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Lifestyle & Culture

My Day With a Dolphin

By Gabrielle Ignotis, Editor-In-Chief

I awaken to the sound of my cell phone vibrating against the heavy wooden nightstand. I open my eyes
and take a moment to acclimate myself to the unfamiliar territory.

I scan the sky-blue walls and graying wooden floorboards, briefly inspecting the black and white print of
palm trees that is hung on the wall across from me. I can’t see the digital clock from my bed, but I know it
must be early.

I carefully lift the slate gray quilt and stark white sheets before sliding out of the bed. I move softly
toward my suitcase, careful not to disturb the rest of my family. My bag remains packed; I didn’t see the
need to unpack it when we would only be spending two days in St. Augustine anyway. I gather up a
bathing suit, denim shorts, sunscreen and a light sweater before heading toward the bathroom.

By the time I have showered, gotten dressed, applied sunscreen and thrown my hair back in a messy
ponytail, the rest of my family is beginning to arise. I scroll through my phone absentmindedly as they go
about their morning routines. Luckily, we don’t take too long.

We leave the inn shortly before 8 a.m. We stop for coffee and bagels from a nearby shop before heading
toward our destination.

The drive only takes about 20 minutes, but the fact that we are traveling over a narrow strip of land makes
it seem longer. I spend most of the ride gazing at the ocean while listening to music, my cheek resting
firmly on my fist the entire time.

Marineland Dolphin Adventure is small. If it weren’t for the GPS, I wouldn’t have recognized the squat
collection of white-washed buildings as an aquarium or as a museum. The only thing that distinguishes
this facility is a neat painted sign and a small yellow arch over the entrance.

We walk through the entrance. There is a gift shop near the front, which we make plans to visit later.

We pick our way through the grounds, reading plaques and studying exhibits. Marineland prides itself on
being part immersive experience, part aquarium and part museum. They host over 80 years of St.
Augustine history and a collection of information about marine life.

We move a little quicker when we realize what time it is, making our way to a large pool near the back of
the facility.

When we arrive, one of the Marineland staff members introduces herself and takes us into the back with a
few other individuals. There, we are fitted for life vests, which are unfortunately neon colored, and given
basic instructions.

After what feels like an hour, but is probably only about 15 minutes, we can get into the water. We stand
in the shallow end, where the water just barely comes up to our waists. The other end is much deeper,
likely more than 30 feet.

After a few additional instructions, the trainer whistles. A gray shape approaches under the water, its
rounded fin breaching the surface right before it stops at the edge of the shallow end. The trainer walks
over, lightly grasping the fin as she pulls the creature into the shallow end carefully.

“This,” the trainer announces, “Is Zach.”

I gasp softly as I gaze down at the dolphin. He is almost 8 feet long, light gray and clearly energetic. His
black eyes twinkle mischievously, although he obeys the trainer every step of the way.

The trainer provides facts and information about Zach as well as the care Marineland provides for him, as
she leads him through a collection of tricks. Zach performs jumps, makes various noises and shakes
hands, or fins I suppose. At one point, the trainer invites Zach to kiss my cheek, which he does.

The trainer also allows us to pet Zach. My family and I each put one hand on him and rub him gently. He
feels like clean, smooth, wet rubber. The Marineland photographer snaps a photo. My grin is so wide, it
eclipses half of my face.

Eventually, our session ends. We dry off and bid goodbye to the trainer and Zach, who performs a few
more tricks for us before returning to the deeper end of the pool.

After, we stroll the wooden boardwalk that borders one side of the pool. On one side, Marineland’s
historical and scientific attractions begin to come to life in the late morning. On the other, the peaceful
waves lap against the beach as the wind softly plays with the picturesque tall grass.

It’s still chilly for a morning in Florida, so I pull my sweater a little closer as I take in the sight with my
family, content and at peace.

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