By Madeline Zerega
In early June, my mom surprised us by purchasing tickets for the Morning Rounds tour at the Marine Mammal Center of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota.
We had previously visited the aquarium, but were excited to get to see “behind the scenes” at the marine mammal center. The visit was a splash hit with our whole family!
The tour involved observing the daily morning routines of the sea animals and the staff, from feeding time to tank cleaning. We even had the opportunity to feed the fish and one of the turtles (who had a healthy after-breakfast lettuce snack).
In addition to seeing beautiful creatures such as sea turtles and manatees, we also learned their individual stories and how they ended up at Mote. We learned about the backgrounds and job duties of some of the staff and interns.
Another highlight of the morning was witnessing a training session for the three otters Mote is currently housing. Unlike some other aquariums, Mote only keeps animals in its facilities that cannot safely be returned to the wild.
For example, if an animal cannot catch its own food or is completely blind, keeping the animal in a rescue center like Mote is in the animal’s best interest.
The incredible staff at Mote are all devoted to their jobs and are extremely passionate about supporting wildlife. Dana Henderson, school programs coordinator, was our excellent, knowledgeable guide during the tour.
As Dana explained, “Our main goal at Mote is sustainability and conservation of oceans. By giving guests the opportunity to see what we do and go behind the scenes, they are able to contribute to our mission.”
Taking a visit to Mote is not only an educational activity to enjoy with family and friends, but it is an experience that helps make a positive impact on our environment.
The day after our tour, we had the exciting chance to see Mote staff in action again when we encountered approximately 13 manatees congregated near the shore of Lido Key in Sarasota Bay.
Mote staff were on site, after being alerted by other staff monitoring sea turtle nests in the area. Led by Christina Nau, they were part of a team who documents manatees in the area, and they used the opportunity to photograph the mammals and record information at close range.
Scientists can identify individual manatees by the boat-strike scars and injuries on their bodies. They indicated that the manatees were gathered near shore together because it is mating season.
The scientists answered questions, but politely reminded onlookers to keep an appropriate distance and not disturb the mammals.
When the manatees moved on, they thrilled the onlookers by swimming together in a big herd between the shore and the boats anchored nearby.
Since manatees are mostly solitary, the sight of so many congregating and then swimming away together was a glimpse into the unexpected wonders of the natural world.
After seeing its staff at work on our tour of the Marine Mammal Center and at the chance manatee sighting, I realize that we are fortunate to have a neighbor like Mote working tirelessly to protect our coastal and ocean communities.
(Madeline Zerega is a 10th grader who embraces environmental causes.)