History

History

DPMMR trained professionals have been rescuing whales and dolphins in the Florida Keys since 1987. Our Founder, Richard Borguss, had the vision of connecting people with dolphins via meaningful interactions and pioneered the first swim with the dolphin program in the United States in 1980. Rick was also a visionary, who succeeded in one of the first marine mammal rehabilitation efforts, resulting in the successful reintroduction to the wild of a group of sick, stranded rough-toothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis). From this point, Rick developed a dedicated stranding response team comprised of experienced Dolphins Plus staff and trained volunteers.

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After over thirty years of financially and physically supporting over 640 whale and dolphin stranding responses, Dolphins Plus has evolved into the not-for-profit, Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder (DPMMR). Our goal is to connect people with dolphins and inspire them to protect their wild counterparts and the fragile marine ecosystem. Through DPMMR (via donations, powerful interactions creating connections, educational programs, etc.), the general public directly contributes to the rescue, rehabilitation, research, and conservation of whales, dolphins, and the local marine ecosystem. This knowledge not only benefits the Florida Keys, but the global scientific research community.

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Animal Care

Animal Care

It could be a mass stranding. It might be a whale or dolphin tangled in fishing line. No matter the situation, DPMMR professionals are the first responders that the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission and the National Marine FIsheries Service contact and count on when emergencies arise. DPMMR is an entirely not-for-profit arm of Dolphins Plus that is on call 24/7/365 to assist with any marine mammal emergencies.

Our Rescue Work

OUR RESCUE WORK

Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder is committed to the conservation and protection of marine mammals worldwide through our active involvement in conservation, research, extensive education and outreach programs. DPMMR leads and operates the local marine mammal stranding organization covering 10,000 square miles of marine habitat. DPMMR promotes a greater understanding of marine ecosystem science, marine mammal conservation, and environmental stewardship via powerful daily interactions with the general public.

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Our Trainers

Nancy Cooper, M.P.S.

President, Director of Training

Nancy Cooper, M.P.S.

Hey guys! My name is Nancy Cooper and I am the President and Director of Training for DPMMR in sunny Key Largo, FL. Since childhood, I dreamt of becoming a dolphin trainer. However, I was born in Lexington, KY, where there are no dolphins. I graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, GA with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology and Human and Natural Ecology (Co-Major). During college, I acquired volunteer experience with The Dolphin Project, where I participated in wild bottlenose dolphin population studies along the east coast. Subsequently, I moved to Louisville, KY and worked as a veterinary technician at a 24-hour animal hospital, then for an equine veterinarian at Hermitage Farm, and finally, longing to work with dolphins, I sent my resume to Dolphins Plus, flew down for a two-day interview, and in 1998 was hired to become a part of this amazing dolphin family. My experiences as a veterinary technician benefit me everyday, as ensuring and maintaining the health of our dolphin population is a crucial part of my job. After many years at Dolphins Plus, I decided to enter graduate school, as there is always more to learn about marine mammals. Thus, in 2013, I obtained a Masters of Professional Science (MPS) degree in Marine Mammal Science from University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. In addition to my dolphin "kids", I have a human child, Riley, who is my inspiration, my amazing husband, and two dogs, Jessie and Libby. Today, I am lucky enough to call DPMMR my "happy place", as going to "work" doesn't feel much like working at all. Love what you do, do what you love, and trust that your experiences along the way are meant to be.

Holli Eskelinen, Ph.D.

Assistant Director of Research

Holli Eskelinen, Ph.D.

Learning about the ocean and advancing marine mammal science is my passion! My fascination with dolphins began early, with a visit to SeaWorld and from that day forward I was captivated. Although raised in beautiful Colorado, I always ventured to the ocean, from family vacations to schooling. I journeyed to California to obtain my Bachelor of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology. Between degree programs, I had an opportunity to intern at Island Dolphin Care, which further drove my passion to learn more about the species. After returning to California to further my education in Animal Behavior, I was offered the coveted position of working with the animals at Dolphins Plus. Hired as an animal care staff in early 2001, my dreams of working with these amazing creatures were fulfilled. Learning proper care, training, and building relationships with the population took time, which I was more than willing to invest. During my first year, I had the pleasure of working with dolphins such as Fonzie, Squirt, Isla, and in the fall of 2001, I was placed with LB, Ding, and their son Cosmo. Over the next several months, I learned that training three dolphins simultaneously was challenging, but with proper training, I was able to be a part of their dynamic team and we worked harmoniously together. For over a decade, I have been one of LB and Ding's (and their calves: Cosmo, Kai, Julie, BB) primary trainers. During this time, I developed amazing relationships with these animals, and learned more about animal behavior and myself than I ever dreamt possible. A few years into my career, my yearning to learn more about the animals became the driving force for advancing my education. While working full time at Dolphins Plus, I acquired my M.S. and Ph.D. in Research Psychology and became the Assistant Director of Research. Through my schooling and mentors, I gained the knowledge to derive appropriate research methodologies, proper sampling techniques, and the means to analyze findings with statistics. Through my evolution of wanting to work with dolphins and desire to learn more about their behavior, communication, cognitive abilities, and how they perceive their world, I realized that learning more about our population of animals, contributing to the existing body of literature, and educating the public is crucial to protecting and furthering our understanding of the species. My passion for advancing marine mammal science is fueled daily by numerous non-invasive, independent investigations at DPMMR, including marine mammal development, social dynamics, communication, acoustic development, cognition, and conservation, as well as by serving on multiple graduate student committees (Masters, Ph.D.). I am blessed to live my dream working with and studying the species, and embrace the role of scientist, educator, and caretaker.

Kelley Winship, Ph.D.

Research Associate and Marine Mammal Trainer II

Kelley Winship, Ph.D.

Hi! My name is Kelley Winship and I am a Research Associate and Marine Mammal Trainer II at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. I grew up in Tampa, Florida, where some of my fondest childhood memories involve walking along Bayshore Boulevard looking for dolphins in the Tampa Bay. My parents were very supportive of my interest in dolphins and continued to encourage me to pursue my passion as I attended college. I graduated from the University of Miami with a BS in Marine Science and Biology. I then hurried off to the University of Southern Mississippi for both my MA and PhD in Experimental Psychology with Dr. Stan Kuczaj at the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory in Hattiesburg. I was fortunate to return to Dolphins Plus to collect data for my Master’s thesis, and was subsequently hired in 2015 to work in both the Animal Care and Research departments at the facility. I am particularly interested in dolphin cognition, and have published peer-reviewed studies on cooperative behavior, communication, enrichment, and calf development. One of my favorite aspects of my job is being able to combine my passion for research and my love for these animals. I enjoy training new cognitive concepts to our resident dolphins, and my favorite sessions involve working with Isaac to better understand how he and other members of his species process information. I am proud to work at a facility that places such a large value on the importance of research, education, and conservation.

Luke Bullen

Assistant Director of Training

Luke Bullen

Dolphins have been my passion for as long as I can remember, perhaps a strange passion for a young boy from London England. At the age of seven, my family surprised me with a visit to Key Largo Florida, and the opportunity to do the natural swim with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins at Dolphins Plus. Since then, I have never looked back. Year after year, I would return to swim with and learn from these incredible animals, while pursuing degrees in Animal Science and Developmental Psychology. During this time I worked with and trained horses, traveling around the United Kingdom and Europe as a competitive show jumper. In 2010, I moved to Florida full time and I am happy to say, DPMMR is now my home!

I am the Assistant Director of Training at DPMMR and I am responsible for training the dolphins and the trainers alike. Since I started at Dolphins Plus, I have been lucky enough to work with and train all of the dolphins located at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. I built unique relationships with each of them and am currently working with our two youngest dolphins, Tug and Jett. I look forward to watching them grow and learn in the same way I have watched so many of their siblings and fellow pod members. I equally enjoy training younger staff members, and watching them grow and form their own relationships with the dolphins whilst, developing their knowledge of animal training.

Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder, the staff, and most importantly the dolphins are my entire life and I cannot imagine doing anything else.

Bethany Wallace

Trainer/Research Intern Coordinator

Bethany Wallace

Hey everyone! My name is Bethany Wallace and I am a dolphin trainer at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. I grew up with a variety of animals in Georgetown, Texas, ranging from farm animals to various reptiles. My parents were always supportive of my passion for working with marine mammals. I graduated from Texas A & M, Corpus Christi with a Bachelor's of Science in Animal Biology, a Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology, and a minor in chemistry. After I graduated, I received my Master of Professional Science (M.P.S.) degree in Marine Mammal Science from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Before working at DPMMR, I completed two animal care and training internships; the first was at Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas working with the mammal department and the second at Mystic Aquarium where I worked with belugas. As a student at UM, I completed the animal care/research internship at Dolphins Plus, during which I was offered a full time position as a dolphin trainer and the rest is history. Though I have a lot to learn, I love working here at DPMMR because of all the different activities and opportunities I experience each and every day. Each day is different and the dynamic pace keeps me on my toes! I am always excited about what is to come and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Brittany Poelma

Trainer/Research Intern Coordinator

Brittany Poelma

Hi there! My name is Brittany Poelma, and I am a marine mammal trainer for Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. I attended the University of Southern Mississippi and graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Psychology with a minor in Dance. While in college, I was fortunate to be a part of the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory, where I gained a deep love for marine mammal research. After completing the Animal Care and Training internship at Dolphins Plus, I spent three years working for various marine mammal facilities. I was privileged to combine my love of both animal care and research while working with amazing animals like orcas, belugas, otters, and (my personal favorite) dolphins. Being a part of the DPMMR family is a dream come true! My hope is to inspire people to care about these incredible animals and their ocean home, while also continuing to develop our knowledge of marine mammals. "In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught." - Baba Dioum.

Hunter Kinney

Trainer/Research Intern Coordinator

Hunter Kinney

Hey there! My name is Hunter Kinney and I am originally from southern Kentucky. Although I grew up hundreds of miles away from the ocean, nothing could keep me from chasing my dream of becoming a dolphin trainer. My professional career with animals began in high school when I began volunteering with birds of prey. This experience led me to become the director of a small nature center, a position that provided me the opportunity to build a foundation in animal care. Towards the end of my college career, I decided it was time to follow my passion of working with marine mammals and completed an animal care and training internship at Dolphins Plus, after which I was offered a full time position as a dolphin trainer. While I accepted a position in the fall of 2015, I had to go back to Kentucky for a couple of months to complete my bachelor's degree in Animal Studies. As soon as I could, I packed my bags and headed south to begin living my dream and haven't looked back! I am so thankful for the amazing opportunity to take care of our dolphin family, to teach our guests how they can protect wild dolphins, and to come to work each day and learn from each interaction with the animals. Although I would love to spend seven days a week at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder, I also enjoy spending time by (or in) the water and hanging out with friends.

Krista Silva

Trainer

Krista Silva

Hey there! My name is Krista Silva and I have been a senior marine mammal specialist at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder for almost 7 years. I am originally from Sandown, New Hampshire and dreamt of working with animals since childhood. I attended a small college in Massachusetts, obtained an Associates degree in Liberal Arts, and then moved to sunny southern California to make my dream a reality. In California, I attended Moorpark College where I gained experience training a variety of species, from toucans to tigers. After graduating from Moorpark with an associate degree in Animal Behavior, Exotic Animal Training and Management, and Wildlife Education, I did an internship at the New England Aquarium where I worked with fur seals, California sea lions, and Atlantic harbor seals. Although marine mammals have always captured my heart and my focus, I craved training experience with other exotic animals. Subsequently, I was offered a position working with exotic animals in northern New Hampshire and had the time of my life running shows all over the northeast with animals from around the world. After sending in my resume and traveling to Florida for an interview, I was offered a position at Dolphins Plus Oceanside. I took the plunge to Key Largo and have loved my life ever since. I spend my off time with my 3 dogs, 2 cats, crazy bird and my other half along with our little one on the way. My favorite part of the job is building relationships with the dolphins every single day. When choosing your career path, my advice is, "Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life."

Wendy Kellam

Trainer

Wendy Kellam

Hi! My name is Wendy Kellam and I'm a dolphin-aholic. Over 25 years ago, my parents brought me to Dolphins Plus to experience the natural swim and participate in a ten-day marine mammalogy class. The rest? History. I never left. I was intrigued with the idea of interacting with another species on their terms and sharing that experience/knowledge with our guests (and dolphins!). This is still my favorite part of the job. While my job title is dolphin trainer, I see myself more as an "interspecies facilitator". I train humans to interact with the dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) on their terms and dolphins to interact with humans in both our Guided and Structured programs. I also have many years of experience working with dolphin assisted therapy, crewing on and facilitating swims with wild dolphins in the Bahamas, as well as swimming with humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)in the Dominican Republic. During my first year at Dolphins Plus, there were several mass strandings of pilot whales (Globicephala) in the Keys. Thus, I was immediately indoctrinated into the world of marine mammal rescue, helping to rescue, rehabilitate and/or release many animals. Originally from Wilton, Connecticut, I graduated from Kalamazoo College in Michigan with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. I've always had a strong affinity for animals and behavior and have experience with animal assisted therapy with not only dolphins, but my ferrets, chinchillas, rabbits, guinea pigs and hedgehog as well. When not working, you'll find me at home in Key Largo with my three Shar-Peis, Kismet, Shiitaki and Scrat. I love hiking, kayaking, skiing, travelling, music, mountains, forests and avocados... and my amazing friends, human and other! I have an interest in alternative health and am intrigued by the paranormal.

Kayla Lucero

Trainer

Kayla Lucero

Hey y’all! My name is Kayla and I am the newest member to the Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder team. I grew up in a small town outside of Tampa,FL and have always had a love and passion for animals, especially marine mammals. I graduated from the University of West Florida with my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2016. After graduation, I began my journey at Clearwater Marine Aquarium as a Dive intern. As much as I loved being in the water, it was time to follow my passion of working with animals. I moved to Sarasota, FL to complete the Manatee Care, Training and Research internship at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. From there, I completed two more internships at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo with their Elephant/Rhino/Hoof-stock department and Primate department. I most recently completed the animal care and training internship at Dolphins Plus and the rest is history! My 8 flippered friends and the amazing staff at DPMMR make it feel like home to me and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team. “Love what you do and do what you love.”

Dani Ramsey

Trainer

Dani Ramsey

Hi! My name is Dani Ramsey and I'm a marine mammal trainer at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. I'm from South Carolina and graduated with my B.S. in marine science and biology from the University of South Carolina in December 2016. My goal after graduation was to conduct research on cephalopods... little did I know I would fall in love with training marine mammals! The summer following graduation I completed an Animal Care and Training Internship at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, FL. I then moved to Key Largo after accepting the Animal Care and Training Internship here. To my surprise, two trainer positions became available during my internship and I was offered one of the positions! I am beyond excited to be a part of the DPMMR team and to spend my days learning about these incredible animals. Everyday I learn something new about each dolphin and about myself. It's an amazing feeling to wake up every morning and love your job. I truly believe everything happens for a reason and if you work hard, stay dedicated, and believe in yourself then you can achieve anything!

B.J. Papazian

Trainer

B.J. Papazian

Hey there! My name is BJ Papazian and I’m an Apprentice Marine Mammal Trainer at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder (DPMMR)! I graduated from the Florida Institute of Technology with a degree in Marine Biology and am one of the newest members of the DPMMR family. I’ve had a passion for marine biology ever since I can remember and growing up in the dry, ocean-less desert of Phoenix, Arizona only strengthened my desire to pursue my passion. Throughout my childhood and teens, I kept and maintained large saltwater tanks and always excelled in science courses, especially when they had a biological focus. In the spring of 2017, I was fortunate enough to complete an animal care and training internship at DPMMR and was offered a position as a trainer a few months later. They greatest part of my job is having the opportunity to impact and educate so many different people from around the world and share my passion with them through such memorable experience. I love being able to inspire the public to always keep learning and searching for knowledge because, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”-Carl Sagan.

Primary Responders

Steve McCulloch

Primary Responder

Steve McCulloch

Steve McCulloch is an internationally recognized marine mammal consultant and visionary conservationist with more than four decades of experience and service to the zoological industry and research community. A recipient of numerous international awards for excellence in conservation and advancements in research and education, Steve has twice been nominated as a finalist to receive the world's most prestigious conservation award, the Indianapolis Prize. Steve is an author/co-author of more than forty scientific publications, and an award-winning photographer with published images in National Geographic, Nature, and American Scientist. Recognized for his specialized expertise and leadership, Steve has often been requested to lead 'high-risk' multi-agency response teams to rescue and treat entangled or out-of-habitat marine mammals throughout the Southeast U.S. For his efforts to rescue and rehabilitate dolphins, whales, manatees, and sea turtles, he has earned direct recognition from the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFW) and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).As a NOAA Fisheries authorized scientific investigator, and with a focus on "Ocean and Human Health", Steve has organized and led more than a dozen complex dolphin health and environmental risk assessments and has conducted marine mammal population and acoustic surveys of dolphins, manatees and North Atlantic Right whales. In 1997, Steve co-founded a multi-disciplinary marine mammal research and conservation program at the renowned Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution where he served with distinction for 17 years. There he created legacy legislation and passed of (3) Florida State laws to create both State of Florida's 'Protect Wild Dolphins' and 'Protect Florida Whales' programs. He also worked with Governor Jeb Bush to create the "Florida Oceans Initiative' and since 1999 has helped raised more than $70M for marine conservation. Today, via DPMMR, his focus remains on fostering relationships and inspiring others to conserve and protect our unique ocean heritage, while he consults to improve the health and welfare of marine mammals worldwide.

Art Cooper

Primary Responder

Art Cooper

Art Cooper is the Vice President and Director of Operations of Dolphins Plus, Inc. He is a graduate of the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Arts in Marine Affairs. Art has over 27 years of experience in the field of managed care of marine mammals and stranding response. Art is a Master SCUBA Diver Trainer through PADI and a guest lecturer for the Master of Professional Science Program for the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Additionally, Art regularly participates in longitudinal research and conservation efforts involving marine mammals and the marine environment, locally, nationally, and globally.

Brandon Paquin

Primary Responder

Brandon Paquin

Brandon Paquin has been a primary rescuer of marine mammals for over 20 years and has worked in the field, in various capacities, alongside world-renowned marine mammal specialists, gaining a comprehensive knowledge of dolphins and whales that has earned him respect as an authority, and a desired leader and team member for marine mammal strandings. In his work with marine mammals and other animals over the years Brandon has been employed and volunteered at several key institutions, such as; Marine Animal Rescue Society (M.A.R.S), The Miami Seaquarium, Metro Zoo (Miami), and Dolphin Research (Grassy Key, Fl). While employed at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) in Fort Pierce, Florida, he participated in the decade-long Indian River Dolphin Survey Study. Brandon was part of the HBOI team that took a marine mammal ambulance to Mississippi, immediately following Hurricane Katrina, where they assisted locals in rescuing the aquarium dependent dolphins, which were washed out of the facility Marine Life Park into the Gulf of Mexico, where they had no chance of survival. After the successful rescue, a temporary home was found for the dolphins in the swimming pool of the local Holiday Inn. Today, Brandon continues his rescue and rehabilitation work with DPMMR, which he shares enthusiastically, with students and the general public. Brandon feels strongly that rescue, rehabilitation, and education the general public via connecting with marine mammals foster an all-important connection between the marine animals he loves and the preservation of the amazing oceans that we all depend on.

Gerhard Besserer

Primary Responder

Gerhard Besserer

Gerhard Besserer is a retired TV-journalist, who is "seasoned" enough to have seen the Beatles perform live. He has a masters degree in higher education and has twelve years of experience in marine mammal rescue, rehab, and release of dolphins and whales. He has regularly participated in Health and Environmental Risk Assessment studies of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), with other DPMMR responders, in the southeast U.S. Gerhard believes his specialties are being a "famously stubborn German", obsessed with details and logistics, and having your back when the going gets tough.