A different philosophy
The physical and mental wellbeing of the dolphins under our care is our number one priority. The care and training of the dolphins for all of our activities are based upon the following idea: Whenever the dolphins respond correctly, they are rewarded. If they make a mistake, we simply try again or move on to a different request.
In effect, we reward the correct and ignore the incorrect. This is an operant conditioning method called ‘positive reinforcement’. Specific behaviors are gradually taught and shaped by providing the dolphins with a variety of ‘reinforcers’ for desired responses. These rewards are a combination of praise and attention; tactile (touch), and feeding (fish).
The dolphins’ nutritional and caloric needs are such that we feed each up to 30 lbs. of fish spread throughout the entire day. All dolphins are fed their required daily diet regardless of ‘performance’, thus food is not used as a means of motivation.
A perfect example of the minimal role of food in training is the fact that all fourteen dolphins born in our care were fully trained within their first year, before they ever ate a single fish, while still relying exclusively on their mother’s milk for nourishment. Praise and attention from their trainers alone offer plenty of motivation.
Our training approach
Our animal care staff carefully schedules and regulates the public experiences, avoiding routine and repetition in order to ensure that the dolphins are not burdened by their activities. The dolphins’ enthusiastic and energetic response to these programs is indicative of their level of interest. The lagoons are spacious enough to allow the dolphins the choice to halt any program by simply leaving an area inhabited by visitors.
We consider our open ocean program to be symbolic of the cooperative relationship that the trainers have developed with the dolphins. As the dolphins accompany the trainers on daily excursions to the open sea, they are free to leave or choose to return ‘home’. At ‘home’, the dolphins enjoy a dynamic social environment in which individual dolphins exhibit natural patterns of association with one another.