Saturday, December 03, 2005

Touching experience with dolphins

Hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, in the middle of all this corn and soybeans, you can drive down Interstate 65 and interact with one of the most fascinating of all sea creatures.
Dolphin In-Water Adventure started this past September at the Indianapolis Zoo. Nine Atlantic bottlenose dolphins reside there and are used in the 90-minute classroom and hands-on experience.

The creatures seem incurably happy and eager to show their skills to wide-eyed humans who don wet suits and climb into waist-deep water for the educational experience.

In the wild, bottlenose dolphins live in pods of up to 12 whales and are very social. Sometimes pods form congregations numbering in the hundreds. Dolphins can dive down to more than 1,000 feet and can jump up to 20 feet out of the water.

Emily Akard turned 15 in August. Her father, Jeff, made this birthday one that the Frankfort High School freshman will never forget.

"It was perfect," Emily said.

As long as she can remember she's wanted to be a marine biologist, and the experience certainly helped deepen that feeling, she said.

"I was surprised how they paid attention and the tricks they could do," Emily said.

Participants are taught hand commands, and the dolphins respond, seemingly smiling the whole time.

The adventure costs a zoo member $150 to participate, $15 to observe; nonmembers pay $175 and $25.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"