Sometimes, when you move to a new town, you end up being submerged in the mechanics of day-to-day life faster then you can learn your new ZIP code.
The hunt to find work, the nearest grocery store and safe areas for your family to play, are usually on the Top Priority list.
Then, all of the sudden, the dust has settled, your routine is established and you find yourself at a Marine Park being kissed sweetly by a gigantic seal.
Which is exactly what happened to me. We had been so focused on starting our lives here that we rarely took a moment to actually look around and enjoy the amazing things our community has to offer.
Since I’m considered a fledgling Panama City Beach-ian, my boss had the foresight to send me out to Gulf World.
The idea behind that was to get a fresh take on a place that’s been around for so long, people simply use it as a directional landmark now.
Originally established in 1969, Gulf World has steadily grown in size and animal capacity. Yet, despite the overall expansion, the park has held on to an intimate vibe that’s refreshingly unique. Especially considering we’re a nation that’s been known to embrace the “Go Big or Go Home” mantra. The fact that this modest 6 acre park has managed to maintain the ability of getting up close and personal with almost every critter that calls Gulf World home, instantly enabled a sense of bonding with the animals unlike any I’ve ever experienced.
Gulf World’s focus on educating the general public is evident, but instead of lulling the audience to sleep with stats and facts, the educational focus is crafted with a finesse-like infusion of fun.
I was lucky enough to catch the tail end (Queen Of Punny, I know) of the bird show. While the trainer captured my attention with little tricks that showcased the birds intelligence, she equally succeeded in peaking my interest with knowledgeable tidbits. Informative lessons ranging from where the bird is traditionally found in the wild, to the kind of food these fine-feathered chatterboxes enjoy dining on.
I was caught off-guard with the sudden realization that I was leaning forward in my seat, eagerly anticipating what would happen next. Shocking to me, since before that moment, I would never have called myself a “bird-person.” So kudos to Gulf World for not only breaking through my indifference, but for creating a show so entertaining that the educational aspect became as fascinating as the birds.
Have you ever seen a bird “go” grocery shopping? Have you ever watched a bird, literally stand before a shelf of “perishable” items, then select what he wants and place it into his little shopping cart?
Thanks to Gulf World, I can go on record as saying, I Have and it was awesome.
Moving on from the birds, it’s easy to say that the dolphins, turtles and sea lions are the most popularized characters through out the park.
There are two variations of dolphins at Gulf World, one is the typical Bottle Nose dolphin and one is a lesser known Rough Tooth Dolphin. Both types of dolphins are incredible to watch.
The grace and playfulness of such a magnificant creature is mind-blowing to see up close. Which goes back to that unique intimitacy that the park offers and being that this was the first chance I’ve ever been that close to a dolphin, it was no surprise when a bevvy of emotional thoughts jumped to the forefront in my noggin.
For me, the first emotion is the serenity that these beautiful creatures provoke. Only to be followed with the realization that they were probably smarter then me too, and in a true spirit of just how intimate this park really is, I was able to clearly catch the dolphin’s knowing smile and faint flicker of agreement.
The Rough Tooth Dolphin offers an interesting back-story, especially since there’s very little information readily available on that particular type of dolphin. Their common name refers to the thin lines of enamel that run vertically down the dolphin’s teeth. Rough Tooth dolphins prefer deeper waters, which is partially the reason for the limited information on them. However, these dolphins seem to adapt well to captivity with proven intelligence and creativity.
Less than a dozen Rough-toothed dolphins live in various parks around the world, yet our very own Gulf World is proud to be home to seven of them.
Five of these dolphins were stranded in Cape San Blas, and ended up being moved in to the park. Then two others were stranded in another location. Since Gulf World already had an existing pod- it made sense for the other two to come join their family in Panama City Beach. All of them are now permanent residents here, and all boast good health, loving care and have embraced their playful natures.
It was such a heart-warming story, that after hearing it, I was secretly wishing I could reach in and stroke their wittle underbellies.
In addition to rescuing the Rough Tooth Dolphins, Gulf World has opened it’s doors to a wide variety of other creatures. One notable addition is a dolphin who had been diagnosed with scoliosis, and deemed unreleasable. This Dolphin seems right at home at the park and considering his amenities include a personal Chiropractor, it’s not surprising. The big-galut will never be able to fully correct his curved tail, but his daily life at the marine park is focused around his physical comfort and over-all well being.
Judging from his festive swimming- he seemed like he felt just right.
The adventures of Gulf World continue beyond this article, and it doesn’t really matter if you’ve been there so many times that the Turtles know YOU by name- go ahead, swing by and get fishy kisses from a sea lion.
If you’ve never been there, make this vacation the one that changes that.