Despite directives for social distancing due to coronavirus, military veterans and their families participated from their homes in a virtual dolphins-and-animal-care-specialist interaction Thursday from the Florida Keys.
Through video streaming, the vets learned about the marine mammals at Dolphin Research Center and enjoyed some of their behaviors. The distance learning opportunity was part of the Wounded Warrior Project’s ongoing peer support group activities for veterans.
Warriors and their families traditionally come to the Middle Keys facility in person to participate in an annual Soldier Ride, a combination of cycling and in-water swims with dolphins. Because the Florida Keys remain closed to visitors due to COVID-19, DRC decided to bring the dolphins to veterans and their families that are self-isolating or quarantining at home.
The online interactive session featured two dolphins, each rescued after suffering physical injuries in the wild. Dolphin trainer Laura O’Neil shared facts, stories and hand signals for each dolphin, and participants asked real-time questions.
Honor Andruzzi, medically retired from the U.S. Navy, said seeing the dolphins excited and active despite their visible injuries was therapeutic — and relatable to warriors whose injuries may be visible or unseen such as PTSD-linked anxiety.
“As a veteran, as a warrior, and involved with Wounded Warrior Project and my fellow warriors, is that we are looked at as broken and damaged, and not shiny,” Andruzzi said.
“So to see that, and see them swimming around and jumping and flipping and just having fun, we can relate to our daily life, because that’s how we live,” she added. “We may look like everything’s great on the outside, but we’re (the vets) hurt on the inside.”
Wounded Warrior Project raises public awareness and support for the needs of severely injured members of the military involved in overseas conflicts, provides rehabilitative opportunities and funds basic comfort items for wounded soldiers upon their return to the U.S.
DRC provides a variety of educational programs that allow the public the opportunity to learn firsthand about bottlenose dolphins.