California travel expert Veronica Hill of http://www.CaliforniaTravelExpert.com learns the basics of becoming a dolphin trainer in this episode of "California Travel Tips."
Today we're at San Diego Sea World where we're going to learn how to become a dolphin trainer.
One of the world's most sought-after careers, dolphin trainers are a talented lot, combining a deep understanding of these intelligent ocean mammals with strong swimming and public speaking skills.
To find out more, I joined Sea World's Dolphin Interaction program, where dolphin trainer Mary Sears showed me some basic training signals with resident dolphins Sandy and Ripley.
After some fun moments in the pool, Mary explained some of the requirements for becoming a dolphin trainer.
"What we look for here at Sea World are people who are very strong swimmers, at least 18 years of age who know how to scuba dive, people who are very comfortable with public speaking and we look for people who have a 4-year degree and possibly other animal experience."
"Most of our trainers have backgrounds in either psychology or biology fields, but our training here is all on-the-job training. So there are some trainers who sometimes have a variety of backgrounds and then they come here and they learn it.
According to Sea World, "Killer whales, dolphins, sea lions and other marine mammals are trained using operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. Operant conditioning is a method of behavior modification in which a subject is taught to behave in a desired manner and is then rewarded. SeaWorld animal trainers acknowledge a desired behavior with a positive reinforcement: the blow of a whistle, some fish or maybe a rubdown. Animals are never punished for incorrect behavior. They are taught that failure is OK, and that trainers will continue on through application of a training tool called the 'least reinforcing scenario.' Participation is completely voluntary."
How many tricks, or behaviors can dolphins learn?
"Endless! How ever many we can train them. So training for the dolphins is ongoing, throughout their whole lifetime. So it's a really good stimulation for them. After they learn a lot of behaviors, we can start pairing behaviors together to give them extra stimulation and more things to learn.
What exactly goes into the swim test to become a trainer here?
The swim test has three main components. There is a freestyle swim of around 125 yards, there's an underwater portion of the swim thats around 120 feet. You have to make it all the way across dolphin stadium without any breaths. And then a surface dive from the water down to the bottom of our 26-foot deep pool. In 60-degree salt water!
Can you tell me any stories about the dolphins, anything that's been particularly rewarding for you?
In addition to physical strength, trainers also must have a good understanding of animal psychology and behavior.
I think the most rewarding thing here is getting to build a relationship with the animals and seeing how you spend more and more time every single day with them, they get to know you. And you have that history with them, and they respond well to you. That's the best thing I have about this job. That's the most rewarding. And then getting to share that with other people who come here to meet the animals."
To learn more about dolphin trainer jobs, sign up for Sea World's Trainer for a Day program or specialized camps where you can work alongside a real dolphin trainer.
"We have some day camps and we also have a week-long resident camp. The campers live in our dormitory facilities and they do a variety of activities so they understand what the trainers do on a daily basis, what our animal care team does, what our aquarium departments do, just to learn about all the different parts of Sea World."
A dolphin trainer salary averages between $40,000 - 60,000 per year, but dolphin trainer jobs are hard to come by. Just study, work hard, volunteer when you can, and maybe one day your dream will come true.
Sea World Dolphin Trainer Requirements:
• Applicants must be at least 18 years old, scuba-certified and must pass a physical test in order to even qualify for an interview;
• Physical strength, a love and understanding of animals and a flair for showmanship;
• Upbeat personality and strong swimming and public speaking skills
• Willingness to perform less glamorous duties including feeding, cleaning, observing and caring for the animals
• Four-year degree preferred in animal psychology or biology;
• Swim test that includes carrying two 30-pound buckets 50 feet, a 250-foot freestyle swim to be completed in 1 minute, 20 seconds; 125' underwater swim with no breaths; 26-foot surface dive to retrieve a flag; memorize and perform an excerpt from one of the shows.
To learn more, visit www.seaworld.org