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First, a little about myself...

Hi, my name is Rob Harrison, and I'm a computer technician from North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I can't really explain why, but for nearly all my life, dolphins and whales have fascinated me beyond anything I can put into words. While my visible interests lye mostly in technology, my interest in these animals has always remained relatively hidden, until recently. I spent countless hours scouring the internet for any pictures or articles about these animals in my spare time, learning everything I could about them, and I've been a member at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre for probably 5 years. Even though I was so interested in these animals, for whatever reason I never really told anyone about my interest. It's almost like I was embarrassed or something. I mean, what kind of a techie has an interest in dolphins? I suppose that's what I was telling myself. I'm sure this is why everyone was so surprised to hear about the trip I was planning.

In June of 2000, I went on a trip that I can only describe as the best experience of my life. I was a short term participant with an organization called The Dolphin Institute, a non-profit organization that operates as part of Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory, a branch of the University of Hawaii. It's a private facility, located just on the edge of Waikiki in Hawaii, about 5 minutes from Ala Moana Center. The facility was started in the 70s to study dolphin intelligence and sensory abilities, and has undoubtedly contributed more to our understanding of these areas than any other facilities in the world. A few years ago, the lab made a decision to allow short term participants into the facility in the hopes of spreading knowledge about dolphins to the public through direct involvement with them. Besides providing another source of income for the lab, the participants would also be able to help where needed and learn about the lab in the process. It was exactly the kind of program I was dreaming of.

Akeakamai and Phoenix at window
Akeakamai and Phoenix say hi at the window. (click for larger picture)
I originally stumbled across the institute while I was surfing around for dolphin-related sites. I had seen a documentary on the Discovery channel a few months before that was called "In The Wild-Dolphins with Robin Williams". While the whole documentary itself was very well done, one part in particular peaked my curiosity. Somewhere in the middle of the show, they showed one man's research, namely Lou Herman, being done into a dolphins ability to use echolocation to differentiate between different objects, and also their ability to understand a sentence given to them in a language they had been taught. I was truly amazed at what I saw, but not only because of what the animals were doing, but also about the methods the facility was using to show this ability. It's rare in this day and age to actually see undeniable direct proof right in front of your eyes like I was seeing, and I was impressed to say the least.

A few months later, I was surfing around the internet looking for dolphin-related web sites, and I stumbled across a site for The Dolphin Institute . While I was impressed by the particularly nice web site, something seemed familiar about the pictures on the site... then I saw a picture with Robin Williams, and I put two and two together. This must be the same facility I saw on the documentary! Much to my amazement, they actually had a volunteer program! I sent an inquiring e-mail immediately, but I didn't have the money for the participation fee at the time, so I saved some money for a year or so and emailed them again. After a few months of contact with Amy Miller, the wonderfully enthusiastic participant coordinator with The Dolphin Institute, I was fortunate enough to get a spot on the June team. I was excited beyond words. I could hardly focus on work. I got my plane ticket and my travelers cheques ready, gathered up my laptop and my digital camera equipment, and took off into another world..........

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