Unlike the rest of the dolphins who would scope out the pool for bits to retrieve, Kelly often went straight for the bottom of the pool. Eventually, the Marine Life team decided it was time to replace some of the glass on the side of the pool. Anecdotes like this are impressive because they seem to suggest that these animals have a variety of high-level cognitive processes going on. Kelly figured out not just planning and delayed gratification—putting off a reward now to get more reward later—but she also understood enough to suspect that she should hide this strategy from her trainers and fellow dolphins.
On August 23, , a storm started brewing in the warm waters southeast of the Bahamas. Two days later, it made landfall in Florida. After sliding over Florida, the storm hit the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and grew into a mighty hurricane named Katrina that slammed into southeast Louisiana on August What happened next you probably remember: complete devastation. Marine Life, situated right on the water in Gulfport, was not spared.
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There was no time to evacuate all the dolphins before the storm hit. Hoffland and his team trucked six dolphins to hotel swimming pools just seven kilometers north along Highway But the other eight would have to stay at Marine Life, in the 2,,liter, six-meter-high main tank, and ride out the storm.
Kelly was one of those eight dolphins, along with her six-year-old son, Noah. Her other son, Brewer, was relocated to a swimming pool. When the staff of Marine Life left the aquarium on the 29th to hunker down in their own homes, they simply hoped for the best. The best did not happen. Like so much else in the Gulf, Marine Life was completely ravaged by Katrina.
Metal beams split and stretched and scattered across the entire footprint. The concrete amphitheater seating that surrounded the main tank was torn apart and piled up on itself, entire rows of seats flung from the bottom to the top of the theater. From the air, the facility looked as if someone had taken teal Silly String and sprayed it across the property, but instead of foam, the teal strings were the metal beams twisted around in the wind and surge. Marine Life staff could barely even get to the site one had to use an ATV , as the roads were covered in debris from houses, boats, cars, and everything in between.
Hurricane Katrina devastated Marine Life, a marine park in Mississippi. As staff approached the huge main tank where they had left the dolphins, they held their breath, hoping to see little heads pop up out of the water. The concrete ring of the tank itself appeared to have held up, but when they got closer, it became clear that the nightmare was only beginning. The Gulf of Mexico post-Katrina was its own unique nightmare zone.
The hurricane had broken and washed out to sea entire towns and cities, and their remains were floating in the water off the coast. The surge had pulled sewage, food, and bodies into the water, creating a gruesome soup. Sharks had closed in, drawn to the chicken that had spilled from cargo containers torn open in the storm.
If the dolphins were still alive somehow, and still in the area, they were in danger of getting sick or injured. But the water was dangerous to traverse, and as much as the team wanted to get out there in boats as soon as possible, they had to wait for permission from the US Coast Guard. Twelve days after Katrina hit Gulfport, Hoffland and his team were finally allowed into the Gulf to look for the dolphins. One group took off in a helicopter, the other went out on a boat.
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The helicopter team flew eight kilometers from the helipad out to the coast, over the wreckage of Marine Life, past the port authority cargo berths, and out over the Gulf, scanning the sea for any sign of dolphins. After flying above the water for less than a kilometer, shocking even the most hopeful members of the search party, they found them.
All eight dolphins, alive and still together, just about meters from where their pool stood.
From the boat, Hoffland called to his dolphins. They were right there. Finding the animals was only the beginning. After living in captivity, the dolphins were too familiar with human tools—too net savvy to try to bring them in that way. Instead, Hoffland and his team came up with another plan: they would train the dolphins to offer themselves up for capture. After Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast, trainers searched for the dolphins they left behind at Marine Life.
All eight were found, less than a kilometer from their coastal pool. Using a couple of gray floating mats chained together and anchored to the seafloor, the rescuers created a training platform. Four times a day, they went out to the mats and taught the dolphins a new behavior: beaching themselves onto the mats on command.
The trick was a familiar one—the dolphins were already trained to beach themselves onto the deck of the Marine Life theater. Hoffland and the other trainers simply had to teach them the same thing, but in a new place. As usual, Kelly learned quickly. And despite all the chaos of the past week that had both the dolphins and the crew exhausted, it worked. One by one, all eight dolphins learned the trick and started beaching themselves reliably onto the mats.
Over the course of about a week including several harrowing days when three of the dolphins disappeared only to be found 25 kilometers away , all eight dolphins offered themselves up, were wrapped up into special slings, and relocated to a navy base in Gulfport , where temporary containers had been set up for them. Kelly and seven other dolphins, swept out to sea when Hurricane Katrina hit their home in Gulfport, were caught and transferred to temporary saltwater pools as they awaited transportation to their next home in the Bahamas.
How had these dolphins survived and stayed together? Hoffland thinks it was thanks to Kelly and her pod-mate Jill. Researchers who later reviewed the accounts of the recapture, noted that Kelly and Jill, ever the leaders, constantly positioned themselves four or five meters behind the others, watching for sharks and any other dangers. Throughout the rescue mission, local news hailed the dolphins as a symbol of light in a time of extreme darkness in the Gulf.
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They had stuck together, supported each other, and survived. The dolphins were turned into proxies for the recovery efforts in the region. But while the dolphins were safe, they were still homeless. Marine Life was destroyed. What followed was a legal battle over the future of the dolphins. Solangi wanted to rebuild and keep the dolphins. The ensuing argument was ugly.
Solangi filed an injunction to block the sale of the dolphins. Jacobs then fired Solangi from his position as president of Marine Life and pushed ahead with the sale. Ultimately, a Mississippi state judge ruled that the dolphins could be sold to Atlantis. Solangi and Jacobs settled their other disputes out of court with undisclosed terms , and on January 5, , the dolphins were loaded into trucks and driven up to Philadelphia, where they boarded a plane bound for Nassau.
If she could have looked out a window, she would have seen Gulfport receding into the distance and the blue water of the Bahamas ironically, the exact place where Hurricane Katrina was born coming into view. Ted Turner, the vice president of Dolphin Cay, shares the story of how Kelly and her seven companions survived a hurricane and settled into their new home in the Bahamas. Video by Atlantis.
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I meet him at the Ocean Adventures Marine Park, a brightly colored and brand-new facility in Gulfport. Ocean Adventures opened to the public in late March. The signs for the bathroom are still pieces of paper, taped to the glass doors. She had a really light color to her, a very marbled head, very light shades of gray. She was very pretty. Go to the Caribbean and Mexico to experience the excitement of deep sea fishing, island exploration, and rugged Mexican wilderness in his collection of short stories and novels. God I love your stories, you are one crazy bastard Gordon! But thank god for it!
A life full of adventure! I'm pushing my own to the limits my friend and I admire you for taking life full throttle Gordon! My very best to you and that lovely lady who agreed to marry your crazy ass! Are you an author? Help us improve our Author Pages by updating your bibliography and submitting a new or current image and biography.
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