Posts Tagged 'Dolphins'



National Zookeeper Appreciation Week: Kerry Martens

In the celebration of National Zookeeper Appreciation Week, meet Kerry Martens, one of our Marine Mammal Trainers! 

kerry martens

How long have you been at the Aquarium?

I started with the Marine Mammal Department as an intern in 2006. I started full-time as a trainer the day after graduation and have been working with the dolphins ever since.

What interested you to pursue your current career path?

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a fascination with dolphins.  I spent many an hour in front of the TV watching re-runs of Flipper and would get so excited to see dolphins swim off the coast during family vacations to the Jersey Shore.  I actually wrote to Sea World in fourth grade asking what it takes to be a dolphin trainer!  I took the response they gave me and used it as a life plan, making sure I did everything possible to get my dream job.

Can you briefly describe for us what your typical day looks like?

A day in the Marine Mammal Department can start as early as 6:30 in the morning. It takes two full hours to sort and weigh out the 200 pounds of frozen fish that make up the dolphins’ diet. The dolphins get fed between 7-10 times a day, roughly every hour and half. There are many different types of sessions we have with the animals. Some are focused on training brand new behaviors, others are dedicated to husbandry, the medical behaviors that help us take care of them, and some consist entirely of playtime. Play is a great way for us to build our relationship with the animals, which is key to all of the training that we do.

When we’re not working directly with the animals, we spend a majority of our time cleaning. This includes buckets, toys, the kitchen, all of our back-up areas, and even our pools. All trainers are SCUBA certified, which allows us to enter the water and scrub and vacuum the pools each and every day.

What is your favorite Aquarium memory?

I was selected to be a presenter and represent the National Aquarium at the 2010 International Marine Animal Trainers Association conference. There, I got to meet trainers from all over the world and learn about the exciting advancements and developments in marine animal care and research taking place.  At the conference, I presented on the work we did with our 41 year old female, Nani,  in which we trained her to voluntarily participate in an eye exam with a veterinarian.  The presentation won a first place award!

What is the next big project you’re working on?

We are constantly training the animals new behaviors, so I consider those my “projects.” I am in the process of training Bayley to lay calmly while the veterinarians take a blood sample from her tail, and am about to start teaching Jade a high-energy breach behavior.  

What is your favorite animal?

Although we spend a lot of time building relationships with all of the animals, a good portion of my day is spent with 4-year-old Bayley. I’m responsible for all of her husbandry behaviors, so it is important that she and I have a strong bond, as these are not necessarily the most high-energy or exciting behaviors. Bayley is extremely energetic and playful so I make sure to get some playtime in with her each day!

Stay tuned to the blog this week to meet more of our amazing staff!

The Interspecies Internet: A TED Talk Featuring Diana Reiss and Our Dolphins

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Diana Reiss, renowned cognitive psychologist and dolphin researcher, recently filmed a TED Talk featuring our pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins! 

Diana Reiss with dolphins

Researcher Diana Reiss with some of the National Aquarium’s dolphins. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Diana joined Neil Gershenfeld, Director, MIT Bits and Atoms Lab; Peter Gabriel, singer, songwriter and producer; and Vint Cerf, credited as co-founder of the internet and currently CEO of the Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest and most prestigious scientific and educational computing society. Watch their full talk here: 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGMLhaa98GI]

The main objective of creating an “interspecies internet” would be to promote increased choice and control for animals through the use of technology. This concept for an interactive internet effectively links people to other animals through live or online experiences. It would create a new network and set of technologies that would carry science, welfare and conservation-related information, ideas and messages into the future.

Diana specifically touched on the cognitive intelligence of dolphins and how they communicate – a topic she’s been researching here at the Aquarium!  To learn more about Diana’s recent discoveries while working with our dolphins, check out this interview she recently recorded with our CEO John Racanelli for A Blue View.

The next big piece of this “interspecies internet” will involve the creation of a touchscreen keyboard. Diana will then study how our dolphins interact with this keyboard, using the information gathered to add to the conversation about these amazing animals and how they communicate.

Tell us your reaction to this idea of an “interspecies internet” in the comments section! 

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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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Happy Birthday, Beau!

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Today we’re celebrating the 8th birthday of one of our male dolphins, Beau!

Beau

A little about Beau…

  • He is the son of Nani who, at 41, is our oldest dolphin.
  • Nani means beautiful in Hawaiian and Beau means handsome, and that he is!
  • Beau is darker grey in color and has dark shading around his chin and jaw line (which makes it look like he has a 5 o’clock shadow).
  • Currently he weighs 375 pounds and he is continuing to grow as he reaches maturity.

Each of our dolphins has their own distinctive personality. In his early years, Beau was a bit of a “mommas boy,” spending most of his time close to Nani. As he has grown, we have seen a new, more playful, side of Beau. He really likes to learn and is often inventing new vocalizations to use in interactions with Foster.

atlantic bottlenose dolphins

Beau & Foster, our two male dolphins, love to play together!

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

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A Blue View: Dolphin Earthquake Study

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

June 19, 2013: Dolphin Earthquake Study

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to Dr. Mark Turner discuss how
our dolphins reacted to last year’s earthquake.

On August 23, 2011, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake occurred with its epicenter approximately 118 miles from the National Aquarium, Baltimore. A short time before the dolphin pavilion started shaking from the earthquake, an Aquarium volunteer logging the activities of four dolphins noticed that they all started to swim very quickly in close formation, something she could not recall ever having seen before. She had enough time to note this behavior in her handwritten log before the building suddenly started shaking. At the same time all this was happening, the underwater sounds in the dolphin pools were being recorded using a pair of hydrophones (i.e., underwater microphones). The combination of the in-person observation and the hydrophone recordings provides valuable insight into dolphin behavior.

When an earthquake occurs, seismic waves radiate out from the focus of the earthquake at different velocities. The fastest of these, called the primary wave or P-wave, can travel at speeds of 15,000 miles per hour. However, although very fast, P-waves often are unnoticed by humans. The S-wave and surface waves, the ones that shake everything and cause the worst destruction, travel at much slower speeds.

Although no humans at the Aquarium that day reported feeling the P-wave, its trace did show up in our hydrophone recordings almost 22 seconds before the arrival of the S and surface waves. In view of the P-wave’s appearance in the recordings and the dolphins’ behavior, marine mammal researcher Mark Turner believes the dolphins felt the P-wave, and the volunteer observed their reaction to it. Listen to the hydrophone’s recording: 

This is a clip of the underwater sounds in the dolphin pools when the August 23, 2011, Virginia earthquake occurred. Two hydrophones were recording at the time. The left stereo channel is the recording from the hydrophone in the front pool where a dolphin presentation was in progress. The right channel is from the back holding pool where fast swimming in an unusual configuration was observed. In the video that accompanies the sound clip, the top two panels show the raw signal picked up by each hydrophone. The top panel is from the front pool and the bottom one is from the holding pool.

The bottom two panels are spectrograms. A spectrogram is a visual representation of sounds in which the x-axis is time and the y-axis is frequency. In a spectrogram a dolphin whistle will appear as a dark, wavy line, and a squawk can sometimes appear as a stack of parallel wavy lines.

The sound clip begins at almost exactly the time the earthquake started in VA. The various seismic waves traveled from the earthquake’s focus to Baltimore at different velocities, with the P-wave arriving first, 27 seconds into the clip. Although the very low frequency vibrations induced by the P-wave are visible in the upper panels, they are inaudible, although you might hear some water splashing. The S and surface waves (the ones that are very loud and shook everything) did not arrive until almost 22 seconds later, 49 seconds after the beginning of the clip.

You may hear some of the presentation music, a bit louder in the left channel. If you listen carefully you will also hear (and see in the spectrograms) dolphin clicks, squawks and whistles. And, of course, you will hear the loud noises made by the earthquake surface waves as they sounded underwater.

An excellent overview of the different seismic waves with animations can be found by clicking here.

All signal displays were generated using Raven Pro, Interactive Sound Analysis Software, Bioacoustic Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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So You Want To Be a Marine Mammal Specialist…

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The most common question our team is asked is how to become a dolphin trainer. For me, being a dolphin trainer was a childhood dream, so I geared my education and experience toward achieving this goal at a young age. Growing up in Chicago, I attended many lectures and visited both the Shedd Aquarium and Brookfield Zoo as often as I could. After high school, I participated in a volunteer program for a summer at a research facility in Hawaii, which only solidified my dreams and allowed me to understand further the path I needed to take.

The most important advice I can give someone who has the desire to join our incredible team is to understand that this is not a 9-to-5 job; it is a lifestyle. I can turn my computer off when I leave for the day, but of course cannot do the same with the animals. Any applicant must be willing to work weekends, various shifts and even holidays as animals do not take holidays and snow days off!

national aquarium dolphins

We spend a lot of time with our dolphins every day of the week, bonding with them, training new behaviors and doing presentations for our visitors!

First, the basics: It is recommended to have a degree in psychology (we work with the animals using operant condition), biology (so there is a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology) or zoology (the study of animals). Also, participating in internships provides hands-on experience (like the ones we have here at the National Aquarium) and are great ways to get a glimpse into the field, make connections and gain practical skills. One must also be a comfortable swimmer and typically be scuba certified.

With the basics covered, moving into the field can be a challenge. The field is very competitive, and there are not as many opportunities due to the number of facilities in the country. Being willing to move around and to keep options open will definitely help to broaden the field opportunities.

Each facility is structured differently. In general, however, the amount of experience will directly correlate to the level of responsibility and opportunity (as with any career choice). Here at the National Aquarium, we have aides, assistant trainers, trainers, and senior trainers. Moving from one level to the next takes dedication, experience and time. A typical day begins at 6:30 am, when we sort through hundreds of pounds a fish in order to make up the animals diets.

national aquarium dolphin staff sorting fish

Throughout the day, we participate in public presentations, various training and play sessions as well as research and enrichment studies. Sounds glamorous and fun, right? Unfortunately, that is just half the day. The rest is filled with cleaning, making and washing fish buckets, diving to clean the habitat and a lot of record-keeping.

Being in the animal field is incredible and extremely rewarding, but it is not without sacrifices, hard work and dedication. Got a question about my job? Ask me in the comments section! 

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A Blue View: Studying Dolphin Behaviors

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

May 22, 2013: Studying Dolphin Behaviors

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to marine mammal researcher
Cynthia Turner describe using enrichment as a research tool

 

Dolphins are highly intelligent, social, playful animals. As we work to understand these amazing creatures, research is an essential part of  our mission at the Aquarium. Our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are participating in a study consisting of enrichment trials in an effort to understand more about dolphin behaviors, namely, emitting large bubble spheres from their blowholes.

Enrichment provides opportunities to animals to become engaged in something that will hopefully be fulfilling for them. In the bubble sphere enrichment study, staff put together 10 different types of novel enrichment that the dolphins had not previously experienced. Each enrichment is presented to the dolphins in front of the glass four days in a row, and a video records the dolphins and the bubble spheres that are generated. Independent reviewers will look at the tapes and count the bubbles to see if there is a correlation to the number of bubble spheres and exposure to the enrichment.

The Chimp Parade has been one of the favorites so far. The hamster, chimp, and duck are robotic, and they all move when activated. The stars on the chimp’s springy headband have flashing LEDs, and there is a similar star on the back of the duck’s wagon. The vertical object behind the chimp with the silver pipe cleaners on the end and purple, green, and red ribbons is actually a large spring that sways when the skateboard moves.

dolphin enrichment

Another enrichment exercise involves bubble wrap being popped against the glass of our exhibit. Watch Beau and Foster respond to the bubble wrap by emitting bubble spheres: 

[youtube http://youtu.be/5UnLLc_pJuk]

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