GULFPORT, Miss. (NNS) -- Eight bottlenose dolphins from the hurricane-destroyed Marine Life Oceanarium continue to entertain local Seabees and their families with their playful antics here at Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport.
The dolphins, swept out to sea by Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29, were rescued in two stages by several organizations and brought to an NCBC warehouse in September, where they have been cared for by four Oceanarium trainers and personnel from the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) and Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS).
"People come all the time to watch the dolphins," Marine Life Oceanarium trainer Shannon Huyser said after a feeding, with spectators lined up pointing and smiling at the frolicking dolphins. "We can't do anything too high-energy. We mostly work on things to keep them stimulated, like kissing each other or swimming through hoops."
Children especially enjoy visiting the dolphins. They laugh and shriek as the dolphins pop out of the water chasing a ball or responding to a trainer's signal.
"I like the way the water blows out of their back," said one of the children there that day.
Lt. Andy Shinka said he had just brought his son back to Gulfport from Sayre, Pa., where he was in a safe haven with his grandparents.
"What's good about the dolphins being here is that we were able to call our son and tell him the dolphins had been rescued," he said. "With the Oceanarium being destroyed, he still had something to look forward to coming back to."
The dolphins' trainers are at the warehouse each day for four regularly scheduled feedings at approximately 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. On-base visitors are welcome to watch the dolphins from the viewing platform during daylight hours.
"We always work on medical behaviors like holding their tail flukes because we take blood samples every week," Huyser said. "The ocean was very polluted with debris and we just don't know what they could have run into."
The dolphins originally were placed into three saltwater above-ground pools in the warehouse: one 20,000-gallon and two 10,000-gallon tanks. According to Cathy Timon of NMMP, a second 20,000-gallon tank and additional filtration eqiupment became available after a deployment in Bahrain ended and it was sent here for the rescued dolphins. Four dolphins were moved to the new tank Nov. 5.
"We used a forklift and stretchers and had them down on a mat to do medical checks and insert microchips," trainer Tim Hoffland said. "It will take them a couple of days to get used to the new pool."
The equipment for the pools is constantly monitored by NMMP personnel from San Diego to ensure a safe environment is maintained for the dolphins during their temporary stay. Staff and volunteers from IMMS stand night watches and provide 24-hour care.
Along with on-base visitors, the rescued dolphins have brought a host of media visits to NCBC including CBS, MSNBC, CNN, Discovery Kids, and Good Morning America.
"Seabees aren't really known [by the public], and having the dolphins here has kind of gotten the word out about us," said Steelworker 2nd Class Shawn Spencer, of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 7.
"I was surprised when I heard they were in the warehouse," Spence said. "I didn't know the Navy had all these dolphin tanks and equipment."
The Dolphins, named Kelly, Toni, Jackie, Noah, Shelly, Jill, Eli and Tamara, may remain at NCBC for two or three more weeks, according to Marine Life Oceanarium owner and IMMS president Moby Solangi.
For more information on the rescued dolphins visit www.imms.org and www.dolphinsrus.com.
For related news, visit the Task Force Navy Family Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/hurricane/.