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Story by Kathleen Walls Photos by Martin Walls

American Roads Travel Magazine

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A dolphin and trainer at Marineland

Marineland is a truly unique place. It is possibly the only city in the country where the dolphins outnumber the people. It has a human population of eight and a dolphin population of 14. Then there is at least one well fed black and white cat. It is officially in Flagler County but a small part of the land is in Saint Johns County.

We visited there and spent a day watching dauphins and people play together. It is a toss up as to who had the most fun.

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Since people are always drawn towards the rare and unusual in nature, when I had chance to see a one of a kind dolphin, I was thrilled. I was talking with one of the volunteers, Joan, when she mentioned Lilly Champagne, Marineland’s blond dolphin. When she offered to let us in the back area to see her, she didn’t have to ask twice.

Lilly shares a pool with Nellie, a celebrity in her own right. Lilly is a beautiful buff color. According to Marineland, she is the world’s only living blonde dolphin.

I found information about some light gray dolphins but no other blonde dolphin data.  As for other light colored dolphins, Carolina Snowball was a popular albino bottlenose dolphin who lived at the Miami Seaquarium in the early 1960s. In the entire world, there have only been 14 recorded sightings of albino bottlenose dolphins. The first recorded sighting was in 1962.

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A dolphin poses at the edge of his tank

According to National Oceanography and Atmospheric Administration there have only been two documented sightings of wild albino dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico area. One was seen Little Lake near New Orleans, Louisiana in the summer of 1994 It was observed for just a short time with a small dolphin group and never seen again. The second was a young calf seen with a large group of 40 or more dolphins just south of Galveston, Texas in September 2003. There has also been a reported sighting of an albino calf in June 2007, at Calcasieu Lake in southwestern Louisiana. This baby was pinkish and photographs of it circulated on the internet.

The chances that either young calf survived are not good. The survival rate for ordinary colored dolphins is only 17% for a first time mother, rising to 48% to 60% for second time mothers and only dolphins born to a third time mother stand an 80% chance of surviving. The lighter coloration of a blonde or albino would lessen its chances as it would stand out more in the water allowing it to be picked off by sharks or other predators.

Lilly has reached the ripe old age of 50 years.  She has spent 45 of those years at Marineland which accounts for her survival. Her pool mate, Nellie reached an astonishing 56 years old. 20 to 30 years is the average lifespan of a wild dolphin. Although she no longer performs, Nellie is quite a celebrity. She had a track record many humans would be proud of. She was a television star and preformed in Timex commercials in the 1960s. She was awarded and honorary master’s degree from Jacksonville University. That honor was bestowed on Nellie at her birthday celebration on February 27, 2008 by Dr. Kerry Romesburg, the university president. Nellie was toasted with a round of “Happy Birthday to You” sung by the crowds that gathered to help her celebrate. Nellie took it all in stride and even squirted out the candles on her ice and fish birthday cake. Maybe when Nellie reaches her 60th she will receive a doctorate. I guess then she will expect to be addressed by her trainers as “Dr. Nellie.”

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