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

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

Animal Care Advisor

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!

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

Hunter Kinney

Supervisor of Animal Care & Training, Assistant Director of Development

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.

Wendy Kellam

Senior Marine Mammal Specialist

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'm proud of our evolution to Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder, as a not for profit organization supporting our rescue and rehabilitation efforts, research and education! 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, Senior Marine Mammal Specialist

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, Senior Marine Mammal Specialist

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!

Andrea Wood

Office Manager Guest Services

Andrea Wood

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 husband and the kitty that holds both our hearts, Bailey.

Dougie Long

Facilities Maintenance Manager, Guest Services

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.

Cristina Cuhel

Trainer

Cristina

Greetings from Key Largo, Florida! 

My name is Cristina Cuhel and I am originally from a small town in Minnesota (you betcha). I went to college at Iowa State University where I obtained my B.S. in Animal Science. But I always dreamt of working with marine mammals. I then took the only marine biology class offered at ISU which included a travel course to Roatan, Honduras and realized I could actually make my dreams a reality. Throughout college I worked as an animal caretaker for a local veterinary clinic and traveled all over the world to complete marine mammal internships. Soon after graduation I became a seasonal trainer at Brookfield Zoo working with pinnipeds and cetaceans until I was offered a full time position here at DPMMR. My dog Maverick and I then took the plunge and moved down to sunny Key Largo and haven't looked back since! I am so happy to be apart of this team and family and I can't wait to see what the future holds. I truly am living the dream down here and I invite you to come see for yourself! 

Brooke Majkowicz

Trainer

Brooke

Hey friends! My name is Brooke and I am one of the Marine Mammal Trainers here at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. I am originally from New Jersey where I grew up with a passion for animals, especially marine mammals. Well, that passion launched me over to Florida where I attended Eckerd College, graduating with my Bachelor’s Degree in Biology this past May, focusing primarily on animal behavior and conservation. During my time at Eckerd, I completed internships at Clearwater Marine Aquarium and ZooTampa at Lowry Park, and even did a study abroad where I lived and worked at Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary in South Africa, the largest rhino orphanage in the world. After my graduation from Eckerd, I packed up my life and headed west, working as a zookeeper at Wildlife Safari in Oregon. However, I wasn’t quite at home. After packing up my life once more, my dog Littlefoot and I made our way back to Florida and landed myself here at DPMMR and I could not be happier! Here at DPMMR I am surrounded by the best team and dolphins that push me to grow as a trainer and to ultimately be the best version of myself. I am proud to say that now, I truly am home. 

Jenna Haberle

Trainer

Jenna with dolphin

Hi y’all! My name is Jenna and I am a Trainer here at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder. I was born and raised in the little state of Rhode Island. Growing up where the ocean was only a few minutes away, I had a constant reminder of how important our oceans are and held passion for the marine life that lived within. I knew I had to pursue my dream of working along side the ocean, so I packed up my life in Rhode Island and traveled to Conway, South Carolina for college. Coastal Carolina University is well known for their marine science program, in which I enrolled and graduated with my Bachelors Degree four years later. Moving further away from home, I moved to the Florida Keys to continue my dream of working alongside the ocean. After completing the Animal Care and Training internship at DPMMR, I was offered the amazing opportunity of being hired on as a full time trainer. My time here at DPMMR has been spent falling in love with an incredible organization that I now call home. I am happy to say that I have followed my dreams and get to wake up every day saying “I LOVE MY JOB!” 

Kaylee Asplin

Marine Mammal Trainer

Kaylee Asplin Dolphin

Hey there! My name is Kaylee and I was born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota; where winter is nine months long. 

One Christmas, my parents surprised me with a trip to Mexico and that is where I had my first dolphin interaction. I remember looking at the trainer and thinking to myself, I want to be a dolphin trainer when I grow up. After that, I continued to learn about dolphins on my own. Every job growing up had two things in common, the water and teaching. I always grew up in a teaching role, so becoming a swim instructor came natural to me. Eventually, I opened my own learn-to-swim school primarily teaching children with learning challenges and disabilities. I invented fun innovative ways to teach swimming lessons and now it is even more fun to teach dolphins new things.

I completed 14 months of marine mammal training internships working with the United States Navy marine mammal fleet in San Diego, California and at Dolphin Quest in Bermuda. Looking back, all the hard work never felt like work, and I am so lucky to wake up every morning and work with the best human team and dolphin family on the planet. 

“We only conserve what we love, we only love that which we understand, we only understand what we know, we only know what we are taught.”

Baba Dioum

Dr. Jo Mejia-Fava, PHD/DVM

Secretary - Board of Directors

Dr. Jo Mejia-Fava with Dolphins

Johanna Mejia-Fava, PhD, DVM, originally from Tarrytown, NY, is a graduate of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She completed her PhD in marine mammal ophthalmology, testing intraocular pressures in the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) to establish a normal reference range. Dr. Mejia-Fava made the commitment twelve years ago to start the study and travel weekly from Miami to the Keys to collect sea lion eye pressures with her husband Joe after the original study in Gulfport, MS was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina. She spent a year working at the Miami Seaquarium and then was accepted to an aquatic internship at Cayman Turtle Centre. She then completed a residency in zoo and aquatic medicine at the University of Georgia and Georgia Aquarium. Her goal was to return to the Florida Keys where she had grown to love the Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder family of animals and their unique way of caring for each individual and con-specific rescue mission. She currently serves DPMMR as a Marine Mammal Nutritional and Holistic Medicine Advisor, Veterinary consultant, research associate, development consultant, and secretary of DPMMR Board of Directors. Her research interests include ophthalmology, nutrition, supplementation, and discovering ways to better support geriatric animals naturally. She is also the co-founder of Animal Necessity, LLC, a company devoted to researching the benefits of natural supplements in domestic, zoo, and aquatic animals. “Dr. Jo” (as we call her) is always trying to find the best holistic, diagnostic, and treatment protocols to provide preventive medical management for our animals. 

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.

Kyle Lane

Assistant Stranding Coordinator

Man in a hat on the ocean.

I joined the Dolphins Plus family in 1995 during an existing rehabilitation of Candy, a juvenile spotted dolphin, by the then Marine Mammal Rescue Foundation and have been in rehabilitation and managed care of marine mammals ever since.  I sat on the Board of Directors of Marine Mammal Conservancy for 6 years and now serve as the Assistant Marine Mammal Coordinator for Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder.  In addition to the not-for-profit work, I’ve gained most of my marine mammal experience working with managed care Bottlenose dolphin and California Sea Lions at both DolphinsPlus Bayside and DPMMR locations.  There I was a Supervisor of Animal Care and Director of  Sea Lion Training and Program.    I’ve been blessed with learning and working alongside expert behaviorist, veterinarians, pathologists, researchers, and wild life rehabbers.   My certifications include PADI Divemaster, First Responder, and Mares Service Technician and I have training from NMFS in Marine Mammal Necropsy Sampling Protocol and Oil Spill Response and Hazardous Communications.   I love my responsibilities at work and consider it an honor to dedicate my life to marine wildlife, I am humbled by all of my  experiences continually.