Group of people rescuing a dolphin

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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Trainers on a dock

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.

Team members rescuing a dolphin

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 Team

Nancy Cooper, M.P.S.

President DPMMR and Part Time Lecturer UM, RSMAS

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.

Dr. Holli Eskelinen

Assistant Director of Research

Dr. Holli Eskelinen

Learning about the marine environment, advancing our understanding of marine mammals and promoting environmental stewardship is my passion! Hired at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder in early 2001, I have had the privilege of training the animals, educating the public, and learning more about their behavior, communication, cognition, and how they perceive their world. Through the evolution of my career, I realized acquiring knowledge about animals, contributing to the existing body of scientific literature, and educating the public is crucial to protecting and furthering our understanding about the marine environment. For the past decade, we have conducted and published research on marine mammal behavior, cognition (imitation, working memory, perception, innovative behavior), acoustics (communication), animal welfare, energetic requirements and nutrition, clinical reference intervals, and participated in national and international scientific conferences. Currently, I lecture at the University of Miami in the Marine and Atmospheric Science Department as well as adjunct at the Marine Mammal and Cognition Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi where I have the privilege of serving on the committees of numerous graduate students (Masters, Ph.D.).  I am passionate about assisting students with project development, data collection analysis, and dissemination through publication, with the ultimate hope of inspiring young scientists to contribute to the field. My passion for advancing marine mammal science is fueled daily by the numerous non-invasive, independent investigations; I embrace the role of scientist, caretaker, and educator.

Luke Bullen

Director of Training, Supervisor of Animal Care

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 Director of Training and Supervisor of Animal Care at DPMMR and I am responsible for training the dolphins and the trainers alike. Since I started with the company, 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 closely 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 new 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

Animal Care and Training Intern Coordinator, Marine Mammal Trainer II

Bethany Wallace

Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” That has been the motto I have lived by and continue to live by while I “work” here at DPMMR. I started my career here as an animal care/research intern obtaining my Master of Professional Science degree from the University of Miami and had the wonderful chance to stay as a full-time trainer. Over the past three and a half years, I have had the opportunity to build amazing relationships with our population of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, particularly with one of our adult males, Bob. Taking care of the animals that call DPMMR home is one of the highlights of working here where I can find ways to make the husbandry procedures, like blood draws, ultrasounds, and brushing teeth, fun and exciting! If I’m not working with the animals, I get the opportunity to teach our animal care/training interns as they begin to develop their knowledge of animal training and welfare. I am proud to work at a facility that places such a large value on the importance of research, education, conservation, and connecting our guests with these amazing animals.

Brittany Poelma

Senior Marine Mammal Specialist, Research Internship Coordinator

Brittany Poelma

Hi there! My name is Brittany Poelma, and I am a Senior Marine Mammal Specialist as well as Internship Coordinator for Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. I attended the University of Southern Mississippi and graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Psychology. 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 a few years conducting research as well as expanding my animal care experience at various marine mammal facilities. I was privileged to combine my love for animal care and research with amazing animals like orcas, belugas, otters, and (my personal favorite) dolphins. Being a part of the DPMMR family is a dream come true, because I am able to continue pursuing my passions at facility that actively supports advancing the fields of marine mammal research and welfare. 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

Assistant Director of Development, Senior Marine Mammal Specialist

Hunter Kinney

Hey there! My name is Hunter and I am originally from Southern Kentucky. Although I grew up miles away from the nearest ocean, nothing could keep me from chasing my dream of becoming a marine mammal trainer!

My professional career with animals began in high school when I began working at a wildlife rehabilitation center. I worked with that organization for 7 years where I became the Executive Director and had the opportunity to develop the organization’s mission and outreach. Although I loved my time there, birds and small mammals couldn’t replace my love for dolphins, so I packed up and moved to Key Largo for our Animal Care & Training internship. Luckily, I was offered a position as a trainer at DPMMR at the end of my internship and I have been living my dream since that moment.

As a Senior Marine Mammal Specialist, I get to build relationships and care for our 8 dolphin ambassadors. Although I love teaching all kinds of new behaviors to the animals, my favorite behaviors to work on are the high energy and water-work behaviors. I love seeing how excited the animals get when they learn something new.

Not only do I get to work with the animals, in my Assistant-Director of Development role I get to work on advancing all aspects of our facilities mission. Being a part of our facility’s growth and development is very rewarding because the work DPMMR is doing for marine mammal conservation effects marine mammals and humans alike in every corner of the globe.

I’m so thankful to be a part of such an incredible organization and can’t wait for what the future holds for DPMMR.

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 snorkel program and participate in a ten day marine mammalogy class.  The rest?  History.  I really never left.  I was (and still am) intrigued with the idea of interaction with another species on their terms and sharing that experience/knowledge with our guests (and dolphins!).    This remains my favorite part of the job.  While I may now be referred to as a Dolphin Trainer, I see myself more as an "Interspecies Facilitator."  I train humans to interact with the dolphins on their terms in DPMMR's snorkel program and dolphins to interact with humans in DPMMR's Interactive Program - our goal is to make both programs rewarding for humans AND dolphins.   During my first years at Dolphins Plus, there were several mass Pilot Whales strandings in the Keys.  Thus, I was immediately indoctrinated into the world of marine mammal rescue, seeing the importance of being able to rescue, rehabilitate and/or release animals needing our help.    I  also have over a decade of experience working with Dolphin Assisted Therapy, have crewed on and facilitated swims with wild dolphins in the Bahamas as well as swimming with humpback whales in the Dominican Republic.

Originally, I an from Wilton Connecticut and 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 shar peis, Scrat and Denali.  I love reading, hiking, skiing, traveling, music, mountains, snow, forests and avocados....and my amazing friends, human and other.  Oh!  I also have an interest in alternative health, nutrition and am intrigued by the paranormal.

Kayla Lucero

Volunteer Coordinator, Marine Mammal Trainer

Kayla Lucero

Hey y’all! My name is Kayla and I am one of the Trainers and Volunteer Coordinators here at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. I grew up in a small town outside of Tampa,FL. Growing up near the ocean allowed me to develop a love and passion for all animals, but especially for marine mammals. I graduated from the University of West Florida with my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2016 with aims to pursue a career studying animal behavior. After graduation, I completed internships at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and Dolphins Plus. After a year and a half of internships and training with an array of animal species, I landed my dream job here at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder and the rest is history. At DPMMR, developing connections is our main goal. Everyday, I have the gift of connecting our guests to these beautiful and majestic creatures, in hopes that my passion inspires individuals to protect their wild counterparts. As a marine mammal trainer, the connection and relationship I have developed with this dolphin family is unexplainable, and a gift I will always treasure. My 8 flippered friends and the amazing staff at DPMMR make Key Largo feel like home to me. “Do what you love, and love what you do.”

Dani Ramsey

Animal Care and Training Internship Coordinator, Marine Mammal Trainer

Dani Ramsey

Hi! My name is Dani Ramsey and I'm a Marine Mammal Trainer and also one of the Animal Care and Training Internship Coordinators at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. I'm originally from South Carolina and graduated with my B.S. in Marine Science and Biology from the University of South Carolina. My initial 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 at DPMMR. Shortly after my internship, I became a full time staff member and a permanent member of the team. Becoming one of the internship coordinators is one of my biggest achievements because I can relate as a previous intern to those who would do anything to get a chance to work with these incredible animals. There are no words to describe the relationships I have built this far in my career with these dolphins and I am excited to see my relationships continue to grow as I also grow as a trainer. 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/Education Associate/Volunteer Coordinator

B.J. Papazian

Hey there! My name is BJ Papazian and I’m the Education Associate at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder.  I’ve had a passion for marine biology ever since I can remember; 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 had an affinity to the biological sciences.  In 2016, I graduated from the Florida Institute of Technology with a degree in Marine Biology and have been seeking to share the knowledge I collected from my schooling with anyone who will listen!  They greatest part of my job is having the opportunity to impact and educate so many different people from around the world as well as 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

 

Andrea Provance

Guest Services

Andrea Provance

I was fortunate enough to join the DPMMR team in November of 2018 after working for two years at a local dive shop.  As a guest service representative, I want to ensure that those who visit have a fun and educational experience that they can go home and brag about!  Working at this facility has given me the opportunity to meet people from across the world that want a better understanding about dolphins in human care and dolphins in the wild!   I have been given the opportunity to not only better my understanding of dolphins but others as well!  It is a pleasure to be able to work with so many wonderful people who love their jobs and wish to make a difference in our environment.

On my days off, I enjoy spending time with my fiancé and the kitty that holds both our hearts, Bailey.

Andrea Saldivar

Office Manager, Group Coordinator

Andrea Saldivar

Hello Everyone! My name is Andrea Saldivar, and I am the Office Manager and Group Coordinator for Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. I was born and raised in Sacramento, California, and have always had a passion for all things ocean. I wanted to be closer to the water, and am one of those weirdos that loves humidity, so we put our sights on Florida. In 2015 my family and I took the crazy leap and made the cross-country trek.

I ended up in Key Largo as a manager in a dive shop. Life is bizarre that way! I wasn’t a diver! This was the perfect avenue to get involved in ocean conservation. I worked my way up to Divemaster, and got involved in many different educational and conservation based projects. The community in Key Largo is a great example of “It takes a village.” There are many organizations, clean-ups, courses, and just good ole’ people working together to preserve our beautiful islands, and the ocean and reefs around us.

I was presented an opportunity to come work at DPMMR, and I am so glad that I did. Here are the things that I love about DPMMR:

  1. We are not for profit. I love being a part of something that has a goal larger than itself.
  2. The Animal Care Team, and Guest Services are amazing individuals. There is so much support and care for one another. I genuinely enjoy coming to work!
  3. We have a huge focus on conservation, and make improvements daily on reducing our footprint on this earth.
  4. The Dolphins! I get to come to work and see these intelligent, hysterical, and beautiful animals every single day. How often do you get to say you hang out with dolphins at work?

When I am not working, you can find me spending time with my family. I have two sons, two doggies, a fat black cat, and a crazy man partner who is adventurous like me. We dive, we travel, and we do our best to be good to this world.

 

Dougie Long

Guest Services, Scuba Instructor

Dougie Long

I was born and raised in North Carolina and graduated high school in 2004. I have family that live in the southern Florida Keys, so every summer I visited the keys and as a graduation gift in 2004 became a certified open water scuba diver.   On June 2nd 2008, I joined the Navy and became a Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Corpsman.   My sea duty assignment, I was attached to 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, Kilo company 1stplatoon. We did a training deployment to South Korea in February of 2010 and then were deployed to the combat zone of Sangin Afghanistan from September 2010 to April 2011.   May 2015 I was medically retired from the Navy and then August 2016 I moved to Key Largo and became a Scuba Instructor and worked for Rainbow Reef Dive center for 2.5 years.  I absolutely loved diving and it became an integral part of my mental healing due to PTSD from my deployment.  During the boat rides out to dive sites and coming home from dives sites, dolphins would often follow the boats and jump and play in the big wakes that the boats would make.  It is such a fantastic sight to see.  Several coworkers even had wild dolphins swim by during dives and check out the divers before going their own way.  I was actually a bit envious as I have never swam with dolphins myself.

Then a wonderful job opportunity opened up at DPMMR, Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder, so I decided to join the DPMMR family.  From day one, it has been an unexpected dream come true.  One of the resident dolphins, Baby Bit or BB for short, instantly connected with me and I fell in love her.  She is just full of energy and loves to show off with her high jumps and poses for the camera.

I have been given grace and mercy in my life down here in the Florida Keys and I look forward to many years of joy with my DPMMR family.

Dr. Jill Richardson

DPMMR's Executive Director of Education and Research

Dr. Jill Richardson

Dr. Jill Richardson graduated from UC San Diego with a dual degree in Biology and Anthropology and subsequently enrolled in the PhD Program at University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS).  Following graduation, she became the Director of Research and Education at Dolphins Plus and is now Executive Director of Research and Education at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder.  Jill is also a faculty member at RSMAS, where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate students and studies complex health issues in marine mammals as sentinels of ocean health.

During her time in residence at RSMAS, Jill helped develop the Master of Professional Science Program and was nominated as University of Miami’s Outstanding Program Director two years in a row. She was also recognized as an Outstanding Faculty Member at the UM Apple Polishing Ceremony, named an honorary member of the Golden Key International  Honour Society – acknowledged as “an advocate for student success and for an outstanding job in the capacity as an educator” –, the recipient of the Excellence in Programming Award an annual outreach event called Ocean Kids, and a scientific advisor and on screen scientist for the Emmy Award Winning children’s show “SciGirls” to promote young women in science.

Aside from teaching and inspiring the next generation of scientists, her greatest joy is being a mom to two, incredible little boys.

Primary Responders

Steve McCulloch

Executive Director of Stranding Operations and Development

Steve McCulloch

Steve McCulloch is an internationally recognized marine mammal expert and conservationist with 48 years marine mammal experience within the zoological industry
and research communities. 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. And for his efforts to rescue dolphins, whales and sea turtles, Steve has also earned recognition from numerous State and Federal agencies. Steve has also been active in the legislative process and has passed (3) Florida State laws to create the "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 programs throughout Florida. For his decades of service and numerous contributions to the literature, Steve was most recently featured in the Aquatic Mammals Journal’s ‘Historical Perspectives Changing Oceans – Changing Planets Series. https://www.aquaticmammalsjournal.org. Today, and with a special with a focus on "Ocean and Human Health" Steve consults worldwide, while he continues to organize and lead annual dolphin health assessments, survey marine mammal environments and manage DPMMR’s Stranding and Photo-ID programs.

 

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.

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.