Posts Tagged 'allison ginsburg'

Happy Birthday, Chesapeake!

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Today we’re celebrating the 22nd birthday of Chesapeake, the first dolphin to be born here at the National Aquarium!

Chesapeake dolphin national aquarium

Chesapeake, affectionately nicknamed Chessie by our Marine Mammal team, was named in honor of the Chesapeake Bay. She is mother to our youngest dolphin, five-year-old Bayley.

Chessie is easy to identify as she is smaller in size, has a short rostrum or bottlenose and is usually paired swimming with her daughter!

bayley

Chessie is an energetic and playful animal. She loves to learn new things and interact with our Marine Mammal staff!

Join me in wishing Chesapeake a very happy birthday!

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How to Train Your [Insert Subject Here]

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We have all been there…contemplating how to change a behavior you don’t like in yourself or another subject. It can manifest in many ways – How do I get my dog to stop pulling on his leash? My husband to stop leaving coffee cups around the house (true story for me)? My kids to clean up their rooms? It can also be a positive behavior you want them to keep doing, such as colleagues keeping the workplace clean and organized.

Whether you are trying to decrease an unwanted behavior or increase behavior you want to see more frequently, it can all be achieved (or conditioned) the same way.

Here at the National Aquarium, and in most marine mammal facilities across the country, we use a method of training known as “operant conditioning” or positive reinforcement training.  Simply defined, this means that behavior is likely to increase or decrease in frequency based on the consequences that follow.

Chesapeake

Think about the last time you did something and what followed; if you experienced a positive outcome, you are probably more likely to do that specific something again. However, if the outcome was negative, then most likely it is not something you would want to repeat.

We use the same training technique with our dolphins. When a dolphin does a behavior correctly, we blow a whistle that basically says “good,” and then we follow it up with reinforcement. Reinforcement for the dolphins can be fish, enrichment, toys or tactile rubs.  If the behavior is incorrect, then we simply do nothing. We can choose to ask again or simply move on to something else. By not giving a reaction, we communicate to the animal that the particular behavior requested was not correct, but they still have the opportunity to earn reinforcement so the session does not become negative.

A really important lesson for any animal (or human) to learn is that it is OK to fail! Failure is all part of learning; however, it is what you choose to learn from it that provides the opportunity to grow and then succeed.

Say a child is not cleaning his or her room. The first step is to make sure that the child is capable of accomplishing such a task (i.e., is the task age appropriate?). The child receives a signal that asks them to perform the desired behavior (clean a room). Once the task is complete, they receive their reinforcement. Now I am guessing most kids do not find cold, dead, raw fish very reinforcing, so something they would like, such as piece of candy, a game of catch or sometimes something as simple as a nice big hug and lots of verbal praise, could be used as the reinforcement.

Let’s take that same scenario, only the child doesn’t perform the behavior.  Depending on the child, you can ask them to try again or even provide some help.  If not done correctly, they simply lose the opportunity for that special treat.  However, the next time you ask them to clean their room, they may remember that consequence and hopefully change their behavior. One strategy is to start simply and have them just pick up a few things, then gradually increase the amount they have to clean. In training, these steps are called approximations.

Remember the key: Always set your subject up for success!

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Happy Birthday, Foster!

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Today we celebrate another exciting birthday within our dolphin family – Foster is turning 6 years old!

Foster is the son of 13-year-old Jade, who also calls the National Aquarium home. Becoming a mother is difficult no matter what species you are, but can you imagine trying to master nursing underwater!

In dolphin social groups often another experienced mother in the pod will help to raise the calf and to help teach the new mom the ropes. With Foster’s birth, the Marine Mammal team saw several of the adult females begin to produce milk and to help nurse Foster! This display from his “foster” moms earned Foster his unique name.

Today Foster resides in a pair bond or male alliance with 8-year-old Beau (son of Nani). In dolphin social structures the females live together and males for these alliances with 2-3 members in them.

Foster is very chatty with his human co-workers and loves learning new behaviors! A type of jump called back dive is one of his favorites! Foster’s favorite enrichment plays include basketball and a good game of hose play.

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Happy Birthday, Bayley!

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Today we’re celebrating the 5th birthday of our youngest dolphin, Bayley!

bayley

Bayley is the daughter of the first dolphin born at our aquarium 21 years ago, Chesapeake. She was named in honor of the Chesapeake Bay, just like her mom!

bayley

As the smallest in our pod, Bayley is probably the most recognizable of our dolphins! She is light grey in color with a pink belly and pink on the tip of her rostrum.

Personality-wise, Bayley is rather spunky and full of energy! Whether it’s learning a new behavior or figuring out a game during interactive enrichment,  she is always eager to learn and play with family members and trainers!

Join me in wishing Bayley a very happy birthday by leaving her a message in the comments section or on our Facebook page

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Assessing the Status of Dolphin Populations Off Maryland’s Coast

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This Friday, July 12, the National Aquarium will participate in our annual Dolphin Count in Ocean City, Maryland. This event (which is free and open to the public!) provides an excellent snapshot of ocean health as well as the status of the dolphin population living off of our shoreline.

Participating in the dolphin count is a lot of fun (who doesn’t love a day at the beach?) and requires only a few basic skills, like the ability to identify animals based on fins or body markings.

dolphin count

The goal of the count is to better understand the reproductive rates as well as gain an estimated total number of dolphins in our local population. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins use Maryland waters as a thoroughfare for migration, summertime breeding and feeding.  While the bottlenose dolphins found off our shores are not considered to be endangered, this species still faces serious threats such as entanglement and bycatch.

Dolphins spotted off the coast of Ocean City. Credit: John Soule

Dolphins spotted off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. Credit: John Soule

Seeing dolphin social groups interact with one another is a rare opportunity for those who join us for this annual event. Dolphin societies function very differently from our own; females and their calves may stay together for life. Males, however, form separate groups called alliances once they are no longer nursing. These bachelor groups will then travel between the female groups to mate.

Our dolphin population consists primarily of animals that were born here at the National Aquarium or at other aquariums around the country. As we try to mimic the natural group settings that dolphins experience in the wild, our six female dolphins live together in a social group and our two juvenile males have formed an alliance as a pair bond.

In the area? Our Dolphin Count event is free and open to the public! Can’t join us this year? Be sure to follow @NatlAquarium and our Animal Rescue expert @JennDittmar on Twitter for real-time updates! 

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