The properties on Grassy Key, Florida, 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 … along with a Toolcat™ 5600 utility work machine on land.
At 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 wrath of Wilma
The center’s relationship with Bobcat® Company 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 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 equipment 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 dealer, they identified what Zirkelbach thought would be the ideal solution — a Toolcat 5600 utility work machine.
“The dealer was great in helping identify functional uses for the Toolcat machine beyond the cleanup,” Zirkelbach says. “They showed me attachments that would be most useful in completing many of the backbreaking chores facing my staff on a daily basis. The Toolcat machine also drives like a cart and since we already had three carts at the center, the crew wasn’t nervous about driving or using it.”
Multiple attachments; multiple applications
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 an industrial grapple and bucket combination 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 grapple and bucket 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.
“Before we got the auger attachment we would rent a jackhammer to install poles for building fences and such,” Zirkelbach says. “That process was a nightmare. The auger attachment can handle the coral rock with no problem, and has made that job much easier.”
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.
“Recently, 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.”
For Zirkelbach and the entire facilities crew at Dolphin Research Center, it’s all about versatility and discovering more ways to ease the manual labor required for keeping the center in tip-top shape. And she also feels good about a piece of equipment that makes her crew happy.
“The versatility of the machine would be the No. 1 reason that I would recommend it,” Zirkelbach says. “My staff would tell you that it would be hard to live without it now. I have crew members who were here before we got the Toolcat machine, who tell me repeatedly how much work it has saved, not to mention lessening the strain on the guys’ backs. And they actually consider it fun to operate. It’s that whole ‘boys and their toys’ thing I guess.”