"A Day in the Life" of a Marine Mammal Trainer
The average day for a marine mammal trainer is usually very eventful, full of many different tasks and challenges. Traditionally, it is not a 9-5 job. A trainer works very hard to ensure the health and happiness of the animals in his or her care. It takes years of hard work and dedication to become a good trainer, all of which is well worth the effort as each day at work is a reward in itself.
Each day usually starts by checking on all the animals and saying "Good morning!" Next we prepare the fish that the animals will eat during the day. This task may be more difficult than it sounds, since each animal consumes between 5 and 90 kg (10-200 lbs) of fish per day. Each animal also receives vitamins every morning. We have specially formulated marine mammal vitamins that help ensure the good health of our resident animals. Monitoring the health of our animals is extremely important. This important task is the responsibility of our marine mammal and veterinary staff members who check respiration rates and take blood samples from our animals on a regular basis.
It is very important to maintain the cleanliness of each animal's habitat. We keep a close eye on the water quality since this is where the animals live. Daily water testing ensures that proper levels of pH, alkalinity, salinity and temperature keep the animal's environment a comfortable one. Trainers also enter each habitat regularly to clean it. This involves SCUBA diving.
Probably one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of our job is actual hands on contact with our animals. We enter the water for both training sessions and presentations for the public. Training sessions involve teaching the animals new behaviours and maintaining or keeping up with the old ones. Training new behaviours can take a long time, but usually the end result is quite rewarding. The animals will then perform these new behaviours in the following year's show.
There is another important set of behaviours that we train the animals to perform - these behaviours are not always seen by the public. Such behaviours are called "husbandry" behaviours. Husbandry behaviours include such things as presentations for blood samples, as well as examining the animals mouth and other body parts. They are among the most important behaviours because they help to monitor and maintain the health of an animal.
In addition, we also have play sessions. This really is as simple as it sounds and can be very rewarding for both the trainer and the animal. There are a variety of toys the animals enjoy playing with such as; balls, barrels, ice, etc. Animals also respond well to tactile or touch. They enjoy playing games with the trainers and having water poured into their mouths.
During presentations and training sessions we often enter the water with our animals. While this always looks like a lot of fun (and it is!), it usually takes a long time to get the animals accustomed to having people in the water with them. Once they get used to it, it automatically becomes rewarding for them. Trainers usually refer to these in-water sessions as "waterwork". Waterwork is usually the most exciting part of the presentation, not only for the audience, but for the trainers as well.
After our public presentation, we usually make ourselves available for comments and questions which the audience may have. The most commonly asked question is, "How do you get to be a marine mammal trainer?" Well, it takes years of hard work and dedication to become a good trainer. Any type of animal experience is an asset in attaining this goal; SCUBA certification is important as well. A university or college education is most valuable. Many trainers have studied in zoology, marine biology and psychology.
Another important part of our day is keeping daily health records about each animal. We write down the number of sessions or presentations we do with each animal and how much food is consumed each day. It is important to have accurate and up to date records on the animals so that we can keep track of appetite and behaviour patterns.
This about sums up the normal daily activities of a marine mammal trainer. Occasionally we have special tasks, for example, when one of our animals gives birth to a baby. You can imagine that this is a very exciting time for all of the trainers, a very busy one as well! We must monitor mother and baby 24 hours a day for up to six months, watching for nursing patterns and social activity.
As you can see our job is full of many different tasks and always proves to be very rewarding. We hope that this glimpse into the life of a marine mammal trainer has been both interesting and informative.