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September 15, 2013
Linda Suzzanne Griffin

LINDA SUZZANNE GRIFFIN volunteers at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a nonprofit rescue and release agency where she spends several hours each week cleaning the aquarium’s habitats. She also joined CMA’s efforts to rescue a wide variety of animals, including dolphins, manatees, otters, turtles, and birds. “We’re like 911 for marine life,” she said. Griffin recently took her work with dolphins to the next level by completing a week-long advanced training course with ABC Animal Training in the Mexican Caribbean.

Clearwater lawyer makes a splash protecting marine life

By Megan E. Davis
Associate Editor

When Linda Suzzanne Griffin leaves the office of her wills, trusts and estates, and tax law practice, she often trades a business suit for a wetsuit to splash around with the dolphins at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

“I have such a passion for it,” she said. “I’ve always been an animal lover and was captain of the swim team in high school. When I got into scuba diving, I really became interested in marine mammals and how to preserve our environment and oceans.”

Griffin’s volunteer work with the nonprofit rescue and release agency began when she joined the dive team, on which she spends several hours each week cleaning the aquarium’s habitats.
Griffin’s volunteer work with the nonprofit rescue and release agency began when she joined the dive team, on which she spends several hours each week cleaning the aquarium’s habitats. She soon joined CMA’s efforts to rescue a wide variety of animals, including dolphins, manatees, otters, turtles, and birds.

“We’re like 911 for marine life,” she said.

Griffin recently took her work with dolphins to the next level by completing a week-long advanced training course with ABC Animal Training in the Mexican Caribbean.

“It’s basically hands-on experience to learn how to work with marine mammals, in this case dolphins, how to use positive reinforcement, how to do husbandry techniques as far as medical procedures, just different ways to work with the dolphins.”

One of Griffin’s most memorable experiences as a volunteer came when she helped rescue a baby dolphin named Hope.

The agency rescued Hope, at the time just months old and 50 pounds, after she was found trying to nurse on her mother after she died.

“I remember holding her and helping her as a baby,” Griffin said. “It was phenomenal. We worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week in four-hour shifts, bottle feeding her and teaching her how to get used to humans.”

Hope, now 3 years old, is not eligible for release because she never learned vital survival skills, such as how to hunt for food, from her mother. She has a permanent home with CMA.

“The real reason I love it there is because it’s about rescue, rehabilitation, and release,” Griffin said. “It’s a hospital, not just an aquarium. Our goal is to release all of our animals, but if we can’t, we have a place to keep them safe.”

Education is also an important component of CMA’s mission, she said.

Linda Suzzanne Griffin “Our biggest message is to protect marine life and the environment,” Griffin said. “People think they’re helping dolphins by feeding them from boats, but that’s actually the worst thing you can do. If that boat disappears, the dolphin could strand and die. Protecting our marine life is just so important. These animals don’t have a voice, so we are their voice.”

Most recently, Griffin worked with the aquarium’s dive team to prepare Hope for a possible role in Dolphin Tale 2 by desensitizing her to cameras. The film is a sequel to Dolphin Tale, in which the facility’s dolphin Winter played a starring role.

At 3 months old, Winter was found tangled in a crab trap line. The ordeal cost Winter her tail, but CMA volunteers worked with Mike Walsh, a leading marine mammal veterinarian, and Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics to create a one-of-a-kind prosthetic tail. Since her rescue, Winter has healed, adapted to a new swim pattern, and learned to eat fish on her own.

“What’s really amazing to me is to see people with disabilities come and see Winter,” Griffin said. “There’s a connection there. A lot of people are able to identify with her and when I see that, I get tears in my eyes.”

For more information about CMA and its dolphins, visit www.seewinter.com.

[Revised: 11-21-2014]