Dolphin Academy Curacao is an entertaining, informative, interactive experience

Thu. August 23, 2018 12:00 AM
by Ross Forman

A visit to the Dolphin Academy in Curacao is a must for that amazing, up-close interaction with coastal bottlenose dolphins that reach up to 13 feet and weigh close to 450 pounds.

Swimming with the dolphins is always a cool experience, no matter how many times you've done it. Of course the friendly aquatic mammals always seem willing to pose for a variety of photos and unique experiences, such as, an in-water high-5.

"(Our goal is) combining information and genuine interaction with dolphins; we hope to encourage a sense of wonder and fascination based on fact, not fiction – and provide motivation for visitors to help preserve and protect dolphins and the environment in which they live," said George Kiefer, Director of Dolphins & Programs at the Dolphin Academy, where more than 20 dolphins are trained, analyzed and, ultimately, the perfect entertainers.

More than 1,800 students representing 60 school classes in Curacao take part in the Dolphin Academy's educational outreach program, which includes a school visit and lesson from the Academy's education department and a field trip to the Sea Aquarium to engage in specialized learning activities and meeting the dolphins.

"The Dolphin Academy also provides resources and expertise in response to whale or dolphin stranding events in the southern Caribbean, including a successful rescue and rehabilitation of a short-finned pilot whale on Curacao," Kiefer said.

"We implore our guests to remember the individual dolphins they come to know, and ask them that the next time they learn of dolphins washed up on a beach sick or injured, drowned accidently in fishing gear, or killed intentionally . . . recall a dolphin in Curacao with whom they have made a connection. Imagine that same dolphin in peril and come to the realization that the loss of any one of these animals represents far more than a mere statistic. It is the loss of a truly unique and precious individual."

Kiefer said the amount of time it takes to train a dolphin is dependent on the trainer and the dolphin. One thing is certain, he added: "It is super easy to teach the babies born with us. They start by imitating their mothers, then begin paying close attention to when the trainers blow a whistle and what that means." The whistle means "yes, correct" or "good job."

The whistle is always followed by a reward.

"The care and training of the dolphins for all of our public programs is based upon the operant conditioning method of positive reinforcement," Kiefer said. "Specific behaviors are gradually taught and shaped by providing the dolphins with a variety of 'reinforcers' for desired responses. These rewards are praise and attention from trainers, food (fish), and tactile (touch).

"Whenever the dolphins respond correctly, they are rewarded.

"If they make a mistake, we simply try again or move on to a different request."

The Dolphin Academy has 16 highly-skilled trainers, led by Kiefer who began studying wild bottlenose dolphins along the North Carolina coast in 1983 while in college – and he's been working at the Dolphin Academy since May, 2002.

I heard during my visit to the Dolphin Academy that the dolphins are actually bisexual. But Kiefer corrected that statement. In reality, he said, dolphins are "try-sexual ... they will try anything," he said. "Not only will they happily have sex with each other, regardless of age or gender, they also find natural sponges growing on the bottom, toys, and in some cases, smooth human legs to be sexually gratifying.

"Sexual behavior among bottlenose dolphins is as much about 'recreation' as it is 'procreation.' It's a very big part of their normal social interactions and all dolphins will solicit sexual attention from each other."

There's so much to do when vacationing in Curacao ... the Dolphin Academy is one of my favorite in this Caribbean that is about 40 miles north of the Venezuelan coast, with a population of about 160,000.

The Dolphin Academy is located on the premises of The Curacao Sea Aquarium, next to Mambo Beach Boulevard, where you can enjoy the beach, shopping, dining, and entertainment.

For more information about Dolphin Academy Curacao, go to: www.dolphin-academy.com/

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