As a dolphin trainer, every day I come to work is a different experience. I’ve been a dolphin trainer at Georgia Aquarium for about a year, and I can’t say there is a typical day. From bonding with and training our dolphins, to providing enrichment, and participating in our AT&T Dolphin Celebration presentations – no two days are the same.
Throughout my childhood, I had the privilege of visiting a zoological facility with my family. I was in awe of the beauty, intelligence and curiosity of the dolphins. Throughout my career, I have become a firm believer in empathy through contact – which people seem to care more about things when they come into contact with it. I have personally worked as an animal trainer for 10 years now, and can honestly say the absolute favorite part about my job is watching the expressions on guests when they connect with a dolphin, and the admiration that comes over a child’s face when they are inspired by these magnificent animals.
Being a part of the dolphin training team at Georgia Aquarium is something I take great privilege in because the care we give the animals is world class. One of the most impressive and important behaviors we train with the dolphins is their ability to participate in their own healthcare. By building strong relationships with these dolphins, we create a bond and level of trust that allows us to train these critical behaviors. Dolphins are mammals, which means they can get similar illnesses as humans do, so it is imperative to be able to analyze regular diagnostic samples to establish a baseline for each healthy dolphin and allows us to proactively pick up on changes that may indicate early onset of a problem. The dolphins are trained to voluntarily offer blood, fecal, gastric (fluid from stomach), urine, and exhale samples. Additionally, they are trained to receive doses of fresh water. Dolphins receive all of their water from the fish that they eat. However, it is extremely beneficial for them to be able to receive extra water when deemed appropriate by our veterinarians, which can help keep the dolphins in excellent health.
I have worked closely with many dolphins that are extremely unique. Each dolphin shows different levels of interest in various activities, has their own learning curves and their own personalities. We all work with all the dolphins but each trainer develops unique bonds and relationships with each and every dolphin. I am a firm believer in using my energy and enthusiasm to influence and motivate animals. I love my job and I dedicate my days ensuring I do everything I can to make the dolphins lives are as enriching as possible. Because of this, I currently oversee the enrichment program for the dolphins. We have a variety of different environmental enrichment devises we can use with the dolphins and are constantly challenging ourselves to come up with new and innovative ideas. We recently introduced dolphin safe gelatin molds which stick to the glass acrylic, and the dolphins have to figure out how to remove the molds. It can be challenging and is great stimulation for the dolphins. We also circulate many different types of enrichment devices into their habitat such as basketballs, buoys, hoops, and footballs. Not only because we want every object to stay fun and rewarding for the dolphins, but also because each dolphin prefers a certain one. We make sure they get plenty of different opportunities to choose which enrichment devices they want to interact with.
Our dolphin encounters, where guest get an up close experience with the animals, plays a huge part in inspiring guests each day. However, the performance of our daily presentation AT&T Dolphin Celebrationallows us to reach thousands of guests at one time. We also include a volunteer segment of the presentation where we randomly select a child from the audience to come up for a close and personal dolphin experience. When my boyfriend first saw the presentation he said, “Do you have any idea how many kids you inspire on a daily basis? It’s really incredible!” Dolphin Celebration is a great opportunity for us to inspire and educate guests, but it is also extremely enriching for the dolphins. Not only is exercise important for the dolphins, but the ability for them to learn and grow is essential, just like it is for humans. I absolutely love watching an animal learn, the amount of excitement and enthusiasm that overcomes them during these presentations and sessions is remarkable.
Zoological facilities not only inspired me to care for dolphins, but also to have a greater care for all animals. Caring for and understanding the behavior of the populations at our facilities has given us the skills to make a difference for all species. Our goal as trainers is to not just make a difference in our animals’ lives, but we hope that our animals can serve as ambassadors to inspire others to make a difference in animals’ lives all around the world, ensuring their species survive now and for generations to come.
March is Dolphin Awareness Month and we’re celebrating by bringing awareness to dolphins not only in our care, but dolphins around the world. Each week during the month of March we will have a new story on dolphins, which will expand on their amazing characteristics. Check back in to our Newsroom and follow Georgia Aquarium on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay up-to-date using #DolphinAwarenessMonth.