Teens and pre-teens looking to get their feet wet in the world of marine science can do it at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon.

“It’s the most fun learning kids can have. Their days are full,” said DRC spokeswoman Mary Stella.

Students stay overnight in the DRC dorms, in the care of chaperones, and spend the week learning about and interacting with dolphins, sea lions and the Florida Keys environment.

Campers interact in the water with some of the research center’s 26 resident dolphins, learn how they’re trained and about their unique behavioral and physical characteristics. The DRC camp also teaches kids how a distressed dolphin or manatee is saved, and how they’re cared for in recovery.

“We’ll go out and do a mock marine mammal stranding with a blowup dolphin and learn about what to look for” and the sequence of events in a rescue mission, Stella said.

What’s special about the weeklong summer camp is the fact that it can be life-changing, and students return year after year for progressive age group camps, she said.

“We do our best to rotate schedules and activities too,” said Courtney Coburn, administrative director of education. “That way, when campers return, they have a variety of activities.”

The biggest difference between the 10-12 and 13-14 age groups involves the focus of the camp, she said.

Whereas the 10-12 camp involves a more camp-like experience, students in the 13-14 age group are introduced to what it’s like working in the field.

“We kind of put them in the flip flops of the trainers,” Coburn said.

She’s been at the DRC for nine years, and said being able to experience when a student has an “ah-ha” moment is what makes the camp so special for her.

“Watching them learn and grow, and when they reach that moment where they connect to it — that exploration and that interest — being able to be a part of that is the best,” she said.

The first camp for 10- to 12-year-olds runs from June 9 to June 15, with the second session going from June 16 to June 22.

June 23-29 is the first session for the 13- to 14-year-old age group, with the second session running from June 30 to July 6.

The cost is $1,600, which includes room and board. To apply, click on “Camps” under the Fun & Games tab at dolphins.org.


This is also the first summer the DRC is offering a day camp, but it is mostly sold out. Standby applications are available. There is, however, also space available in the 15- to 17-year-old day camp class, “Teen Marine Mammal Care & Basic Training,” from Aug. 4-10. Cost is $150 per week for Florida Keys residents and $175 per week for non-Keys residents. Costs and more details are available on the DRC website. Email [email protected] or call 305-289-1121.

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Katie Atkins is a western New York native who, when not working, can probably be found on the beach with her nose in a book. Sweets are her weakness (10 fillings this year), along with pizza and her adopted senior cat, Buddy.