Revamped Mote tours cater to individual families with a peak behind the scene.
In the mornings before opening, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is often empty but never still. Scientists and employees bustle about, feeding animals, cleaning tanks and readying the space for another day. And now, folks can be a fly on the wall in Mote’s morning movements. The Choose Your Adventure tours have begun, with single-family tours that mean you don’t have to share the space with anyone but a guide and those who keep Mote running.
“These came about because most of our tours were for mixed groups, but with these, you can be outside and away from others,” public relations manager Stephannie Kettle said.
Normally, Mote offers other early-morning tours, such as Breakfast with the Sharks, that bring several families together within the aquarium. But a lot of people aren’t keen to be around families besides their own, even with mask mandates. The new tours are geared towards kids and their natural curiosity, but many older adults have signed up. The guides, Dana Henderson and Elaine Wheaton, latch onto what the group is interested in and focus on that throughout the adventure.
“The script is like 15 pages,” Wheaton said. “It’s long but we just take the best parts.”
The "best parts" are often the ones related to science and learning, Henderson has found. On Mote’s first adventure, Henderson took a family with five kids, who are newly homeschooled by their mother, on the hands-on Turtle Time path, which includes working with live diamondback terrapin turtles to observe, weigh and engage with the animals. Depending on the day, the temporary scientist can scrub the turtle’s shell to rid it of the algae that grows under tank lights — a spa day for little Smiley.
“They were super engaged in everything so it's hard to pick what they liked the most,” Henderson said. “She (the mom) is trying to give her kids a lot of experiential and hands-on learning.”
Besides Turtle Time, there are three adventures to choose from: Bay Walk and Talk, Dip Netting in the Bay and a private guided tour, each designed to be about an hour and a half. For the Bay Walk and Talk, the group learns about the mangroves of the bay and how they serve as nurseries for a variety of marine animals. It gets a little sweaty, but searching for different trees and tiny, hidden animals is often a worthy way to spend a morning.
During dip netting, the group travels to a secluded area of Mote property, near the Sarasota Ski-A-Rees training area, to scoop and sort trash and treasures from the bay or test water quality. The private tour is popular with older guests, Kettle said.
Though discounted daily aquarium tickets are available after the tour, most turn it down since the “alone” factor is what brings them in, Kettle noted. The tours, running from 8:30-10 a.m., are $25 per person, but kids under 2 are free. Masks, of course, are required and equipment is sanitized between adventures. Visit mote.org/experiences for details.