From the Pod- February 2023

Alfonz –

Alfonz, our “big man on campus”, remains the class clown of the pod and never fails to demonstrate his ability to think independently! During our guest interactions, we ask our guests to give hand signals to the dolphins. Each hand signal correlates with one of the unique and established behaviors in Alfonz’ behavior repertoire – so he knows them well. Lately, when guests give Alfonz a hand signal, he offers a “creative” behavioral response, demonstrating a completely different behavior than the correct response. However, when the trainers give him the same hand signal, he offers the perfect and correct response with no issue. It’s almost as if Alfonz is saying, “Look what I can do!” to our guests. Nonetheless, he still steals the show when meeting new guests, demonstrates his goofy, loveable personality and ensures that both the guests and trainers will never stop smiling in his presence.
When he’s not showing off in front of his visitor friends, Alfonz is busy putting the finishing touches on his “tumble” behavior, re-learning his vertical jump, and polishing his slip-n-slide behavior. Learning novel behaviors serves as enrichment for Alfonz, keeps him mentally engaged, and helps us maintain Alfonz’s physical fitness.

Bob –

Bob’s trainers are always searching for new ways to interact with him in a fun and playful way. Recently, their favorite game consists of hide-and-seek…. with a (rubber) duck! Currently, Bob is learning that “find the duck” is an enriching game that starts with the trainers secretly hiding a rubber duck somewhere in Bob’s habitat. Once given the hand-signal, Bob has to scan his lagoon and search the environment for a very large, bright yellow rubber duck. Once he finds it, he touches it with his rostrum/mouth to signal he has found it and his trainers cheer for Bob and give him loads of reinforcement. Then, they move it to a new hiding spot and ask him to find it again! Bob’s reaction is priceless when he locates his rubber duck and, as trainers, we love seeing how much he enjoys this simple game.

While playing games with the dolphins is a big part of our day-to-day life, so is caring for the dolphins and teaching them to participate in their own healthcare. One of the most important behaviors we can ask the dolphins to execute is a “fluke present”, where the dolphins present their tail flukes to the trainers and allow them to place their tail flukes on the dock. Recently – Bob showed signs that this behavior was deteriorating, so his training team spent a lot of time working on this behavior and reinforcing Bob for participating in this behavior. We’re happy to report the behavior is getting stronger again and soon should be back to normal!

Another important healthcare behavior all of the dolphins know is to “weigh” themselves on a dolphin-sized scale. Over the winter months, the training team has been trying to get Bob up to 430 pounds. Bob recently surpassed this goal and is looking great!

Baby-Bit –

Recently, B.B. has been learning a cognitive behavior called “Repeat”. The goal of this behavior is for B.B. to recall the behavior she had just previously executed and repeat that behavior when the “repeat” hand signal is given. Typically, each unique behavior has its own unique hand signal. However, for this behavior, the same hand signal can mean to do any number of different behaviors. Due to this conceptual task, the Repeat behavior challenges B.B. more than most behaviors she learns. While this training is still in the early stages, with B.B. 's quick learning skills, it shouldn’t be too long until she is ready to show off her new skill.

As many know, B.B. is the athlete of our pod and showcases the highest jumps and fastest swims of any of our animals. Thus, B.B.’s training team is continually thinking of new and physically challenging behaviors to train our little athlete. Currently, she is learning to do a dolphin-sized bellyflop (or as we call it… a Belly Breach). Just a few weeks ago, B.B. was still trying to figure out how to pose mid-air to create the breach behavior, but now she’s got it down pat! The next steps will involve her trainer, Jacky, teaching B.B. to jump higher and higher. At this rate, B.B. should be ready to enter any belly flop competition the summer brings!!!

Lastly, it is extremely common when dolphins learn new behaviors that they forget behaviors that they previously knew. This is the case with B.B. 's front flip. In between learning her belly breach, her trainers are reminding B.B. how to do her front flip and re-enter the water with a crisp head-first dive. As we’ve mentioned, she’s a quick study… so by the next update B.B. will likely have this behavior back with ease.

Dinghy –

Last you heard, our overzealous mama-dolphin, Dinghy, was working on remaining patient and sharing guests with the other dolphins in the lagoon. We’re happy to report that Ding is doing much better and is now sharing her human friends with the other dolphins in her lagoon.

As part of her annual physical, Dinghy gave a voluntary blood sample this month. We’re happy to report that all of her results came back normal! Kayla recently taught Dinghy to flip upside down and place her flukes on the dock independent of any help from the trainer. We can use this behavior to ask Ding to present her flukes for her routine blood samples. Dinghy was perfect for both her fluke present and blood draw!

One of Ding’s favorite behaviors with guests is the “cradle.” For this behavior, Dinghy lays comfortably in the arms of her guests. The past few months, Jenna has been working on teaching Dinghy to do her favorite guest behavior at a submerged platform and not just in the deep water. Dinghy is progressing nicely and our hope is that soon, guests will enjoy this behavior with Ding during our Splash & Swim programs, in addition to the Connect to Protect programs.

Jessica –

Jessica maintains her title of “matriarch” and continues to be the leader of the lagoon!

Recently, the training team spent a significant amount of time reinforcing Jessica for working alongside Tug. Historically, Jessica has not shared guests or trainers with Tug easily, but with positive reinforcement-based training, she has learned to tolerate working side-by-side with the youngest member of our pod. Now that they are working together more often, they are one of the best pairs for guest interactions! Jessica is a great role model for Tug, and having the ability to pair these two together has added a ton of variability to our sessions.

Jessica also recently gave a blood sample as part of her routine veterinary check-ups and we are happy to report all looked well!

A few updates ago, we reported that Jessica gave her first “weight” ever on our dolphin scale. Unfortunately, shortly after this, Jessica’s weight behavior broke down, so for the last few weeks we have spent a lot of time re-building Jessica’s confidence with sliding onto a scale (Don’t worry Jessica, we all felt that way going into 2023!). Happily, Jessica is almost ready for her next weight and by the next “From the Pod…” we should have an updated weight to report.

In other news, Jessica continues to make progress on her back dive behavior and can now do two back dives in a row with the help of a target pole. Pretty soon, Jessica will have the confidence to do this impressive aerial in the middle of the lagoon independent of our help as trainers! All of this exercise is helping us keep Jessica in peak physical condition, an important consideration as Jessica gets older.

Tug –

Cristina has been working with Tug to teach him a novel concept behavior known as “Same.” For this behavior, Cristina will ask Tug to “shop” and once he returns with a natural item from his lagoon, they show him a hand signal that asks Tug to go shopping again and bring back the same item. For example, if Tug brings back a piece of seagrass the first time, he should bring
back a piece of seagrass the second time. This behavior presents a cognitive challenge to tug, as he needs to remember the item he brought back and proactively search for the same item to retrieve once more. At his age (6), Tug is curious and always up for a challenge, so the “same” behavior is a perfect fit to keep Tug’s mind active!

Kayla has been working with Tug on a fun and novel behavior called “Side Porps.” During this behavior, Tug does small side breaches around the perimeter of the lagoon. This behavior is much more Tug’s speed, as it is a high-energy and fast-paced behavior.

Outside of his structured sessions, Tug has spent a lot of time swimming alongside his mom and finding new hiding spots for his favorite toys. Recently, on one of our routine dive checks of the dolphin habitats, trainers discovered Tug had hidden a ball under a rock overhang. After retrieving the ball, trainers noticed that Tug was taking the ball back to his hiding spot and attempting to stow away his toy for later. One thing is for sure – Tug keeps us all on our toes!

Posted by DPMMR Staff at 16:34