Weekly Update 31

Hello Everyone!

The exciting news this week is that I was able to feed sea lions two more times! I fed Diamond again, she is probably my favorite and I always like to say that she could be in a film because she is such a pretty sea lion. I also fed Kilo – the big 580 lb. male! He is the biggest and heaviest animal on the property but is also one of the gentlest. He is fun to feed because he is literally like a gentle vacuum. He sucks all of the fish right out of your hand, sometimes an entire handful of capelins at a time. He is really cool in how smart he is, he was born at Sea World Orlando and was actually going to work with the U.S Navy but then it was found that he was prone to stress and was brought to DRC. The head trainer, Loriel has worked with him since he was young and it is always fun to watch their sessions together. He responds so well to her and you can see how excited he gets when they work together – he knows over 100 different behaviors and they are all verbal cues. He is so impressive.

We had a photo shoot this week which was a lot of fun. We were given the opportunity to get in with the girls in the front lagoon and just have fun with them and play around with personal photographers nearby. We then did floaty boats and surf boards with them afterwards and it is probably one of my favorite things to do with the girls, because it is literally just playing with them with no fish at all. We were just paddling around on surf boards and they would try to race us or offer their dorsal fins to hold on to. Windley was the best because she would start nice and sweet, then pick up speed and abruptly turn and see if she could knock you off of your board. She seemed to really enjoy it because she did it over and over again. If you have ever wondered if dolphins would interact with people without fish, I am her to tell you that they do!

Weekly Update 30

Hello Everyone!

I had couple of cloud nine moments this week! Two very specific ones – the first being that I was able to feed a sea lion! Eeek! I fed the lovely Diamond, she was perfect and very gentle. She has a reputation for getting annoyed and huffy very quickly if she thinks her friends are getting more attention than her or if she thinks you are taking to long to feed her. She also always barks when you run out of fish and let her know that she won’t be getting any more at the moment. Well, I think we shared a very nice time together and she knew I was new and was like “oh, you must be new here, pleased to meet you.” She also did not bark at me when I ended her session! I will always take that as a personal winning moment.

My second fantastic moment was when I helped Aleta (the dolphin) do her nebulizer – Linda was her trainer at the moment and she was working with summer. She asked if one of us could help and I said of course without even knowing what she needed help with, when I got down on the dock, she said to help her do Aleta’s nebulizer. That is a medical behavior that is usually done by trainers and the medical team, to assist with it was really fun. Aleta is also known to be wary of things and is always watching everything so that she is not taken by surprise – she usually takes multiple tries to set up and be calm for her nebulizer (always making sure nothing has changed about it), well Aleta set up and did it beautifully with me in just two tries! Something almost unheard of for her. I was so excited to just do it, but to have it go so well was a special moment. Feeling like I might be getting the hang of being a marine mammal trainer!

Weekly Update 29

Hello Everyone!

Wow, spring break is alive and well in the Florida Keys. We have been very busy lately and we can tell which states are having their breaks at which time because when you ask where people are from, many different people say they are some from the same state. This week, everyone seems to be from Minnesota and Ohio. We have definitely been working hard to keep up with all of the visitors. There are reduced swim numbers, but all of the programs have been selling out the past few weeks! DRC is starting to feel that they have survived in the pandemic and things are looking brighter, I know the staff is very happy to hear that – I’m sure the dolphins are too.
I feel like I am starting to run out of exciting updates – though I know that is because I do it everyday verses individuals who don’t get a chance to be near dolphins. My days have been pretty similar this past week in that I am primarily out on sessions with the dolphins and interacting with guests all day now. All of our learning is coming together and we are being trusted to represent Dolphin Research Center and the marine mammal community to the public. I can’t really believe it sometimes.

We wrapped up our bird class last week, I will say that birds were a lot of fun and some of my most peaceful mornings were when I was just preparing their food for the day and feeding the peahens and then chickens. We three students are actually trying to train the chickens and have started keeping a collection of meal worms at our house for when the roosters come by at dusk. They have started to realize when we are out of class and will come running over when they see us head back to the residence.

Weekly Update 28

Hello everyone!

Something I haven’t mentioned in a little while is the lovely sea lions! It has been an interesting and fun time because we have been put in charge of their enrichment and we do behavioral observations on them at least once a week. Enrichment is anything that provides mental stimulation and encourages them to use their natural instincts. We have made many fish popsicles (LARGE popsicles) and frozen some toys into different shapes. We have been salvaging the fish juice from the fish prep of the day in order to make the popsicles extra tasty. Diamond seems to really enjoy big pieces of ice so that she can crunch them, she seems to enjoy toys/items that she can bite or chew on. Lina will usually be the one to spend time figuring out how the enrichment works and how she can play with it. Kilo has been a hard sea lion to please, he will usually come over and sniff everything but then leave it for the girls to investigate. We are trying to come up with unique ideas that will interest him. I have enjoyed coming up with ideas for them to play with and seeing how they react to them!

On another note, we took graduation photos this past week. Eek! It definitely makes things feel more stressful because that means we are at the end, but the photoshoot was a lot of fun. We were able to share the limelight with Pax and spend the morning with him and celebrate all of the work we have accomplished.

Weekly Update 27

Hello Everyone!
Well, I can say that interactive lab has been going pretty well. I have been able to do the “meet” and “paint” program! They have been really fun to do. Having the opportunity to realize long term dreams for people to touch a dolphin is rewarding. It is really nice to hear all the stories that people have of waiting such a long time to meet them. It is also fun watching people leave happier than when they came after getting to spend just a few moments with a dolphin. If I had to choose a favorite program, I would choose the painting program! It really is quite enjoyable and creating a piece of art with the guests and the dolphins is such a unique experience. I really enjoy seeing how each dolphin is going to paint or what their style will be for the day. So, if any of you come to dolphin research center, I can do your program!
I am very happy to say that training the hoop spin with Cacica and Louie is going well! Both have moved up a ring size and realize that they should be doing something with the ring when I give it to them. Louie had it spinning all on his own just two days ago – I think I was more excited than he was! Cacica is still getting her movements under control in order to make the hoop spin, but when I bridge her, she becomes so excited she has to take a victory lap! She is one of my favorites to train with, just because she gets so excited over the smallest things.

Weekly Update 23

Hello Everyone!

The new, exciting layer that was added this week was interactives lab! This is when we (the students) are running public programs. We are doing dock programs, where we will be in charge of introducing guests to the dolphins and doing paint programs with them. We are starting with “meets” which is the most basic program you can do and then eventually we will be adding in the paint opportunity. It’s crazy to think we are already here because the interactives class  has always been mentioned as one of our final classes. It’s one of the last things we learn – how to mesh our dolphin handling and our public experience together. I guess, now that we have started the class, you could say this is “the beginning of the end.”  We officially only have 7 weeks left to learn all that we can and get in as many dolphin kisses as possible. The job horizon and question of – “what do you want to do?” has started to approach. I have started applying for jobs in my career class. It will be interesting to see where this experience and God will be leading to, come this May.

Weekly Update 22

Hello Everyone!

This week we introduce a new animal into the training world of Jessica…Birds! We officially started our bird class here at DRCTI. It is just the lecture portion right now but we will begin to move into the labs soon. There are seven exotic parrots here as well as chickens and two pea hens. All of the birds have been rehomed from other places or for people who could no longer take care of their birds (exotic parrots live for a long time).

On the dolphin side of things, we are beginning the process of training our own behaviors to the dolphins. In this class, so far it has mainly been about observing how to train. In the handling class/ any other time I have been on working with the dolphins it has always been doing behaviors they already know and working on behaviors they have learned from other people. I will be starting a behavior from the very first step now. I am going to be working on a couple with multiple dolphins. I will not have a specific dolphin “assigned” to me, but will instead teach behaviors to multiple dolphins based on their previous knowledge and the lagoons they live in. I will definitely keep you posted on which behaviors I teach and how it goes!

In the Sea Lion world, it was a sad week as Karen passed away. She was the older sea lion who I shared about before, as I had the opportunity to take care of her habitat. She was very special to DRC and I am glad I had the opportunity to spend some time with her. If you would like to read the official statement you can find it at https://www.facebook.com/DolphinResearchCenter .

Weekly Update 21

Hello Everyone!

The weeks are moving right along, it is honestly a little bit disorienting to realize how fast things are moving. This week we started two new classes, Dog Lab 2 and Maternity. Dog lab will be happening for two weeks but maternity is already over!

I have the pleasure of working with Wrigley again for our dog lab, she is as lovable as ever and still thinks rocks are the best thing given to “dog-kind.” Our goals are different this time as we have to train a group behavior, a behavior with a prop and teach how to use an enrichment type puzzle. I have decided to play to her athletic abilities and have her catch a frisbee in mid-air as the prop behavior. She gives a fantastic effort every time but is not quite successful with realizing that she should grab it on the edge of the frisbee instead of the middle. For the enrichment behavior I have decided to play the “shell game” with her. I put her rock under a cup, move it while she watches and then she will choose where it is.  We are up to having two cups and will hopefully finish with three. We are working with Isla and Mickey for a group behavior, we (the humans) are having Isla jump over Mickey and then Wrigley will show off by jumping over both of them and then they all finish together with a spin.  In the beginning we had it described as “Pets Ahoy gone wrong” but It has come together quite well.

In our maternity class we covered how facilities look at breeding (if they breed), the Species Survival Plan, artificial insemination and how facilities prepare for and care for dolphin calves. It was all very interesting as we were also able to have trainer come speak to us about her experience with Dolphin births and how/when you would start training them. For course work we looked at genetics and how that would factor into a breeding plan and how that could determine if it is necessary to partner with another facility to breed or if it was not possible to continue breeding. Know that a lot of thought and planning goes into any birth at a facility whether it was planned or not!

Weekly Update 19

Happy New Year Everyone!

I rang in the new year working in…the fish house. Just like any animal facility/ farm and ranch anywhere, the animals are not out partying and need people to take of them and get them their food! I happened to be one of those people. We are nearing the end of our nutrition course and this looks to be our last full week of preparing the diets.

There is a somewhat competitive feeling in the air lately, as the trainers have entered into a friendly competition with one another to see who can spend the most time training new behaviors. There is so much going on in a session, I almost don’t know who to watch. There are dolphins learning new sounds, new jumps and new husbandry behaviors. The Sea lions are even getting in on it and are learning scent training, when a particular scent is present – it will lead them to do a certain behavior.

As I will hopefully get to train a new behavior soon, it has been good to see all of the different approaches that trainers take. While all of the concepts are similar, some of the trainers have different ideas of how to accomplish that goal. We are really seeing that there is not necessarily “one” way to train/teach a behavior. The one behavior I have seen with the most progress is a paired behavior – one dolphin will swim on its back and another dolphin will come dive over them. It was “dolphin-itely” exciting when we saw them accomplish it for the first time!

Weekly Update 16

Hello Everyone!

This week was one of the first, what I would call, consistent weeks. We had the same class at the same time every morning and then some normal block scheduling of having specific classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Usually, I have to check the schedule each day to know what classes are happening. We have spent every morning learning how to take care of the fish house and prepare diets for all of the animals. Class starts at seven and our goal is to have all of the fish ready by ten, we’ve made it a couple of times but it usually takes us a little bit longer than that. I have learned that if you have internships or when you first start working with marine mammals, it is not uncommon to just be a fish house worker for a good chunk of time before you actually begin working with the animals.

We also started a new occupation class this week, where we will be building a training resume, having a mock interview and job searching. We will also be researching different zoological and aquatic facilities in order to give presentations about them and possibly visit them (or, virtually visit them). It’s a little surreal to think that working with marine mammals is actually a possibility when I am finished with this program. I know we are technically working with them now, but it definitely feels like school verses actually having a job. I might have some moments of panic moving forward when I have a chance to pause and think about this reality. If you know of any zoo’s or aquariums that you think are cool and unique, let me know and I might do a presentation on them!