From the Pod-
Alfonz – This month Alfonz completed his annual physical exam and luckily has a clean bill of health! All the dolphins go through a complete physical twice a year which includes a blood sample, ultrasounds, a full body examination, and other diagnostics. Upon his full body examination, it was determined that Alfonz might be a little larger than what is considered healthy for an animal of his age and length, so we set to work increasing exercise with Alfonz and rearranging his diet to be a little leaner. Since our last update in March, Alfonz has returned to an optimal weight and the trainers are weighing him weekly to ensure he remains in his summer range. Who knew dolphins needed “summer” bodies?
This month, Alfonz has worked on polishing his slip-n-slide behavior on the dock. Although he has been working on this behavior for quite some time, he has recently had a breakthrough and can slide all the way across the docks with this behavior. We can’t help but to think he looks proud when he makes it all the way across and it seems both his trainers and him are having a blast playing with this behavior.
Baby-Bit – B.B. – despite being described as one of our “smartest” animals – can sometimes be the hardest animal to train. This is because B.B. will try to guess what the next step in the behavior is, and once she has locked in on her guess, it is near impossible to get rid of her added “flair.”
As trainers – we do our best to train different behaviors that we can incorporate in our interaction programs so that the dolphins don’t lose interest in doing the same behavior over-and-over. With this in mind, we set out to train BB a behavior called “popcorn” which is an alternate behavior to her pole jump behavior. Being the athlete she is, BB quickly picked up on the behavior where she does a jump straight up and back down in the same place. The next step was to get her to do multiple “popcorn” jumps in the same place… and that’s where B.B. started her guessing game. B.B. seems to think that she is supposed to do the first jump behind the pole (correct), and the second jump in front of the pole. Her trainers are trying to teach her to do her jumps behind a pole, but it seems to be taking some time to communicate this concept. We will keep working on it and keep everyone posted on her progress.
Bob – Part of the curriculum of our level Two Animal Care & Training Internship involves assisting the trainers with teaching a dolphin a novel behavior. Emily, one of our level two interns, has been working with Cristina to teach Bob a behavior we call “fountain.” During this behavior, Bob should swim the perimeter of the lagoon alternating between splashing water and flicking his tail in the air. This exercise has been great for both Bob & Emily as they have been learning together over the past three months.
Bob has also been working on a cognitive behavior called “create,” where he can create any behavior or combination of behaviors he desires – the only rule is he can’t repeat a behavior. This task is a way for our researchers to test a dolphin’s memory capacity, but more importantly, this behavior offers a fun mind activity for a very creative dolphin.
Dinghy – Dinghy is doing great, and we are pleased to report her eye health appears to be the best it has been in a long time! This month, Dinghy participate in a voluntary gastric scope where our vet team is evaluating for ulcers in Dinghy’s stomach (you can read more about this procedure and other geriatric care HERE.) Happily, her scope came back with a clean bill of health – excellent news!
Dinghy continues to work on her up/down behavior, where she mimics a trainer or guest bobbing up and down in the water. Teaching Dinghy new behaviors is a challenge for even the most experienced of trainers, so our team has their work cut out for them. Nonetheless, she continues to make progress with the behavior but, more importantly, the learning exercises are keeping Dinghy engaged and enriched.
Jessica – Jessica continues to make progress on her beach behavior and now consistently slides out of the water almost completely and will remain stationary for around 10-12 seconds at a time. Perhaps more impressive, Jessica has started to allow her son to participate in the beach behavior. With a little luck and persistence, we should be able to get the first weights on Jett & Jessica very soon!
Jessica recently participated in a routine blood draw, and she rocked it! This behavior has historically involved heavy training and desensitization techniques, which seem to be working. Jessica tolerated the needle stick without moving a muscle and remained calm throughout the entire sample. We’re very proud of her improvements in husbandry, or healthcare, behaviors over the last year.
Finally – Jessica has started learning three novel behaviors with her training team: a back dive, an underwater cyclone, and tail thumps. Jess seems to have had a busy month.
Jett – This past month, Jett has spent more time cooperating with his brother Tug during sessions. The two brothers seem to be sharing a trainer and their guests much better, and the slight competitive edge between the two is encouraging them to do their behaviors better than when they complete them alone. Working new social pairings like this is an excellent way to add variability to the animal’s lives, so we are excited that these two dolphins have started sharing again.
Jett is working on a new husbandry behavior where he will provide a urine sample in a sterile cup when asked by a hand signal. Jenna has spent a lot of time this month waiting for Jett to spontaneously urinate while he is upside down with his peduncle out of the water. When he does, Jenna blows her whistle to tell Jett that his action of urinating is what Jenna is looking for. Being the smart cookie he is, Jett is starting to pick up on this pattern and Jenna will soon begin pairing his spontaneous urination with a hand signal. Eventually, we will be able to ask Jett to roll over and provide this sample whenever he sees a specific hand signal. Jett will likely be the first male dolphin from DPMMR’s population to learn this important behavior. Once collected, our vet will analyze Jett’s urine values and labs to monitor kidney health and other important values.
Tug – Like Jett, Tug has been working with different social pairs the past month. The biggest of these new pairs is Tug working with Jessica. Tug is our least dominant animal and Jessica is our most dominant animal. With the social hierarchy of dolphins being so complex, it can be a challenge to get animals on opposite ends of the “totem pole” to work together and share. Oftentimes, the dominant animal will not want to share resources (in this case a trainer or guest) with the submissive animal. However – using positive reinforcement techniques, we can teach the social pair that they will receive more reinforcement for working together than when they work independently. Once they begin to understand this concept, working together becomes much more reinforcing. The social pairing of Jessica and Tug is going great, and provides a great opportunity for Tug to learn from a more experienced animal.
Last month, we introduced that Tug was learning a “pose” behavior. Tug has continued to make progress with this behavior and has been working on differentiating this behavior from the “cradle” behavior. Soon, this behavior should be finished, and Tug can move on to learning a new interaction behavior with guests.