Miami dolphins make connection

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MIAMI -- When I said I was going to swim with the dolphins at the Miami Seaquarium, a friend said, It sounds pretty hokey.

But standing up to my waist in water, my hand on a 500-pound silver-blue creature with a massive head, zipper-like teeth, a sphincter blowhole, and what appeared to be a smiling face, I found it anything but hokey. It was amazing.

The Swim With the Dolphins program began with a short training session in which we were given a briefing on dolphin etiquette, covering, among other things, good touching and bad touching.

Dolphins are trained using positive and negative reinforcement, just like children: They are fed a fish if theyre good but get no fish and a time out (three to five seconds of being ignored) if theyre not.

If being ignored works, it seemed that meant they like interacting with people.

They seem to, the trainer said. We cant tell what goes on in their heads. We cant ask them. But they will stay and interact with us as long as we want them to.

The other participants and I slipped into wetsuits and filed out onto an underwater platform that brought us waist high to a dolphin.

The animals power was awesome as they snapped their tails and whipped their huge bodies high into the air above the water. The climax of the demonstration was when we held on to the dolphins dorsal fins as they took us for a ride.

There are 22 dolphins at the seaquarium, ages 7 to 18.

The park sits on 38 acres of land that juts into Biscayne Bay and encloses a number of exhibition areas, including the Golden Dome, where the sea lion show is held; the Whale and Dolphin Stadium; the Main Reef Aquarium, a 750,000-gallon tank filled with a variety of sealife; and the Shark Channel, where the sharks are fed.

The top deck and the roof of the main building, which houses fish aquariums and the dolphin shows, is under renovation, scheduled to be completed in late 2005.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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