Visiting Marathons Dolphin Research Center
Located on Grassy Key between Islamorada and Marathon, the Dolphin Research Center is about a 2.5-hour drive from Miami and just over an hour from Key West. The DRC is a nonprofit organization and research facility, open to the public, promoting the care of marine mammals and the environment through education, rehabilitation, and interactive programs. Spend the day and take advantage of a range of activities and amazing experiences, or stop by for an hour or two of sightseeing on dry land. The center is situated on the Gulf of Mexico, making for a smart, scenic break in the Florida Keys.
History Of The Facility
Officially founded in 1984, the research center began as a small tourist attraction on the side of the Overseas Highway. From its roots as Santini's Porpoise school in the late 1950s and then Flipper's Sea School in the 1970s, the site evolved into a research facility offering educational programs, demonstrations, and special interactive experiences with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions residing among 90,000 square feet of natural saltwater lagoons set up along the shoreline. The facility's mission encourages a "peaceful coexistence, cooperation, and communication between marine mammals, humans and the environment we share with the well being of DRC’s animals taking precedence."
The DRC Animal "Family"
Over half of the animals at the Dolphin Research Center were born at the facility, while the others have either come from partner facilities or arrived as rescues who were rehabilitated and deemed unreleasable back into the wild by the Government. There are currently more than two dozen dolphins, four sea lions, a number of exotic birds, and iguana calling the center home. The facility also participates in manatee rescues, but manatees are not regularly housed here. The DRC’s research program focuses on three main areas: cognition, behavior, and husbandry.
The Dolphin Research Center Experience
Photo Credit: dolphinresearchcenter via Instagram
The Dolphin Research Center is a great stop for the whole family - even the pups! Yes, this is a pet-friendly facility. Just make sure they're leashed or harnessed! Your general admission entry allows you all-day access to the center as well as free parking. During your visit, you can observe amazing animals in spontaneous, unscripted engagements, speak directly with skilled animal trainers and care staff, sit in on educational presentations, and even get up-close-and-personal with animal encounters! For additional play and exploration, make sure to spend some time splashing at the Family Sprayground, joining the flock in the aviary, or gathering your thoughts in the tranquil Veterans Garden. Onsite grab-and-go concessions are also available at Anchor's Cafe.
For a more personal experience, separately priced programs are available, allowing guests to interact with and meet a dolphin up-close. Be advised that, for the sake of a natural and humane environment in the interest of the animals, dolphins and sea lions choose to participate in sessions, meaning that, on any given day, program availability and times may vary based on the needs of the animals. Special programs include the 20-25 minute in-water Dolphin Encounter where you can join a dolphin for a dorsal pull and a kiss, the waist-deep water Family Dolphin Splash encounter, the half-day VIP or Researcher Experiences, and the all-day Ultimate Trainer experience. There are also mini, from-the-dock options like the Play with the Dolphin, Paint with a Dolphin, or Meet the Dolphin encounters. Prices for these interactive experiences range greatly from $25 to hundreds of dollars.
Dolphin Research Center is open 7 days a week from 9 AM - 4.30 PM. (Closed on Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.) Current admission prices are: Adults - $28.00, Military & Veterans - $25.00, Children ages 4-12 - $23.00. Children younger than 4 years of age are admitted free.
Virtual Experiences And Contributions
There are options to enjoy the DRC experience from afar, or to help the center in its mission and care of marine mammals. Consider a virtual encounter and "Zoom With A Dolphin" from anywhere, purchase DolphinGrams or a one-of-a-kind tote bag painted by a dolphin, donate items from the animal care wish list, or symbolically "adopt" a dolphin or sea lion.
58901 Overseas Hwy. (US 1 at MM 59), Grassy Key, FL • (305) 289-0002 • https://www.dolphins.org