Dave and I were excited to be given the chance to attend a press trip in Panama City Beach, Florida recently where flights, accommodations, meals, and activities were provided. While we were there we visited Gulf World Marine Park which quickly became one of our favorite area attractions. We loved it because we could see the staff and trainers truly care for the animals at the park and because the location itself serves as a rehabilitation center for stranded and injured marine animals.
From what we understood all of the animals at the park arrived at Gulf World due to injury and their main intention is to get them healthy so they can return to their natural habitat. However, there are many cases where they would not make it if they were released and so they stay at Gulf World Marine Park to continue to be cared for.
We met a pair of Rough Tooth Dolphins which was pretty remarkable considering there are the only facility in North America that houses Rough Tooth Dolphins. We learned about one in particular, named Astro, who was stranded when he was young.
They discovered he had hearing loss and couldn’t hear high pitched sounds which is essential for dolphin communication and echolocation. As he grew they learned he also has severe scoliosis. It is so bad that without the therapy they were able to provide him as he grew, his ribs would have punctured his lung. It’s amazing that he can even swim but he does well and even was able to let us pet his tail and smiled for us too.
Some of the dolphins and sea lions at the park are trained and perform in shows. This is part of their rehab and challenges them intellectually. I was also interested to learn that it helps the staff and veterinarians as well. This makes sense because if a 500 lb sea lion is taught to lay down and is comfortable with being touched and pet, it won’t be scared when the vet has to come in for a physical or any testing.
We saw two shows while we were there and they were fantastic. The intimate venue allowed for close seating (but not too close, it was cold that day and we didn’t want to get wet!). We were able to see some amazing water and ariel acts from the dolphins and sea lions. Here’s a look at a few of my favorite moments.
I can’t forget the after show where we got the chance to meet Otto, the sea lion. He was adorable and he blew us kisses and stuck his tongue out. We were able to pet him, pose for a picture, and Dave even got a kiss from him. So cute!
Meeting Otto and getting the chance to pet the Rough Tooth Dolphins wasn’t just a perk of being on the press trip. Gulf World Marine park actually has a number of fantastic programs for any animal lover including:
- Play and Swim With Dolphins
- Dolphin Meet & Greet
- Sea Lion Meet & Greet
- Trainer For A Day
- Dolphin Day Camps
- Birthday Parties & Other Events
- Snooze With Sea Life
- Animal Therapy
While at Gulf World Marine Park we also saw and learned about penguins, sea turtles, flamingos, sting ray and other animals.
I was amazed to learn that they are often a harbor for sea turtles who struggle with hypothermia when temperatures drop. In fact, I just read a news report that this month they took in 50 cold stunned sea turtles affected by the recent frigid temperatures in Cape San Blas. They gave them safe haven, warmed them up, and when the temps rose again released them back into the Gulf of Mexico. Such a heartwarming story!
We had such a wonderful time at Gulf World Marine Park that we recommend it to others visiting Panama City Beach, Florida. this will be one of our first stops on our list when we return sometime with Kora & Logan. I know they will love it. It’s the perfect place for any animal lover and it’s an affordable day of memorable fun and education.