Well, last summer we left off our Moppy posts right around Christine's birthday, and this year we're picking up again right where we left off! The day after Christine's birthday this year we all piled into our car and headed from where we live in Virginia all the way down to the state of Florida. As you can see from the map, it's a LONG drive! 12.5 hours, to be exact- about 14 altogether if you count rest stops.
To make it easier on the kids, we left around midnight on Friday night and drove through the night so they could sleep for most of the trip. Chad and I took turns driving. Boy were we tired when we arrived on Saturday afternoon! Fortunately, we were able to check into the resort and get plenty of sleep that night. We spent the next couple of days just relaxing, but on Tuesday we got back into the car for a 2-hour drive to Clearwater Marine Aquarium on the Gulf Coast side of Florida.
We have been wanting to visit this aquarium ever since we watched the movie "Dolphin Tale", and later, "Dolphin Tale 2." The movies tell the story of a dolphin named Winter who got caught in a crab trap and was rescued by the crew from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. She ended up losing her tail, but some some very talented people helped design a prosthetic tail to help her swim.
Winter still lives at the aquarium, along with her friend Hope (who was one of the stars of Dolphin Tale 2), so we were very excited to go see them!
The aquarium itself is on the other side of an inter-coastal waterway, which can be crossed either by bridge or by boat, so we decided to take the boat ride over. It was a beautiful (hot) day, but the ride across the water was lovely.
Then we saw a SHARK!
And suddenly- AAAAHH!!!!
I'm just kidding. It wasn't a shark in the water, it was a dolphin- we saw a few wild dolphins swimming around on the way to the aquarium, and then this great white shark was just a picture on the wall inside. Moppy just wanted to play a joke on you. She has a pretty good scared face, doesn't she? ;-)
When we got to Winter's tank, we saw her getting some physical therapy from her handlers. They have to massage the muscles in her tail stump in order to keep them from putting too much pressure on her spine. The therapy doesn't help her swim, but it does keep her healthy.
It was so neat to see her in person! It was also very interesting to see all the things that happen at the marine aquarium as a working rescue facility and animal hospital.
Next we came to another tank where there were lots of fish, sea turtles, and other ocean life- and scuba divers! The divers held up signs with different facts about underwater. Did you know that sound travels almost 5 times faster in water?
This diver came up to the window and played Rock, Paper, Scissors with the kids. Do you ever play Rock, Paper, Scissors in Japan?
Next Moppy got a look at some stingrays. They look so graceful gliding through the water.
We got a chance to pet them, but Moppy didn't want to get her fur wet. We told her that they felt kind of slimy.
Next we went to go visit Hope in her tank. She was having a great time swimming around!
She even came right up to the window and made friends with Christine. It was so neat!
Moppy had fun taking a ride on a special dolphin in the gift shop. Notice the dolphin's white tail? It's just like Winter's prosthetic tail. Another neat fact- because Winter's dolphin skin is so sensitive, they had to develop a new kind of gel to use as a sleeve for her prosthetic. The gel worked so well for her, they started using it for people as well, and it's helped many people with prosthetics wear them more comfortably. Thanks, Winter!
Here are the kids and Moppy (she wasn't looking at the camera, oops!) in front of the houseboat used as Hazel's home in the movies.
After touring the aquarium, we took a special boat ride called the Sea Life Safari. We had a guide who told us all about the ocean life under the water, and they also put down a net and collected some samples of fish for us to look at. They take samples like that to research the different fish species and keep track of what's going on in the water. We were on an estuary, which kind of acts like a nursery for baby animals because it's a more protected area than the open ocean.
The boat took us out to a tiny island called Shell Island, because it's almost entirely made up of shells! We had about 15 minutes to walk around and collect shells. See how clear the water is? So pretty!
Moppy decided to do some sunbathing on the shell beach. :-) We can't tell whether or not she got a sunburn because she's already pink. Hmm... ;-)
It was a lovely boat ride!
This is a part of the museum with parts of the sets from the movie. We got to learn about which parts of the movies were true and which were fictional.
It was so fun getting to learn more about Winter, Hope, and all the creatures in and around the Clearwater Marine Aquarium! Maybe there will be a Dolphin Tale 3 someday?
That was just one part of our Florida vacation- stay tuned for more!