Dolphin Discovery Exhibit
Experience the Dolphins Like Never Before
Dolphin Discovery, the Aquarium’s largest exhibit, first opened in 1990 and is home to our colony of eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins!
In 2012, we changed the format of Dolphin Discovery to allow our guests greater access to the animals and to our expert staff. Every day during operating hours, this exhibit is open for visitors to stop in as many times as they'd like, for as long as they'd like. Guests get a glimpse into the daily life of a dolphin—how they learn, play and interact with each other—and chat with our marine mammal experts to discover what it's like to care for, teach and build relationships with these incredible animals.
- Six females: Nani, Jade, Spirit, Maya, Bayley and Chesapeake
- Two males: Beau and Foster
Nani, our eldest dolphin, is the mother of Beau and Spirit. Chesapeake was the first dolphin born at the National Aquarium, and she is the mother of our youngest dolphin, Bayley. Maya is a half-sister to Chesapeake (via dam, or mother), as well as a half-sister to Spirit (via sire, or father). Jade is the mother of Foster. All but one of our eight dolphins, Nani, was born in an aquarium or zoological park. Nani, born in the wild in 1972, came to us from another aquarium that had to close.
This colony structure represents a complex social group for the dolphins and provides them with essential relationships. Bottlenose dolphins live in a matriarchal society, due to the level of care that females provide to their young; the males live in separate social groups consisting of a few members that are called bachelor groups or alliances. Here at the National Aquarium, we house our animals in what we call a nursery group, which consists of all six of our females and our two pair-bonded males.
In Dolphin Discovery, we have 13 marine mammal specialists, a director of marine mammal staff, Allison Ginsburg, and a director of animal programs, Sue Hunter. Our marine mammals team is responsible for the everyday care of our dolphins, including medical care, diet and nutrition, teaching and learning, research and of course a lot of playtime.
We have staff who work in this exhibit full time, and we have additional team members who assist with the care of the dolphins. Our veterinary team, led by Dr. Leigh Clayton, provides state-of-the-art medical care to each animal on a routine basis. It’s not unusual for guests to arrive and see our vet team checking in.
While some of the work our staff does with our dolphins takes place behind the scenes, most is done throughout the day while guests are enjoying the exhibit. Our marine mammal experts facilitate a number of different sessions: Some are focused on teaching brand new behaviors, others are dedicated to husbandry and some consist entirely of playtime.
When our team is not working directly with the animals, they spend a majority of their time cleaning. This includes buckets, toys, the kitchen, all of the backup areas and even the animals’ habitat. All specialists are scuba-certified, which allows them to enter the water and to scrub and vacuum each and every day.
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