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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Field Trip

When I was in high school, the kinds of field trips we took were to the art museum or the zoo. And as you might imagine, the highlight was eating lunch at McDonalds.

For 18 students from Worthington Christian High School in Columbus, Ohio, the highlight of their field trip to the Roatan Institute of Marine Sciences, located at Anthony's Key Resort, has been to interact with the dolphins.

Yeah, you heard me. These kids get a week off of school to travel a million miles away, and study marine biology in a warm, tropical environment. Oh, but they are taking classes while they are here. And there will be a test, says Debbie Walton, their science teacher and chaperone.

All of them spent weeks leading up to their visit studying reef biology, socking their money away and getting scuba certified. That way they were ready to jump in on arrival.

Well, I got my dream-come-true field trip today, too, when I got to snorkel with the 8 dolphins at the institute. For an hour-and-a-half, I swam alongside these creatures in the lagoon at the resort, watching their natural behavior...nothing like the fins and flipper-type show I've seen in the past.

They are a little hesitant to approach at first, so we're given an introduction by a trainer who talks about their physiology, life span, behavior and anything else we could think about asking. Cebena was the dolphin that we were formally introduced to. She is 21 years old, and her child is a year-and-a-half old. After the demonstration, we did the cheesy, touristy pictures--the dolphin kissing my check, etc.

But after all of that, we attached fins, put on the mask and snorkel, and went deeper into the water. Cebena and her child found me first and slipped past in such close proximity that I was bobbing in their wake. Another pair of dolphins were demonstrating sex education. The others were goofing around, nipping at each other and teasing snorkelers. All the while, you could here them communicating to each other through their blowholes.

They truly are amazing to watch, especially beneath the surface of the water. I never need to see the silly tricks dolphins are trained to do again. And then, Cebena waves her flipper at me to say goodbye.

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