet them and play with them a bit. It is incredible how naturally curious and friendly dolphins are, and they swam right up to meet us. It was almost like having an instant friend… a very cute, friendly and slippery friend!
These particular dolphins are Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins, they live in shallow “ocean tables” and don’t tend to dive deep, nor do they migrate. They are perfectly suited to their Dolphinaris habitat. There is always a vet available for the dolphins and their health and well-being are frequently monitored.
It was hard to get out of the water the first time because it was so much fun playing with the dolphins, but we then got to learn about the mammal’s diet. Interestingly, each dolphin has a specific diet that even includes their “favorites.” Each dolphin receives their own specially prepared food bucket each day.
Next, we were taken to the area that houses the water filtration system. There are 900,000 gallons of water in the handful of dolphin habitats at Dolphinaris and incredibly, all of the water is completely filtered through a gravity driven sand filtration system every 90 minutes. It was a staggering fact to learn, but wow, did that water look clean! Many times each day, the habitat water is tested and checked for its Ph balance. To protect the dolphins and their habitat, jewelry, cell phones, electronics and not permitted in the habitat and guests are asked to wash off sunscreen at the outdoor showers.
We then headed back to our “trainer’s room.” We learned about the dolphins’ natural behaviors as it would be in the wild. These are the very actions that the dolphins go through during the course of the day at Dolphinaris. Dolphins love to play and they like to toss around balls, and play with hoops and buoys. More than playing with toys, the dolphins really liked playing with us! We also learned that the dolphins are required to have at least 10 hours of “down time” away from people each day. Interestingly, when the trainers show up early in the morning and prior to guests arriving, the dolphins are typically all together in just one of the habitat areas, resting or playing together as a family or pod, just as they would as if they were in the wild. Our eight new dolphin friends were all born into captivity and raised by humans. As such, they would never survive in the wild, and as we learned, dolphins in captivity live much longer lives at Dolphinaris than they would in the ocean.
Believe it or not, the dolphin food preparation was a blast. We learned that every single fish is inspected individually before it is considered for dolphin food. If a fish has cloudy eyes or something wrong with a fin… it’s out! We prepared individual buckets of food for each dolphin and then went out to feed them. If there is something that these dolphins like as much as playing with people, it’s eating fish and getting special treats. One treat the mammals receive are little cubes that are almost like a “Jell-o” cube that contains hydration and protein. We learned that dolphins don’t drink; rather, they get their hydration from the food they eat.
Finally, it was back into the water to play with the dolphins and make use of the different hand signals that we learned. Without hesitation, we were able to use our hand signals to have dolphins give “high-fives,” wave to us with their flippers, jump and splash. We also put on masks to watch the dolphins swimming under and around our small group. It’s incredible how quickly they can swim!
The Trainer for a Day experience culminated in a “graduation.” We received a certificate of completion from Dolphinaris, plus a cute “Trainer for a Day” shirt. Alas, our 3 ½ hour adventure at Dolphinaris was over, we hit the showers and headed over to look at our photos that were taken by the professional photographer staff throughout our stay. Since we participated in this specific experience, we were also able to have complimentary access to the Beach Club adjacent to the dolphin habitat. The Beach Club includes shaded cabanas, tables, a “humans only” pool, and Docktails, a great pool-side spot for drinks, cocktails and noshes by Views Modern Grove, the full-service restaurant that overlooks all of Dolphinaris. Of note, there is a glass partition in the Beach Club pool that looks through to the dolphin habitat. While we were there, several dolphins swam over to our group and splashed us from over the partition.
There are a few places for those who are not participating in an experience to observe the action at the dolphin habitat. The first is in the Views Modern Grove restaurant. Guests will need to make a minimum food or beverage purchase in order to sit and observe the habitat from the restaurant’s windows located on the second story. Or, guests may observe from the Beach Club area, again with a minimum food/beverage purchase.
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We Are One. We Are Blu.
Blu is the name of the conservation commitment program at Dolphinaris and everyone is highly encouraged to join its mission. In a series of pledges, guests participating in dolphin experience at Dolphinaris are encouraged to pledge:
1. I will use less plastic products, recycle and reuse.
2. I will reduce car use, not leave lights on, and replace some hours spent online for activities that do not use electricity.
3. I will not forget about packaging (use products with packaging not harmful to marine life).
4. I will not buy products made from coral, tortoise shell, or shark fin in order to reduce poaching and trafficking of these species.
5. I will talk to people about the importance of the ecosystem and what they can do to help care for the ocean.
6. At the beach I will take care not to bury garbage or let the wind blow it away.
7.I will use rechargeable batteries when possible and dispose of batteries and other electric material in the correct place.
We left Dolphinaris with a profound respect for these beautiful animals and the habitat in which they live. The dolphin trainers are entirely committed to their animals, and treat them as a valued member of their own family.
Various Dolphin Experiences
There are several different Dolphinaris experiences available for people of almost any age.
- Dolphin Land Experience
- Dolphin Water Experience
- Deluxe Dolphin Experience
- Dolphin Trainer Experience
- Dolphin Explorer Camp
- Couples Dolphin Experience (available in the late afternoon/evening)
About the Dolphinaris Foundation
The Dolphinaris Foundation consists of three different units, each supporting one of its causes.
Education: to teach children and young adults about dolphins in a fun and interactive way, often difficult in classrooms.
Research: Collaborate with universities to push dolphin research further.
Conservation: Use our knowledge to help preserve the natural environment for dolphins.
Dolphinaris Foundation for founded for three reasons:
- Create awareness for dolphins and ocean health among its youngest minds.
- Unite accomplished minds in order to perform research that will improve the health of dolphins.
- Form a better environment for dolphins to live in.
Dolphinaris is located at 9500 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale. Visit www.dolphinaris-arizona.com or call (480) 407-5154 for additional information.