A 56-year-old dolphin has passed away at a Florida research centre

Theresa, the oldest dolphin at the Dolphin Research Centre, Grassy Key, Florida, has passed away. Theresa was famed for her accurate motorboat impressions as well as her venerability – she was 56 years old.


Theresa first gained fame as the so-called AWOL dolphin, a marine mammal captured for a then-secret US Navy training program. She spent time at the Grassy Key facility – then Santini’s Sea School – before being transferred to the naval base in Key West, according to a report in the Florida Keys newspaper The Florida Keys Keynoter.

However, Theresa decided the navy wasn’t for her and went absent without leave a few times, always returning to Grassy Key. In 1968, the navy decided she should just stay there.

The staff at the facility remember how Theresa once focused her echolocation on her trainer’s stomach. Two days later, the trainer learned she was pregnant.

When staff used to hear the sound of a motorboat coming from the lagoon they knew it was actually coming from their oldest dolphin. Theresa would demonstrate “speed run” behaviour for visitors and on her way back she would make the motorboat noise. “Nobody ever taught her that, it was a variation all her own,” said trainer Mary Stella.