In cities across America there are aquariums. Some such as Shedds aquarium in Chicago, however nice, are meant as entertainment and spectacle with a little education thrown in for good PR. I have been to Sea World in Orlando and Ohio and for as nice as they are they fall in the category which I mentioned before. When I was young I didn’t care about the situations behind the whales and dolphins which were trained to jump, flip, spin and do other tricks. The ethics didn’t bother me. Now, as an adult I tend to think about these things. I do not deny places like Sea World do great things to educate people about ocean life and help it when it’s in need. But sometimes, for me, there is just too much bullshit with places like that. As an informed adult I want to see the GOOD they do for the animals in their care and not the money they make off these animals. I once went to a dolphin show at Cedar Point in Ohio years back (something they did which is long forgotten by most people) when I was younger and even then I thought those animals lived in disgusting conditions. It stunk, smelled ad water looked like toilets were flushed in it. More than anything though they didn’t seem….happy I guess. I said that to tell you this next bit.
Mote Aquarium and Marine Laboratory
Down here in Sarasota on Long Boat key is a place called Mote Aquarium. I went to it first about 8 years ago and was impressed. This place has existed since 1955 which is a feat I think. This time around I took Stacey with me since she had never been to a place like that. Mote is more than an aquarium it is an education and even more to the point it is a research center. Mote aquarium promotes not just an animal friendly environment but also teaches people about the balance needed between humans and animals in and around the oceans. Yes you have the normal displays of fish, sharks and other aquatic life but they also teach people about the environment these animals live in and how we affect it. It’s not fancy, and there is not much spectacle. It’s fun don’t get me wrong but it is educational at the same time. Most of the people who work here save the actual scientists are volunteers and college students and these people are filled with information and passion. One older gentleman I talked with said he has been volunteering at Mote for 10 years. I get the impression the people who volunteer at Mote have a passion for aquatic life. They do it because they love it not because it’s something to do.
At Mote they have 1 dolphin, a young male, who has a relatively new and massive lagoon all to himself. His name is Moonshine and he was rescued in 2003 in the Keys. There are no stands around filled with screaming kids and crowds of people. No guy selling dolphin themed souvenir cups and no one selling cotton candy. There is just a long over look area where people can see into the tank. We had the pleasure of being there during training time which for many would seem tame compared to Sea World or other places. This training was between 1 female trainer working out Moonshine which consisted of having him bring her some floating toys and giving him a medical check out as well as lots of fish. I’m sure there was way more science that went into it but I loved seeing the one on one time and positive reinforcement such as, “Good job Moonshine.” It seems for now that Mote is Moonshines permanent home.
The closest she got to a spectacle was when she ran down the side of the tank and he chased her and this only lasted for 2 laps…nothing heavy. No jumping thru hoops or flips in the air or other silly things. Moonshine jumped a little twice purely because he felt like it. I appreciated this. I liked this. He seemed happy. After listening to the speaker talk about Moonshine I got the impression they were giving the dolphin a peaceful stress free life. I would much rather watch this then something at Sea World I think.
The aquarium is also home to 2 big ol Manatees which are one of my favorite creatures in Floridan. These are named Hugh and Buffet which is a fitting name for anything in Florida. These “Sea Cows” as they are also called float around peacefully in nature and their only real enemies are humans and their boats. These are protected species and I really just enjoy seeing them. Mote aquarium goes to great lengths to educate people on Manatees in the south Florida area so they have a better understanding how they can harm these creatures with their actions which they can control.
Mote is also home to a few different kinds of sea turtles. Loggerheads to be exact and these turtles breed on the east coast of the USA and Florida. Mote had a pair of females named Shelley and Montego which were born in captivity 36 years ago in North Carolina. Apparently every so often Sea World brings two males down for….fun…with the girls and they prefer Shelley we were told. I learned a lot about the turtles at Mote when it came to their lives and what they go through. These animals also seemed to have a peaceful existence which I don’t imagine is hard for a turtle. I have always had a thing for turtles so I sat and watched them for quite a while. There is something peaceful about watching these gracefully giants move through the water. This past October the workers at Mote released a Loggerhead turtle named Murph who they had been rehabilitating.
There was also another male turtle which was a different type then the loggerheads. He was smaller but for some reason came out of his hiding spot when he saw me through the glass. I really enjoyed watching him swim around and poke his head out the water and blowing out air. He was pretty neat. I think we had a connection since nature loves me. I cannot remember his name though but I do know that he was in the tank which once held Edger a sea turtle who I saw on my first trip that passed away in 2011.
Mote does A LOT of science. They are a research center after all and take part often in ecological and scientific projects in and around Florida. That actually is there primary reason for existing and not to make money and draw crowds like other aquariums. A few months ago I read an article about a group of whales that beached themselves not far from Long Boat key where Mote lies. They were also actively present in the cleanup operations After the Deep-water Horizon disaster in 2010 (click HERE for information on that) One of the first groups to respond was scientists and volunteers from Mote Aquarium. I was also told that Mote has one of the best breeding programs for sea horses and sting rays in the United States and we really enjoyed seeing these in their tanks which were tucked away but view-able through glass.
As I said before Mote is very no frills but it is high quality when it comes to the living area of the animals and the education it gives about them. It’s not a bad way to spend a few hours of a day if you are in the Sarasota area. If you get the chance I highly suggest taking the boat tour Mote provides (extra charge) of Sarasota bay. On this tour you are given some great insight into the waterways and ecology of the area and also are given the opportunity to have hands on experience with a few different types of sea life. It is fairly common to see a few dolphins on these tours as well as Manatees and various sea birds which live in the bay. If you are looking for dramatics and long lines go to Bush Gardens or Sea World. If you are looking for something unique, local, chill, fun, and educational check out Mote Aquarium. My girlfriend had never been to a place like this before and I think I got more enjoyment out of taking her there and watching her see and experience all this for the first time than I did myself.
Jelly Fish – Check out the video
Nearby Dining Options
****After or before you eat I highly suggest eating at The Old Salty Dog restaurant across the street from Mote. It was featured on the Travel Channels man versus food. It sits on the water and very low key and nice.