From the Pod…
Alfonz – Alfonz recently hit a milestone when he tipped the scales at 602 lbs!
Last you heard; our big guy was learning a new behavior called “Belly Breach.” Well, we are now happy to report that Alfonz has mastered the breach – and you can imagine the splash he creates when all 600 pounds come crashing into the water. When he was learning this behavior, our trainers used target poles (physical prompts), paired with hand signals to help him “pose” in the air, but he no longer needs these training tools. In true Alfonz fashion, he is now somewhat obsessed with showing off his new behavior, even when he hasn’t been asked.
Now that Alfonz has mastered the Belly Breach, his trainers are teaching him a myriad of novel behaviors, including the “Tumble”. With this behavior, Alfonz will swim around the perimeter of the lagoon, periodically executing a somersault at the surface of the water. Teaching Alfonz new behaviors keeps him engaged throughout the day and provides significant mental stimulation. Luckily for his trainers, he’s a quick study.
Baby-bit (B.B.) – Most people who visit the Florida Keys spend time on the ocean fishing, and B.B. has recently learned to impersonate this favorite pastime from one of her trainers, Jacky. Jacky taught B.B. this fun “fishing” behavior in less than a month! Additionally, B.B. spent a fair amount of time learning new guest interaction behaviors in preparation for a busy Spring Break season. Among these include a hug with guests, a behavior called “Aloha” where she swims around a guest waving her pectoral flipper, and her favorite – a behavior called “Popcorn” where B.B. jumps as high as she can for a photo-op with guests.
Outside of her scheduled interactions with trainers, you can find B.B. lounging on a pool noodle or interacting with the two younger males that share her lagoon. Although she is still only a sub-adult, B.B. seems to be climbing the social hierarchy and “ruling the roost” – much like a human pre-teen. One thing is for certain – B.B. keeps us all on our toes and brings light to our days.
Bob – Bob has been spending time with our veterinary staff for some routine checkups, and happily has a clean bill of health! Part of his annual physical exam is to provide a gastric sample, which is essentially a sample of gastric fluid, first thing in the morning, prior to food. Collecting these samples is voluntary in nature, which means if Bob didn’t want to provide the sample, he simply would choose not to. However, Bob’s trainers have worked on this behavior with Bob enough that he finds it reinforcing, was a gold star patient, and provided the sample with ease!
Since our last update, Bob has gained weight! Similar to humans, dolphins have variable metabolisms and appetites. Over the years, we’ve noticed that Bob seems to have a high metabolism and a low appetite. This can create a challenge for trainers and vets during the winter months in an effort to maintain Bob’s weight in cold water. This year, however, Bob gained weight through the winter and has an optimal body condition! His training team was so happy to see him thrive over the past few months.
Finally, “Spring has Sprung” and, in true Bob fashion, Bob is now extremely interested in our female dolphins. It is an interesting and educational opportunity for guests and trainers to observe his elaborate courtship displays in an attempt to get the female’s attention. Some things never change, and it appears his nickname of “Ladies Man” will hold true for another year.
Dinghy – Over the past few months Dinghy has been learning the “pinwheel” behavior. This interactive behavior simulates a pinwheel motion as Ding will touch her rostrum to a person’s hand and spin them in a circle. We are so proud of Ding, as she just executed this behavior for the first time with a guest, and it was beautiful!
Due to Dinghy’s geriatric age and visual impairment, sometimes training new behaviors can be a challenge. Thus, making this accomplishment even more exciting!
Jessica – Recently, Jessica continued to make impressive progress with her voluntary slide-out behavior, as well as allowing her calf Jett to slide out of the water and onto a scale. In the past months, she increased her distance onto the scale and the duration of time she remains out of the water (around 3-7 seconds). At this time, Jessica’s trainers are focusing a lot of attention on training Jessica to lift her flukes out of the water, so that we can obtain an accurate weight. Nearing this goal is extremely exciting, as it will be the first time Jessica has ever voluntarily weighed herself. Fingers crossed that by our next “From the Pod” we can update you on her actual weight!
Otherwise, it is business as usual for Jessica. Jessica maintains her title of “helicopter mom” and keeps a vigilant eye on every move Jett makes.
Jessica’s trainers have also started teaching her a behavior known as ventral cradle, where Jessica rests upside down in the arms of a guest or trainer. Amazingly, Jessica picked up on this behavior quickly and will hopefully be ready to practice this behavior with guests soon.
Jett – Lately, Jett’s time has been spent learning a cognitive behavior known as “Action to Object.” For this behavior, Jett will learn 9 different hand signals, correlating to a specific action (such as splash, jump over, touch with your fluke). Once he has mastered all 9 “actions”, Jett will then learn a series of hand signals which correlate to specific objects. In the end, a trainer will be able to ask Jett to do a specific action to a specific object (for example, go and splash the rubber duck). This behavior has been trained to many dolphins around the world and has been the subject of multiple research studies.
While we don’t have any plans to use “Action to Object” with Jett for research purposes, we do plan to use it to stimulate Jett’s sharp mind! Jett is a dolphin that is not very physically motivated, but he does love to learn and be challenged, making “Action to Object” the perfect challenge for this little guy.
Since starting to learn this series of behaviors, Jett has given B.B. a run for her money as our most vocal dolphin. When Jett does the correct action and hears the trainer’s whistle/bridge signifying “Good Job”, Jett emits a variety of very loud and extremely adorable vocalizations. It’s a rewarding response for his trainers to see how motivated and engaged he is when learning this cognitive task.
Tug – Over the past few months, the animal care and veterinary teams have been treating Tug for an acute injury on his peduncle. This injury originally occurred over 2 years ago and healed completely with no complications. In December, Tug reopened part of his old injury while interacting with his brother and sister. Through a combination of cold laser therapy and topical treatments, the injury has healed well, once again, and with no complications. In fact, this injury didn’t slow Tug down one bit and he maintains his nickname of “Hotwheels” because of his endless energy and speed.
Injuries like Tug’s are to be expected, periodically, in the same way that small children will fall and scrape their knee or bump their head on the playground from time-to-time. What is important to us is that we can monitor and provide supportive therapies as needed, which requires the animals to voluntarily participate in their own veterinary care. Tug has been a Rockstar throughout this process and voluntarily presents his tail flukes multiple times per day for his treatments.
As we mentioned, this hasn’t slowed Tug down at all! He has been busy learning many new behaviors and perfecting some already established behaviors. One of our favorite behaviors Tug is currently learning is called “Pose.” During this behavior, Tug sits between two or more guests and allows them to “hug” him while he poses in their arms. Talk about a cute photo and an even cuter dolphin! There is no doubt in our trainers’ minds that this behavior is a perfect fit for Tug.