From Justin Garner, dolphin trainer at the National Aquarium
One of the most common questions that we get here at the Aquarium is, “How do you get the dolphins to do that?” As trainers, we spend most of our day building positive relationships with the dolphins to provide them with an enriching, healthy, and stimulating environment.
Training the dolphins for medical behaviors not only makes veterinary visits positive, but also allows the animals to voluntarily cooperate in their own health care. Training the dolphins to perform natural behaviors in the dolphin show provides our guests with the opportunity to be entertained and educated about this species’ plight in the wild. And, believe it or not, all of this is done completely with positive reinforcement, which means that we never punish or force our animals to do anything that they do not want to do.
We have several different types of training sessions. 1) Relationship sessions build and solidify the unique relationship that has been established between the animals and trainers. 2) Play and enrichment sessions provide the opportunity for the dolphins explore novel objects and exhibit natural behaviors. 3) Learning and practice sessions teach new behaviors to the animals as well as practice behaviors that they have already learned.
We are getting ready to open our new dolphin show, “Our Ocean Planet”! We (and the dolphins) are busy with the training process for the show. So that guests can witness their unique adaptations for life on our ocean planet, the dolphins are learning many new behaviors, including one that will allow the audience to see them swim up to their top speed of almost 25 miles per hour! The dolphins are learning new behaviors every day. We will always be adding new behaviors to “Our Ocean Planet” – this means that every show will be different from the one before. So, stay tuned and and click here to recieve updates on our new dolphin show!
Though we form relationships with dolphins here at the aquarium, we do not recommend to interact with dolphins in the wild. Wild dolphins can be aggressive towards people and may also become dependent on people for food, losing the ability to successfully hunt on their own. Places like the National Aquarium offer safe and fun ways to interact with and learn about these amazing creatures!