When I was four, just after my father completed his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, our family moved to Texas.
Growing up, and as far back as I can remember, my dream was to work with dolphins and become a (dolphin) Trainer at SeaWorld® (pre-Blackfish).
Before that dream became a reality, I remember always being interested in learning more by reading and studying as many books (and encyclopedias) as I could on dolphins, whales, oceanography, and marine biology. Unfortunately, at that time, there wasn’t access to the Web or Google.
I spent most of my childhood (and through high school) as a swimmer, and also played water polo on our high school swim team.
I also enjoyed competing on our neighborhood swim team and in AAU. I spent many summers lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons which were always fun to be a part of.
“After the magic moment when my eyes were opened to the sea, it was no longer possible to see, think, and live as before.”
At a very young age, my first experience with scuba-diving was in 1973, in the Pacific ocean. I remember taking a boat ride out (with a friendly local dive shop) to a well-known dive spot. This was the first time I jumped into the ocean with dive gear on.
After I plunged in, I waited for the bubbles to rise so I could see clearly. Through the lens of my mask, I looked up through the crystal clear aqua-blue water and felt invigorated. I remember seeing so many colorful and intricate “creatures” and corals.
From that day on I became pretty stoked about marine life, marine biology, and this new underwater world.
Videos (below) by Kyle McBurnie. (Yeah, I know, I need to post my own videos, right?)…
I was pretty motivated and decided to become (Scuba) certified at age 14, earning several PADI dive certifications (OW, AOW, and Rescue Diver). It’s not Navy SEAL-worthy, but it’s a good place to start.
In 1980, I traveled to Maui for the first time, with my family. We stayed for a month and visited what was then a totally unpopulated Wailea beach (The Grand Wailea and Four Season Resorts now encompass the area).
We also visited Molokini Island, which offers some pretty sweet world-class snorkeling and diving.
We also visited a few other places like Bermuda, Cozumel, The Florida Keys, California (La Jolla), and Puerto Rico (El Conquistador Resort which has its own private island and offers a picture-perfect place to snorkel).
After university (during the late 80s), I continued learning as much as I could about cetaceans (in addition to this new thing called a personal computer).
I was planning on going back to university again to study marine biology at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute or Texas A&M at Galveston (although I was intrigued by several west coast university systems that offered impressive curriculums)… and then boom! Sea World was built and I was thankfully hired there.
At the “Multi-species stadium,” I was able to work with and help train Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), and Pacific black whales (Pseudorca crassidens).
In retrospect, I have humbly made a 180° shift in my views about marine parks and how humans interact with captive marine mammals.
Arguably one of the most impactful and successful documentary films, Blackfish fundamentally contributed to the elimination of SeaWorld’s breeding program in less than three years and continues to make an impact on how we view whale and dolphin captivity.
The Cove won an Oscar (Academy Award) in 2010 for Best Documentary.
As a behaviorist, it was a surreal experience to be up close and “work” with this beautiful dolphin species every day. In retrospect, (IMHO) I believe they are better off in their natural (pelagic) habitat. The “Lags” (Pacific white-sided dolphins) are pictured above.
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