good to have a lot of animal experience"
in school! It is such a competitive field and a degree is your
strongest way to get in..."
have your shy ones, your outspoken ones and your crazy ones.
That's just how it is with dolphins."
for the most part aren't aggressive, but when put into certain
situations or under potentially threatening circumstances,
they will do whatever they feel they need to do to defend
their territory or to defend others in their group."
the bigger and stronger dolphins tend to be the most dominant
in the group."
simple behaviors can be trained in a day or two. Other
complicated jumps or flips are very sophisticated behaviors
and can take a year to train."
kind of training did you go through to become a dolphin trainer?
In order to be a
dolphin trainer have two college degrees: a bachelor degree in zoology, and
an associateís degree in animal management. Iím a scuba diver and a certified
lifeguard. I have experience in swimming and in public speaking. I have
had first aid and CPR training and a lot of animal experience. At Discovery Cove
the bottom line criteria to become a trainer includes: a degree,
certification in scuba diving and life guarding, prior animal experience
through internships and volunteering at different facilities.
What kind of school did you
I went to two colleges and
have a degree in zoology
from Empire State University and an animal
management degree from Niagara Community College.
Do you have any advice for
people wanting to train dolphins?
Stay in school! It is such a competitive
field and a degree is your strongest
way to get in, also experience working with animals. Anywhere that you can
work with animals including places like horse stables, vet clinics, volunteering
and getting an internship: that's the key.
How long did you train for?
I have been training for 15
years. I was offered my first job right out of high school.
In which ways do dolphins
show their feelings?
We have a term for that
called "anthropomorphic." We canít tell you if a dolphin is happy or sad.
The same thing is true with dogs or cats. Happy and sad are human
characteristics. No one knows for certain whether an animal is happy or sad.
What we like to use is behaviors. People associate behaviors as feelings,
but no one is 100% certain what an animal is feeling.
react differently to different people or trainers? Oh, no
doubt about it. It's like teaching. Each year you have your shy
ones, outspoken ones, and your crazy ones. That's just how it is
with dolphins. Every dolphin is different. Some like men, some
like women. That's what's so good about it.
What is the
difference between dolphins in captivity and dolphins in the wild
behavior wise? We try our best to mimic wild behaviors as much
as we can. Probably
the biggest difference is in survival skills. A dolphin that has
been at Discovery Cove for several years would never be takes back
into the wild and let go. Their chances of survival aren't very
strong, because the skills that they need to survive out in the
open ocean verses the skills that they need in captivity are
completely different. At Discovery Cove, we take care of their
medical concerns, food and provide a safe clean environment for
them. A lot of times dolphins in the ocean spend their days trying
to seek these things out, so we have the opportunity to enrich
them in other aspects by spending time with them making their
world as enjoyable as we can for the most part. It's very similar,
we just have the opportunity to spend more time with these guys
and give them the opportunity to do things that they would never
have the opportunity to do in the open ocean.
Do they pick a
leader for the Pod? And if so, How? Usually the bigger and
stronger dolphins tend to be the most dominant in the group.
Do dolphins get
attached to different trainers? We try our best not to have
that happen. If a dolphin got attached to a particular trainer,
what would happen on their days off or what if they got a career
move? The dolphin's life would be very different, so we try not to
do that. We want them to experience a lot of different trainers
and interactions. So one trainer doesn't do everything with one
sometimes aggressive in the water when a researcher into the water
to find out about them? They have the potential to be
aggressive. Especially big males during breeding season, when they
are trying to court. Also, there is the possibility for aggressive
behavior when a foreign visitor (such as a human) is caught
between a mother and her baby. Dolphins, for the most part aren't
aggressive, but when put into certain situations or under
potentially threatening circumstances, they will do whatever they
feel they need to do to defend their territory or to defend others
in their group.
What kind of
cleaning do fish go through before they are fed to the dolphins? The
fish we feed to the dolphins go through a vigorous cleaning
process. They are checked carefully. They are certified to be
better than restaurant quality. We order them. If we get an order
that's not up to standard, we send it back. They only get the
best. If it's not the best, they don't get it. I wouldn't feed the
dolphins any thing I wouldn't eat myself.
Do you think
dolphins should be trained to find hidden explosives in the ocean?
Well, the navy's done some work and I've seen some specials.
I've also seen some information about marine mammals assisting in
some fashions. Unfortunately, I don't know enough to comment on
this, but one thing that's really interesting is that things that
may not seem ordinary to your eye may be quite fun and stimulating
for these animals. I've seen some incredible footage where they
had sea lions who went down to find torpedoes, because they
could echo-locate them. It can almost be like a hide and
seek game. These guys have incredible abilities with their
echo-location capabilities. Under properly trained conditions
these may be fun and enriching situations for these animals.
How long does it
take dolphins to learn stunts and tricks? We refer to them as
behaviors and it depends on what behavior you want to train. Very
simple behaviors can be trained in a day or two. Other complicated
jumps or flips are very sophisticated behaviors and can take a
year to train.
Is there a
difference between a male and female life span in the wild and/or
in captivity? Yes, for the most part. With bottlenose
dolphins, the average life span is 25 years for both male and
female. We are very proud of what we do at Discovery Cove, because
we have several animals that are way above the average life span.
The ones that
are 30, are they male? It varies. We have a dolphin named
Capricorn and he is the oldest and the largest. He is 37. Down in
the lagoon there are a couple of 30 year olds. I don't know the
specific age of them, but approx. 5-6 dolphins at Discovery Cove
are in their 30's.
Is there any
reason why that's happening? I cant say the specific reason,
why or why not. One of the biggest behavior reasons is simply
feeding abilities. What I mean is that you and I need our teeth in
order to eat. In today's society w/ grocery stores and fast food
services you can get high nutrition without necessarily having to
forage or find your food. If you're a dolphin you get one set of
teeth. Your teeth are used to grasp and hold on to slippery fish.
As you grow, your teeth naturally wear down, so older dolphins
don't have any teeth left, or very dull teeth. If you have dull
teeth, you cant catch fish. If you can't catch fish you become
weaker. You become weaker the less chance you have to catch fish
and eventually you get weak enough that something catches you. And
that is mother nature's cycle. In our pool, for example, Capricorn
is 37, because of his age and just the normal wear of his teeth,
he doesn't have all his teeth left, but as long as he can open his
mouth we can feed him. An animal like Capricorn would have a very
difficult time hunting, finding fish in the wild. Here he doesn't
have to. Also animals that are older can be potentially more prone
to illness. Here even if you're an old animal, we have modern
medicine on our side. We can diagnose and treat illnesses they may
contract. That wouldn't happen in the open ocean. Also, clean
environment is a factor. The ocean is not always clean. It's
sometimes polluted depending on where you are. We have a whole
staff that's devoted to keeping this water clean. There is nothing
trying to eat them. There are no sharks or other predators. There
are no boats here to run them over. These things that go on the
places like Sea World and Discovery Cove help these animals out in
the open ocean. There are just the day to day survival traits and
for these animals that just doesn't exist.
How do places
like Discovery Cove help with protecting the dolphin? We're
still working on specific programs and ideas. But by getting
people who may have never swam w/ a dolphin before, putting them
in the water and allowing them to realize the power the majesty of
the dolphin and just how incredible animal that it really is.
Hopefully, that experience alone will help them walk out the door
with a better understanding about dolphins and in turn will make
them more conscious about dolphin protection.
Supervisor In Animal Training
Cove, Orlando, Florida
and Animal Management
scuba diver and lifeguard. Swimming, public speaking, first aid,
CPR and a lot of animal experience!
in school. Get a degree. Get animal experience.