The Hammocks at Marathon, Bluegreen Resorts’ vacation haven in the center of the Florida Keys, is the ideal spot for enjoying diving, snorkeling, swimming, sailing, and boating excursions. However, Marathon also offers other attractions, including shopping, dining, the Sunset Celebration every evening at Mallory Square, and chartered jaunts out to the sites of a number of picture-worthy shipwrecks, to name only a few. Travelers with a love of animals, science, and nature will love spending a day at the Dolphin Research Center. Here, visitors can observe the playful, intelligent California sea lions and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins that make their home at the center.
With advance reservations, visitors ages 5 and up can partake in a daily dolphin encounter. Families of all ages can also enjoy a “dolphin dip,” which involves interacting with the animals while standing on a raised platform in the water. In addition, for $30 above general admission fees, anyone can walk in and “hug a sea lion.” Aside from special programs like these, general adult admission to the center costs only $25 per person. The center welcomes people with disabilities and is wheelchair-accessible.
The Dolphin Research Center was established to facilitate dolphin rescue and to foster understanding, communication, and cooperation among human beings, the natural world, and the animals of the sea. Founders Armando “Mandy” Rodriguez and Jayne Shannon-Rodriguez hoped to provide a lifelong sanctuary for rescued dolphins within the infrastructure of a full-service research and teaching center.
The first person to bring dolphins to Grassy Key was commercial fisherman and self-taught animal trainer Milton Santini. Santini’s love for the dolphins he cared for was so great that he even brought them into his home during a hurricane, keeping their bodies moist with wet towels for the duration of the storm. Santini’s dolphins were so well trained that several even served as the lead character in the original film that sparked the popular television show Flipper. After the death of his favorite dolphin, Mitzi, Santini sold his dolphin-training academy to a company that renamed it Flipper’s Sea School. Mandy and Jayne Rodriguez, who arrived on Grassy Key in the 1970s, followed in Santini’s footsteps by getting jobs at the school and later founding the Dolphin Research Center. Today, the center hosts 70,000 international visitors every year.