Alfonz - This Spring, Alfonz is making a splash… or two… or three… or five hundred!
As the largest dolphin in our population, it is only appropriate that he knows more “splash” behaviors than any of the other dolphins. This past month, we have been working with Alfonz on finishing two new behaviors that result in a wall-of-water drenching our guests.
The first of these behaviors is called “somersault,” where Alfonz jumps high out of the water and rotates in a forward flip motion, landing on his back (also known as a back breach). Although Alfonz initially learned this behavior last year, we have been training him to execute this behavior in the middle of the pool, working on the topography of the behavior. When 550 pounds of pure muscle hit the water, it creates a tidal wave sized splash! The second of these behaviors is a “fluke splash” which is where Alfonz dives down into a headstand position, leaving his flukes above the water. He then uses his flukes to forcibly push a wall of water towards the guests. Whenever he offers this behavior, anyone standing in the line of fire ends up completely soaked.
Chances are if you have experienced our “Splash & Swim” programs recently, you’ve witnessed Alfonz’s ability to move water first hand. It always makes for a good laugh and you can tell Alfonz finds these behaviors very reinforcing. Keep up the good work, big guy!
Baby-bit – Over the last few weeks, we continue to treat B.B. for a possible eye infection and have consulted with an internationally renowned veterinary ophthalmologist to ensure we have the best treatment plan in line for our spunky little girl! This treatment plan includes 3 different types of eye drops, administered 3 times each day.
How do we get eye drops to an animal that lives in the water? First, we train the dolphins to lay on their side at the surface of the water, with their eye just above the water. Then, we train the dolphins to keep their eye open and allow us to drop an eye drop into their eye. After the medication is in, we let it sit for about a minute before administering the next medication.
Hopefully, if all goes well and her eye continues to improve we will be able to wean her off of these medications.
Bob – Bob is one of our most “flirtatious” animals with the lady dolphins and is quite the catch himself! (He’s had 4 calves in his lifetime). Each spring, we see an increase in his flirtatious behavior, and this spring has been no different. When he isn’t interacting with our guests, you can probably find him displaying a variety of his “moves” in the pool to show off for the ladies (such as spinning in circles, blowing bubbles, or moving his flukes side to side).
In other news, Bob has been spending a lot more time this month working on his voluntary “beach” behavior, particularly in the early mornings. When the dolphins visit the hospital for a CT Scan, we are asked to arrive very early in the morning, before the hospital opens! This means we need to practice his beach behavior very early in the morning, as well, so that Bob is comfortable beaching at any time of the day and in any lighting conditions. Bob is showing increased confidence with this behavior and continues to make improvements. We’re really proud of his progress recently!
Dinghy – Dinghy recently offered the vet team a flawless voluntary blood draw behavior, allowing them to take a full sample of her blood, which came back from the lab with normal results! Since Dinghy is considered a geriatric female, we monitor her blood values every-other month to ensure all is well and that she remains healthy. We are thankful Dinghy cooperates regularly for this crucial diagnostic tool and happy to see her blood values are within normal limits!
Recently, Brooke, one of Dinghy’s trainers, was tasked with the challenge to train Dinghy to learn an “up/down” behavior, where she bobs up and down in the water, mimicking guests who are also bobbing up and down. Teaching Dinghy a new behavior can be challenging, given her visual impairment, but we have confidence this duo can work through any challenges that arise. In order to train a new behavior successfully with Ding, it is important that we choose a behavior Dinghy will find reinforcing. It is also critical that we choose a behavior that has an underwater component, so that she can use her sense of echolocation (versus her impaired vision) to help her “see with sound” what it is that we are asking her to do. This behavior fits the bill, so stay tuned for updates on the progress of Up/Downs in future “From the Pod…” updates.
Jessica remains the matriarch of the pod and has had a fantastic Spring Break season! She spent a lot of time meeting many of our guests and seems to thrive with all of her new friends.
In a previous update, we touched on the fact Jessica is a “helicopter mom” and never let’s her baby out of her sight. Anytime a trainer gets into the water with her son Jett, Jessica immediately approaches to supervise the activities. Since our last update, however, Jessica has become more trusting concerning the trainers getting into the water with her son and has relaxed her supervision duties while they are in the water together. This is great news, as it provides more opportunities for Jett to build relationships with his trainers while they swim together.
In general, it seems that Jessica now trusts her son to be a little more adventurous, but we know from her previous calves that Jessica will always be somewhat of a helicopter mom, and that’s why we love her.
Jett – Recently, Jett is working on his patience and ability to share during this spring’s busy season with guests. As the youngest member of our group of dolphins and the youngest son of the matriarch, Jett sometimes doesn’t want to share his dolphin toys (a.k.a. guests who are meeting the dolphins) with the other dolphins in the pool. When this happens, another dolphin will approach a guest to execute a behavior with them and Jett will immediately swim over, “cut in line”, and try to do the behavior with them instead. We call this “stealing a behavior.” Jett has been working closely with his training team on his sharing skills and has made great progress over the past few weeks.
We teach the dolphins to share by reinforcing them for allowing the other dolphins to participate in program. What this means is that when Jett remains with his trainer and doesn’t steal a behavior from the other dolphins, his trainer will reinforce him with something he really enjoys. Over time, Jett has learned that it is more reinforcing to wait his turn and share humans than it is to steal the behaviors.
It’s an important lesson for Jett to learn and he has done a great job this month! (Bet you didn’t know you were considered a dolphin toy!!!)
Tug just learned a new behavior called the “sprinkler.” Like most dolphins, this little 4-year-old loves to learn new behaviors and this is a great way to keep him engaged during sessions. In this behavior, he sprays water out of his mouth while spinning in a circle, a relatively easy task for a dolphin. (Our hand signal for this behavior is to do the "sprinkler" dance ??)
Other than learning new behaviors, Tug continues to be a typical toddler; playing with toys, snacking on fish, learning from the older dolphins, and nursing from mom. You read that right! At 4 years of age, Tug is still nursing from mom. At our facility, most bottlenose dolphins calves nurse for an average of 5 – 7 years! This highlights the incredible amount of parental investment dolphin moms have in their offspring.