The properties on Grassy Key, Fla., that make up Dolphin Research Center consist of 4 acres of coral rock and water with frontage on both U.S. Highway 1 and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a natural, scenic haven for the dolphin and sea lion families residing here; 90,000 square feet of pristine seawater lagoons with low fences separating these intellectual mammals from the open waters of the Gulf.

At the Dolphin Research Center, a colony of bottlenose dolphins and the people who care for them are creating a greater understanding and appreciation of the human relationship with marine mammals and the fragile environment we share. The center is dedicated to learning from dolphins and teaching what these amazing creatures know for the benefit of both. To accomplish this goal, Dolphin Research Center provides a variety of educational opportunities, including the facility’s internationally acclaimed DolphinLab and DolphinCamp programs.

The keep this dolphinarium operating and the manicured grounds in tip-top shape, the research center relies on hard-working Toolcat™ utility work vehicle from Bobcat Company. The UTV wears several hats and fulfills many roles to support grounds maintenance, feeding, hauling — and as was the case with Hurricane Wilma — cleanup. Dolphin Research Center has discovered multiple needs have been fulfilled by their utility work vehicle, not only to transport food to the center’s collection of dolphins and haul landscaping and grounds supplies around the property, but has even served as a reliable, secure transport vehicle for the precious ocean-dwelling creatures themselves.

The center’s relationship with UTVs began in 2006 after Hurricane Wilma — the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin — triggered a devastating storm surge on the vulnerable Keys. The record storm inflicted more than $20 billion in damage in Florida alone, and a crippling blow to the Dolphin Research Center. Surveying the mayhem after Wilma’s wrath had subsided, Bette Zirkelbach, director of facilities at Dolphin Research Center, knew she and her crew were in need of assistance. So she paid a visit to the nearest Bobcat dealer, Bobcat of Metro Dade, located in nearby Hialeah Gardens.

“I was familiar with Bobcat but had no idea where to begin in selecting the right piece of equipment to help us get the cleanup process underway,” Zirkelbach says. “I also had to be sensitive to a couple of potential impediments. Since we’re a nonprofit operating on a lean budget, I would have to do a bit of a hard sell to justify a purchase like this. I needed to show that the machine would serve a useful purpose after the cleanup. I also needed something that was easy for my crew to learn how to operate, and lessen the intimidation factor many of them had about operating a piece of ‘construction’ equipment.”

Working with employees at her local Bobcat® equipment dealer, they identified what Zirkelbach thought would be the ideal solution — a Toolcat 5600 utility work machine — a unique UTV that takes hydraulically operated front attachments off its boom arm. The aftermath of Wilma left the gravel parking lots surrounding the Center in shambles, and inflicted extensive damage to the white sand beaches. The Toolcat 5600 with industrial bucket/grapple attachment was a great asset for assisting Zirkelbach’s crew in restoring the condition of the lots and beachfront back to normal.

“The cleanup and site restoration would have been an overwhelming chore had it not been for the Toolcat machine,” Zirkelbach says. “This eliminated an enormous amount of backbreaking labor and helped us recover from the Hurricane Wilma destruction in record time. We’ve used it every day since, and continue to identify new chores to keep the 5600 busy. Needless to say, the crew loves it, as do I. And we have justified the purchase.”

In addition to the industrial bucket/grapple used for several tasks — moving sand and gravel to parking lots; maintaining beach areas in and around the dolphin and sea lion habitats; unloading and transporting daily shipments to the Center, including food and medical supplies for the mammals — Zirkelbach also acquired the auger attachment with penetrating rock bit.

Among the many specialized facilities on the grounds of this magical mammal education center is a medical pool. As Zirkelbach explains, there are special challenges when transporting any large mammal, especially the ill and injured. Zirkelbach feels confident using the Toolcat machine for safe transport of the ailing.

“We received a dolphin that was rescued from the Gulf oil spill,” Zirkelbach says. “The night that he arrived, we trusted the Toolcat machine to safely transport him from the truck to the medical pool where he could acclimate. We all feel very good about what we do here and the Toolcat machine just makes it easier for us to get it done.”

Randy Happel is a technical writer with Two Rivers Marketing, based in Des Moines, Iowa.

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