Here at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium we have been very blessed to have met and been collaborating with Don and Cindy Lang. For those of you who do not know Don and Cindy, they are a couple that works with various aquariums to produce enrichment and cognitive devices for resident animals. Currently Don and Cindy have collaborated with our team of trainers to produce a bubble machine and music piano for our resident dolphins.

The most recent device we have conceptualized and was brought to life by Don and Cindy is our Otter Enrichment Device! The idea behind this device was to provide different enrichment to the otters (food, toys, or water play), but rather than us choosing the reinforcement the otter gets to choose what they want. The way it works is a base plate is placed into the otter habitat; on it has a series of 4 buttons that the otter can choose from. Three of the buttons correspond to different enrichment (food, toys, or water play) and the forth button must be pushed to receive the reinforcement. The enrichment once selected will drop down out of select areas in their habitat (see picture right). We have decided to call the device the “Ultimate Reinforcer.” It is somewhat similar to a stuffed toy claw machine. You would move the joystick to select what you want and then you press the trigger button to drop the claw to grab the toy. We are very excited to provide this form of enrichment to our otters! Please come join us in otter oasis to see it in action!

Posted in Otter, Trainers

RICKY & LUCY: Teddy Bear Retrieval

Teddy Bear Retrieval – To retrieve the teddy bear and bring to trainer.

Purpose – Cognitive behavior in which the birds need to think of how to retrieve the teddy bear and bring it to their trainer.

Training – Learning to grab with bill and drag.


Ball kick – Line up ventrally and kick ball up using tail flukes.

Purpose – Exercise and play.

Training – Almost complete!

WALLE – Stand

Stand – Stand up and balance body on hind legs.

Purpose – Can be used as a husbandry behavior to check over body.

Training – Using target pole to guide in a standing position and adding verbal cue “Stand.”

Posted in Animals, Otter, Trainers

Discrimination:  The tendency for a behavior to occur in the presence of a certain stimuli but not in their absence.

“As trainers it is important to be very clear with our animals to prevent frustration. When giving hand signals to our animals they have to be able to discriminate between the signals. By discriminating they are then able to give the correct corresponding behavior. Each hand signal should be clear and different from the rest, thus decreasing the probability that the individual will mix up between behaviors.

Here at the aquarium our training staff utilizes a variety of hand signals with our collection. Our training staff works together to come up with new and inventive hand signals so that our collection can easily distinguish between which behaviors we are asking for. Each signal should be different but yet simple enough that every trainer is able to replicate it.

People and several species of animals have the capability to discriminate between different stimuli to produce different behaviors. This concept is not only applicable to the training world but also to everyday life. For example, you see some one smile and say hello to you. What do you do? In most cases you return the smile and greeting. What was the stimulus? The stimulus was the other person smiling and saying hello. What was the behavior given? The behavior was your return smile and greeting. People and animals are very observant creatures and its behavior is affected by different stimuli throughout everyday life.”


Innovative TrainingReinforcing an animal for reaching successful approximations through a self-taught or self-experimental process.

Here at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium we work on innovative training with our dolphin population. Both Nicholas and Winter are trained for the behavior “Create.” After receiving the hand signal the dolphin must come up with a series of behaviors that are all completely different in order to receive reinforcement. The trick is for the dolphin to come up with different behaviors without repeats. For example, spin – spit – wave would be acceptable, but spin – spit – spin would not because the dolphin already did a spin. By offering the behavior “Create” to the dolphins, this behavior allows them to think for themselves and use their brains. In the wild dolphins are constantly using their brains to find food, avoid predators, and communicate with pod members. Seeing that our dolphins do not need to worry about catching food or avoiding sharks we are able to stimulate their brains through cognitive exercises like the behavior “Create.” It can also be a very exciting behavior for the dolphins because they get to do whatever behaviors they want as long as they do not repeat behaviors. Come on over to the Dolphin Terrace and the Winter Zone to see this behavior in action!