Just two years ago, the entire DPMMR team sat under a tent for two days to strategize how we would navigate the challenges instigated by the Covid-19 pandemic. We discussed challenges and threats to our organization, identified problems, hypothesized solutions, and recognized missed opportunities and opportunities that should not be missed in the future.
Fortunately, these meetings fostered an idea that could solve more-than-one problem faced by DPMMR.
Now – we find ourselves sitting under a different tent, celebrating an idea that has come to life, and we will soon be sharing with visitors from around the world: The Backlot Rescue Tour.
The Backlot Rescue Tour – also known as Project BRT or BRT or just ‘the tour’ – is a 45-minute walking tour through a replica marine mammal hospital. Situated adjacent to the DPMMR dolphin lagoons, our visitors will be able to immerse themselves in the world of marine mammal rescue. To do this, our team transformed a 5,000 square foot storage lot into a living interactive museum, depicting every aspect of marine mammal rescue.
Since the fall of 2020, the development of this tour has been a labor of love. Initial steps involved clearing out debris and old supplies that had accumulated on the storage lot for over 20 years. (!!) Once cleared, the creative team developed concepts for the layout, content, and physical scenarios included in the tour. To do so, we researched inspirational concepts and constructed various aspects of the tour based upon established conservation and educational models. The tour’s educational components were shaped from international wildlife hospitals, the storytelling mirrors that found in the world’s best theme parks, the entertaining aspects of the tour were modeled from some of the best behind-the-scenes tours available on YouTube, and we also included the best jokes of a 40-year-old dad! We then crafted and combined each element to produce more than just a tour, but a marine mammal rescue experience.
Once the storyline was composed and the rough outline of exhibits established, it was time for build-out. Our team began late last year with site preparation, truckloads of gravel, and moving fence lines to create the perfect canvas to build upon. In March of 2022, the project turned “vertical” with the installation of the first exhibit infrastructure. This part of the project included erecting large tents, a rehabilitation pool, creating a permanent home for the Dolphin Ambulance, and adding a couple of mobile trailers for stranding needs (fish kitchen and necropsy). With all the major “furniture” in place – the project is now in the final stage before opening. The creative teams are now working with our education and rescue departments to put the finishing touches on the exhibit signage and props. Soon, our education team will run practice tours for friends and family prior to the June 1st launch date.
Once finalized and open to our visitors, the Backlot Rescue Tour will provide an opportunity to showcase the part of the DPMMR mission which, until now, has been difficult to convey to the our daily guests. Since establishing as a non-profit in 2018, the proceeds from DPMMR guest programming have directly supported the Marine Mammal Stranding Investigation & Response program. However, for most who visit the facility headquarters, this mission can seem a distant and intangible component of DPMMR. Visitors will now be able to immerse themselves in all aspects of our rescue and conservation mission. This includes the data we collect in the field, as well as the research executed when we respond to a sick or injured whale or dolphin. Additionally, guests will be able to walk through the dolphin ambulance, explore a fish preparation area, observe the above ground rehabilitation pool, and even get hands-on with demonstrations clarifying what to do if they encounter a sick or injured whale or dolphin in the wild.
Hunter Kinney, one of the leaders of Project BRT, says that not only is this a good experiential learning opportunity for visitors, but it’s also an incredible benefit for wild whales & dolphins in the Florida Keys.
“The Backlot Rescue Tour is our foundation to establish a future permanent hospital for rehabilitation for sick and injured, wild whales and dolphins in the Florida Keys. Each exhibit or component of the tour is mobile and can be transported to a new piece of land and utilized immediately once we acquire a location, suitable for marine mammal rehabilitation. This tour is essentially a staging ground until the time comes where we have a permanent home for our hospital.” Unfortunately, we cannot conduct rehabilitation of sick or injured wild whales and dolphins at DPMMR because the proximity of the Backlot Rescue Tour increases the risk of exposure of our resident dolphins to potentially diseased animals (and they could make our resident animals sick). However, facilitating long-term rehabilitation for sick and injured animals is a top priority for DPMMR.
The Backlot Rescue Tour will open to visitors on June 1, 2022 and will be offered three to four times daily for groups of up to 20 people. At a modest price of $20 per person, the tour also includes general admission to the DPMMR Connect headquarters for the day, where participants can view the permanent resident animals that call DPMMR home. We hope that our visitors to the Florida Keys find this a fun afternoon excursion and a hands-on learning opportunity.
The DPMMR family is extremely excited to welcome guests to our brand-new rescue and conservation experience, very soon! We hope you will make plans to experience the Backlot Rescue Tour this year. (You can use code BRT5 when booking online to save $5 per person on tour admission!)