Behind the Scenes at Gulf World

Behind the Scenes at Gulf WorldBy Wendy O. Dixon, Editor


Growing up spending summers in Northwest Florida, a trip to Gulf World Marine Park was an exciting part of the visit. Even now, I could watch the dolphins swim all day. And I get a thrill seeing my kids giggle as Duke the sea lion sticks out his tongue for the audience and Sandy, the 25-year-old bottlenose dolphin and star of the show, shoots up from the water to do a midair flip.

Gulf World is best known for its animal shows, especially those featuring the dolphins. And the continuous exhibits featuring exotic birds, penguins, otters and reptiles offer something for everyone.

But what I find most impressive about Gulf World is what the staff does behind the scenes. The feeding and caring for the animals is a round-the-clock job. The staff prepares food for the animals every day, all while carefully logging in each animal’s mood, behavior and appetite. After each feeding, the staff cleans the buckets and soon after works on the animals’ next meals.

The park’s Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Network is made up of a team of dedicated animal lovers who have come to the aid of thousands of marine animals. They monitor sick dolphins at the park’s rehabilitation center and quickly become emotionally attached to them. When the animals survive and are released into the Gulf, the staffers rejoice. For the animals that don’t survive, they mourn.

Gulf World organized the rehabilitation of more than 1,700 sea turtles during the harsh winter of early 2010, when frigid temperatures stunned the turtles. The staff spent many hours working to warm the turtles and provide medical attention during their rehabilitation and successfully returned more than 1,200 turtles to their natural habitat.

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have rescued more than 150 turtles coated with oil and taken them to Gulf World, the official de-oiling facility for North Florida. The staff cleans and rehabilitates the turtles, regularly checking their vital signs, hydration levels and glucose levels. Once they are ready for transport, Gulf World sends them to Sea World Orlando or Walt Disney World for further rehabilitation, clearing the tanks for incoming turtles.

I took a tour of the de-oiling facility and saw dozens of sea turtles, each in its own large plastic tub, swimming and splashing, looking healthy and clean. I appreciate the staff at Gulf World for all they do — even during the wee hours when the rest of us are asleep — to ensure that sea turtles are taken care of.

We at Emerald Coast Magazine also appreciate all the submissions from our readers for our annual “Best Of the Emerald Coast” awards and congratulate the winners. See if your picks made the list this year.