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A Day in the Life of A Trainer: Marine Mammal Care

November 02, 2022 / dolphins,

The job of a dolphin trainer at Dolphins Plus includes many exciting aspects such as interacting with our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins on a daily basis and educating people on marine mammal conservation.  However, there are parts of the job that are generally not known, which is what happens behind the scenes. Our dolphin trainers dedicate a lot of time to maintaining our facilities and caring for our dolphins. We do this because we want our dolphins to have the best possible care. In fact, the time spent on the facilities is as much as the time spent with our dolphins. Here are some of the things that happen behind the scenes.

  1. Daily Standards of Care: Following & Exceeding Regulations

Our research and education center are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture. There are guidelines for every aspect of marine mammal care such as the livelihood of the animals and how we interact with the animals. The regulations also include yearly inspections that can happen at any moment, and we make sure that we are always ready for an inspection. We also have our own high standards for the center, so we have additional certifications and regulations beyond the basic standards of care. We are a part of and have certifications from the Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the International Marine Animal Trainers Association.

We also exceed regulations in regard to the space for our dolphin habitats. There is a specific set of parameters established by the US government for the habitat, depending on how many animals will be living in the facility. Our animals swim in a natural water lagoon that provides adequate diving variability. The general depths of our lagoons range from 5 to 20 feet. Our lagoons can hold eight to eleven animals, but we currently only have six animals. We want our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to have enough space to comfortably swim and live their best life.

  2. Sanitary Practices

To ensure that our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins have the best and healthiest lives, our center and all the elements of our center are always clean. Every day we dedicate time to cleaning all our rooms and cleaning all the things we use to care for our dolphins.

Fun Fact: Our fish kitchens are cleaner than most household kitchens!

We have a series of daily cleaning procedures, and we clean every inch of our fish kitchens and back rooms on a weekly basis. Any item that is used for food prep is deep-cleaned and disinfected.

There are sanitary practices that we follow because of government regulations but there are also practices that we implement because we want our center and facilities to be hygienic at all times.

 3. Habitat Maintenance and Monitoring

Another way that we take care of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in our facility is by ensuring the safety of their environment. We constantly monitor their environment to make sure there are no threats to their health and wellbeing. There are several ways we do this.

On a daily basis, we take readings of the water temperature and also do lagoon and facility checks once the animal team comes in and once more before they leave. Since our dolphins live in three natural water lagoons, natural ebb and flow can bring marine debris into their environments. For this reason, we conduct dives to monitor the lagoons for any kind of changes or obstructions. We also monitor the structural integrity of our facilities on a weekly basis.

For the protection of the dolphins, the US Department of Agriculture has created regulations that dolphins cannot be released into the wild. Also, with the increase of public activity in our waters, dolphins run the risk of getting tangled in nets and fishing lines or being struck by boats.

We are in the Florida Keys, so we also have to prepare for natural disasters and emergency situations, especially for hurricanes. There are detailed plans to secure the center and our animals. If the dolphins could be in danger because of the hurricane, then they are moved to other centers where they are out of harm’s way.

Since we’ve had a few dolphin babies in the last few years, we’ve had to take extra safety measures for our dolphin calves. Just as you would baby-proof your house for a baby that’s coming, we baby-proof our lagoons for our bottlenose dolphin calves. As the dolphin calves learn to navigate our lagoons, we might section off some areas that they might have trouble navigating in. We also provide age-appropriate toys as part of their enrichment.

As we have mentioned, our animal trainers do a lot behind the scenes at our center, and you have the opportunity to experience some of the behind-the-scenes activities by participating in our programs. These programs will give you an idea of what it’s like to care for our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

If you want to briefly experience what occurs in our facilities, then take our Behind-the-Scenes tour. But if you’d like to have a more in-depth experience and see what it’s like to be a trainer, then participate in our Trainer for a Day program. If you’re currently a college student or a recent graduate, you’re eligible for our Animal Care Internship program where you can assist with dolphin training, food preparation and educating guests.   

Follow Our Dolphins to stay in-the-know on the latest updates and news for our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.


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