How I ended up working with Dolphins and Whales

When I was four, just after my father completed his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, our family moved to Texas. As a young lad growing up in the late 60's (and early 70's), 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 as I could on dolphins, whales, oceanography, and marine biology. Unfortunately, we didn't have access to the internet or Google back then! I spent most of my childhood (and through high school) as a competitive swimmer, and also played water-polo on our high school swim team.

I also enjoyed swimming year-round in AAU, being part of our neighborhood swim team, lifeguarding, and teaching swim lessons during the summer. Our neighborhood had a formidable swim team, and the pool was a significant part of our neighborhood community, where friends would visit and hang out.

"After the magic moment when my eyes were opened to the sea, it was no longer possible to see, think and live as before." ~Jacques-Yves Cousteau

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 my first time jumping into the ocean with dive gear on. Through the lens of my mask, the crystal clear aqua-blue water was beautiful and invigorating.

As I slowly descended, I exhaled from my regulator and watched the bubbles rise up to the surface. I became even more intrigued by the ocean that day. As I continued to submerge, I took my first breaths of air and looked upon a beautiful underwater statue of Christ holding his arms up, surrounded by glowing tropical fish and other explosions of colorful corals. For me personally, this became an unforgettable place to experience my first dive.

From that day I became even more curious and motivated (actually super stoked!) to learn as much as I could about marine life (marine biology), and this new and intricately colorful underwater world. On that note, check out these awesome videos (below) by Kyle McBurnie.

Molokini Island (Maui)

Another view of Molokini Island…

A few years later I was old enough to become (Scuba) certified at age 14, earning several PADI dive certifications (OW, AOW, and Rescue Diver).

In 1980, I traveled to Maui for the first time, with my family. We stayed for a full 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 world-class snorkeling and diving. Since then, I've fortunately had opportunities to visit and dive in other unique ocean destinations such as Grand Cayman (I "earned" several company trips through work, over the years) and stayed at the Westin Grand Cayman – one of my favorite destinations. We also visited Bermuda, Cozumel, The Florida Keys, California (La Jolla), and Puerto Rico (El Conquistador Resort has their own private island and offers a picture perfect place to snorkel).

After university (during the late 80's), I continued learning as much as I could about cetaceans (in addition to technology – another serious interest). At the (SeaWorld) "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). Since then, I have humbly made a 180° shift in my views about marine parks (captivity), and now completely support natural habitats. If you haven't seen these movies already, consider watching Blackfish and The Cove (as tragic as they may seem, they uncover truths and help to raise awareness).

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.

One of the "Lags" at SeaWorld (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens – above)
One of the many Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)…
At the time, it was fun and extremely surreal to "work" with these beautiful animals (yes, that's me on the right). The "Lags" (Pacific white-sided dolphins are pictured here). I have great memories; however, I am now an advocate for change and believe they should all be living in their natural habitat.
Orca "Spy-hopping"
Orca "Spy-hopping" …
Beautiful resident orca pod…

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