Have an Excellent Day at Gulf World Marine Park
June 1, 2015 by Audrey Johnson
Feeding and petting a fever of stingrays, swimming with dolphins and getting smooched by a sea lion is all in a day’s work at Gulf World Marine Park. Panama City Beach’s longstanding educational facility pulls double duty as the Area Coordinator for the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Network. And when Gulf World’s team of experts isn’t out rescuing dolphins and sea turtles, they’re educating kids and kids-at-heart about the fascinating animals with which we share our planet.
Bottlenose dolphins are no doubt Gulf World’s A-list celebrities, but their smaller rough-toothed cousins put on an equally happy-tear-inducing show. Ivan was found beached at Cape San Blas with four other rough-toothed dolphins when he was just 9 months old. Only three survived and Ivan was deemed un-releasable by the National Marine Fisheries Service due to his lack of survival skills. Luckily, Ivan and other rescues have found a home at Gulf World, where they learn new skills through positive reinforcement training.
“Most of the trainers have a bachelor’s degree in marine biology or psychology," said Sam Tuno, Marketing Coordinator at Gulf World Marine Park. “They get their foot in the door by volunteering and doing internships at various facilities, and they tend to work with multiple animals over their careers.”
Gulf World’s newest habitat, Stingray Bay, houses cownose and southern stingrays in a 20,000 gallon indoor habitat in the Tropical Gardens, which flamingos and macaws also call home. Stingrays swim in groups, known as fevers, looking for treats from the bait shack or pets on their wings. The truly adventurous can join the stingrays in their habitat while kneeling to touch, feed and interact with them.
Stingray trainer Jose explained, “Their teeth and barbs are made of keratin, just like our fingernails. We keep a record of when we trim them and they grow back in 1-2 months.”
Sea turtle lovers can catch a glimpse of their favorite reptiles, many of which are being rehabilitated for release in conjunction with efforts from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. People will be (pleasantly) surprised to learn that most of the outdoor park is covered, shielding visitors from the bright Florida sun and unpredictable afternoon showers and making it easy to walk among sharks, camera-loving seals, and tropical penguins.
Special Programs and Events
Gulf World hosts regular field trips and daily interactive programs for children in the community. In addition to the stingray interactive program, kids can choose from a multitude of educational and interactive opportunities, including:
- Trainer for a Day
- Swim with a Dolphin
- Meet-n-Greet Sea Lions
- Meet-n-Greet Dolphins
- Dolphin Day Camp
- Vet Camp
- Animal Therapy for Special Needs Children
Gulf World also hosts birthday parties and special events in the Tropical Garden Banquet room. Kids can learn a new trick at the Magic Shop and meet resident magician Noah Wells. Noah puts on his hilarious 90 minute “Maximum Magic” show in the 650-seat Tropical Garden Theatre on select dates throughout the year.
On June 8 from 10 am-2 pm, Gulf World will host their annual World Oceans Day celebration with lots of fun activities and special representatives from our local community, including: the National Marine Fisheries Service, St. Andrew’s Turtle Watch, Science and Discovery Center and more.
Join hundreds of other educational institutions, conservation organizations, and thousands of individuals in dozens of countries around the world to celebrate our shared ocean.
Gulf World Marine Park works with non-profit Gulf World Marine Institute to respond to sick, injured or stranded animals, rehabilitate and release them into the wild and serve as an educational resource to schools throughout our area. The Institute has rescued thousands of sick and debilitated marine animals since 1970. Learn more about their important work at www.gulfworldmarineinstitute.org.
Gulf World Marine Park is located at 15412 Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach. The park is open daily from 9:30 am-6 pm. For show times, pricing and information, please visit www.gulfworldmarinepark.com or call (850) 234-5271. Stay up to date and join the conversation on www.facebook.com/GulfWorldMarinePark.