When I was in my twenties I lived in the Florida Keys and managed to land a little job working with an old female dolphin. I’ll call her Sweetie. She lived in a fenced lagoon at an ancient resort on the Gulf side. Three times a day Sweetie was fed buckets of fish as tourists looked on, cheering and clapping. Sounds sweet, right? Well, it was…if you were on shore.
Sweetie was a big dolphin, especially for a female, weighing in at over six hundred pounds. For years and years she had handsome young men dedicated to her care. They loved her and Swettie adored them. I was the first girl who had any real contact with Sweetie. And she didn’t like it, in fact, she wanted to bury my ass at the bottom of her lagoon. Nobody realized her intentions during my two weeks of training. She acted like a lady. Then the abuse began.
Here’ s how our show went. First, I would stand on a dock and introduce myself and Sweetie to the audience. I would ask her to do a tail walk and sometime she would….sometimes she wouldn’t. Then I would ask that beautiful creature to” find me a present” and I would give her a signal. I would point to the lagoon then tap the palm of my hand.
When the boys, Bob and James, did this trick, Sweetie would swim away then return with something wonderful. Everyday she found them, a pretty shell or rock, sometimes a snorkle, lost jewlery or coins. People dropped all kinds of stuff into her lagoon. When I stood on the dock in my bikini and asked for a present she always dropped an enormous glob of seaweed into my hand. Once she even put a turd of some kind in my palm. All I could do was smile while she laughed and spit water in my direction.
Next, I walked to a diving board and stood 15 or 20 feet above the tropical water holding a fish by the tail. Sweetie would swim a couple of laps to get her speed up then leap, like a gymnist with a blow hole, straight up, grab the fish from my hand, then fall back into the water with a magnificen splash. It was a georgous sight.
Next, I did an elegant swan dive into the warm water, waited for her to find me so I could grab her dorsal fin then she’d pull me back to the dock. She slid past the boys gracefully, slowly, gently, so they could easily grab her fin. When I dove in the water, Sweetie circled the lagoon like a bull then “accidently” hit the back of my thigh at twenty or thirty miles an hour like a 600 pound torpedo. She dropped the boys off inches from the dock. She generally left me at least fifteen feet away, so I had to swim in, wondering if she was going to hit me again.
The back of my leg was purple and black for weeks, as though I’d been hit by a car. Still, I had to smile as I climbed up on the dock and waved to the tourists.
The final trick of the day was easy, I touched my cheek and asked Sweetie for a kiss. When the boys asked, you can bet the kiss was a sweet thing, perfectly placed on their cheek, with a light touch. When Sweetie kissed me it was a little like getting punched by Mike Tyson. She felt the need to get a running start then hit me with astonishing force that made the audience gasp than laugh, thinking it was part of the act.
After three weeks the marine mammal abuse was too much. Jack and Mary were only two and three years old at the time, but I wouldn’t let them come to the show and watch….it was just too violent.
You know, we always hear about the dolphins who saved sailors and shipwrecked swimmers, but we never hear about the people dolphins drag out into the depths. Because they ended up drowning, or eaten by sharks!
yeah, dolphins are really really smart. My career as a dolphin trainer ended as quickly as it began. Sweetie won and my hands still smell a little fishy.
Comments OffTags: Dolphins, Florida Keys, marine mammals
Gulf Shores, Nobody Is There, So You Should Be If you have some cash or a credit card and a car, you need to find your swimming suit and go to Gulf Shores, Alabama…right now. I don’t care if you are secretly reading this blog on your I Phone in church (God knows), or during you daughter’s volleyball game. Do yourself a favor and go to the Gulf Coast.
That’s what we did last week. We smashed three of our four children into a car that was much too small for all our voices and legs and musical tastes and drove ten hours to Gulf Shores Alabama. The drive was fairly miserable, but the moment we walked out on the beach it was all worth it.
I had never visited Gulf Shores, also known as the “Redneck Riviera.” And I’m an idiot.
First, let me tell you about the sand, it was magical, soft, white, fluffy and this is coming from a woman who grew up in South Florida and lived in the Florida Keys for ten years. Endless and pristine, the beaches were breathtaking. I swear it took us two days before we found a single BP tar/oil ball. I don’t know what it is about the Gulf Coast but there weren’t even cigarette butts or bottle caps in the sand. It was that clean. And the beaches were, for the most part absolutely empty, except for the beach chairs the famous Gulf Shores Chair Fairies deliver every morning before sunrise, then cart them away every evening.
There were birds and exquisite bird tracks on the perfect sand, egrets, seagulls, sand pipers, all poking around as though hired to be extras on a movie set.
The water was crystal clear, full of fish and shells, some rays and on one afternoon jelly fish. Twice, bottle nose dolphins graced us with their exuberant presence, leaping over waves together, the perfect team in the sparkling waters. But we were just about the only ones watching the dolphin’s elegant and silly performance.
I interviewed virtually every local I met and they were all so nice, from bus boys to the half a dozen Russian girls working in surf shops. It’s been so long since they’ve had tourists so they were exceptionally friendly, helpful, and eager to visit. They explained that the beach and waters have been clean for almost two months but because of all the publicity, Gulf Shores has been virtually abandoned by tourists. I know that’s a really sad thing, but man, did it make our visit better. We were treated like royalty. I expected Admiral Thad Allen to appear and straighten my beach towel. The town was that friendly, especially all the teen-aged boys who kept smiling and nodding at my 14 year old daughter…humm.
We were able to rent a two bedroom condo with a huge balcony overlooking the Gulf. And this lovely condo cost less than a single room at the Holiday in Express on the interstate. Every day we were able to hang our damp clothes, towels and swim suits on the porch and they dried in the ocean breeze and sunshine.
Sure, we had mishaps, Jack threw Lex in the pool while she was holding her phone and that ended her texting career. And when we walked on the pier we saw so many little sharks and rays that Sandor (7 years old) freaked out, but, like good parents we lied our way out of that. We told him the pier was in Florida, not Alabama so those were all out of state sharks and rays. My face got so sunburned my lips puffed up like a blow fish (I think my husband thought it was kind of hot).
As the sun set we tried to launch a kite on the beach. The kids and I got it so high we used up all the kite string ( don’t think that’s ever happened to me). Then we chased seagulls and picked up seashells. Lexie stalked an egret on the beach until people started giving her really dirty looks. We could tell, they were thinking, “why is that pretty teen-aged girl harassing that big bird?”
We visited with fishermen as they hauled in Amber Jack,then drank a cold beer and grilled shrimp on the BBQ as we listened to the waves rolling up on the beach.
Wait, the shrimp… I need to tell you about the crustaceans. Shrimp season started two weeks before we arrived. We met Joe at Gulf Shores Seafood and were able to buy massive shrimp that had never been frozen. We cooked them with bacon and they were the finest seafood I’ve ever eaten.
We did some tourist things too. The kids loved The Hangout with it’s live music and family friendly atmosphere (ie. cute boys aged 14-16). Hey, when was the last time you played ping pong, listened to live music and sipped on a margarita as the moon rose over the ocean? That’s the Hang Out.
We went on a two hour Dolphin Cruise. The cost…just 12 dollars for adults and 10 for kids. I can’t even take my kids to a movie for twelve bucks. And we saw an entire of pod of dolphin, mom, and a baby competed for our attention body surfing side by side, launching themselves into the air, right there, next to the boat . Sandor, in his giant orange life vest, kept looking back at me and screaming, “This is so awesome, Mom.” So tell me, what’s that worth? More than twelve dollars.
I could go on and on but you get the idea. Right now, everything on Gulf Shores is absolutely perfect, there’s nobody there and they need tourists. Head on down and I promise you, you will have the post card vacation you’ve always dreamed about.
Tags: Alabama, bikini, BP, Dolphins, egret, Gulf Coast, Gulf Shores, Oil Spill, Thad Allen, vacation