Do what does a marine mammal trainer do, exactly? When in simple terms, they teach marine mammals, as in whales, killer whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, etc.
And just like most other animal trainers, they tend to prefer positive reinforcement when training a marine mammal.
These wonderful and highly intelligent sea creatures usually respond to voice commands or hand signals, and the positive reinforcement comes in the form of a tasty fish or other treat.
Marine mammal trainers can work in a variety of settings, including aquariums, zoos, and natural aquatic habitats. They teach animals a variety of behaviors, including performing for the public, and obeying commands that make it easier for staff to monitor animal health and provide treatment.
For example, trainers might teach a walrus to open its mouth for dental exams. At most aquariums, marine mammal trainers work as part of a 4- or 5-person team. Depending on the aquatic facility, trainers might also participate in research projects.
Although it can be rewarding to interact with wild creatures, it’s not always easy. Marine mammal trainers at aquariums work in climate controlled indoor enclosures, but those who work in outdoor habitats are often exposed to every type of weather.
That could mean carrying 40-pound buckets of fish in a driving rainstorm. And because they work with wild animals that don’t have owners to care for them, marine mammal trainers might also need to be on call more than other types of trainers. They contact the aquarium regularly to make sure there are no emergencies.
Trainers typically spend about half their workday interacting with the animals and the other half maintaining a proper aquatic environment. Most trainers check the water several times a day and add chemicals to maintain proper pH levels.
Many trainers also dive down to scrub the underwater marine habitat. Additional work could include keeping records on the animals, describing behavior changes and monitoring food intake. They also keep a close eye out for signs of disease or sickness, draw blood, and administer routine checkups.
Educating the public is also integral to the job. Trainers plan and perform in shows with the animals, explaining animal behavior and answering questions while they entertain. Trainers also give interviews, seminars, and tours.
Training provides valuable mental and physical stimulation for the marine animal, which is important for their long-term health and well-being. As a result of animal training and health management, captive sea creatures today often live longer than their counterparts in the wild.
Training and getting ready for your career as a marine mammal trainer. Most trainers have an associate or bachelor’s degree of some sort. And most aquariums and zoos require a bachelor’s degree in zoology, biology, psychology, or marine biology.
And a few trainers get their jobs through volunteer experience, contacts, and coursework not leading to a degree. But given the competition for marine mammal jobs, people who have a degree are much more likely to find work, and those with a graduate degree have an advantage.
In addition to education, marine mammal trainers need to be strong swimmers because they spend considerable time in the water with the animals. Experience working with animals is also essential.
Most trainers have volunteered or been employed at aquariums, zoos, research facilities, shelters, or veterinary clinics. Public speaking experience also helps trainers to interact with aquarium visitors.