Training Vocabulary:

Target:  a tool used to pinpoint the critical location for an animal in training.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium Training Department uses several different targeting tools when working with their resident animals.

With the otters, they use their fists and target poles with colored tape edges.  With the dolphins, they use their palms and target poles with buoy on the end.  Even though their hands are greatly different from the target poles, their function is the same.  Through the use of a target pole or their hands, they can guide and direct an animal.  This direction can be a body contact point when stationary, a destination point, or a direction of movement (example: Front Flip – following target pole around).

Any animal can be target trained, but a very important factor to keep in mind when working with different species is knowing what portion of the body that particular species use to explore its environments.  For example, when working with Rivir Otters, they target their snout (nose) because they are very olfactory-oriented and that is the first part of their body they use to investigate new environments.  With Sea Otters, on the other hand, they would target their paws and not their noses becasue they are more tactile-oriented and will use their paws first to explore their environments.

Want to learn more about CMA’s current resident animals?  Please visit Meet Our Animals.


Name: Talia Goffinet

Title: Associate Marine Mammal Trainer

Hometown: Evansville, IN

Education: Psychology with a concentration in Animal Behavior

Bio: I have wanted to become a marine mammal trainer since I was four years old. My aunts took me to see the movie Free Willy and I was instantly inspired by the film much like children today are inspired by our own Dolphin Tale! Ever since then I knew that when I grew up I wanted to work with marine animals. I am originally from Evansville, IN. In high school I took as many science classes as possible to prepare myself to study marine biology in college. I realized there were obviously limited opportunities to work with marine mammals in the great state of Indiana so I decided to move to Florida for college right after high school. I attended the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, FL and majored in marine biology before changing my major to Psychology with a concentration in Animal Behavior. While in college, I worked at various animal care facilities including Florida Wildlife Hospital, Brevard Zoo, and SeaWorld Orlando. I applied to many marine mammal internships last summer and was accepted at different facilities but I ultimately chose to complete my internship right here at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. After my internship, I went back to school and worked extra hard to graduate a semester early so that I could begin my career sooner. After I graduated college I was hired at the Brevard Zoo as a zookeeper and worked there for about three months before I was offered a position at CMA. I am currently the youngest and one of the newest trainers on our team so I am still learning many things every day! As an intern I quickly fell in love with the animals and people here and I wanted nothing more than to return to work for CMA. I am ecstatic to be a part of CMA’s marine mammal training team! I could not be happier to begin my career as a marine mammal trainer here at Clearwater Marine Aquarium!

Title: Associate Marine Mammal Trainer

Hometown: Sun Prairie, WI

Education: Bachelor of Science in Biology – Emphasis in Organism Ecology. Minor in Chemistry.

Hobbies/Favorite Past Times: Scrapbooking, playing with my dog, running, volleyball & swimming


Growing up, I have always wanted to work with marine animals. First, I have always loved learning about the oceans and the creatures that grew in them. Second, I love water! I was a competitive swimmer since fourth grade through my senior year in college.

After high school, I pursued my collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Shortly after starting, I began to doubt my ability to actually become a marine mammal trainer and began to focus on other possible careers with animals (veterinarian, rehabilitation specialist, etc.). My junior year I did a wildlife internship with the Four Lakes Wildlife Center (Madison, WI). They too were a rescue, rehab, and release facility that specialized in small mammals, songbirds, and raptors. I received the unique experience to work with several types of animals and help out with several of their releases. After my internship I thought that this would be something that I would want to do for the rest of my life, so I decided to stay on as a volunteer. As graduation grew near I found myself constantly thinking how much I wanted to work with marine mammals and train. Despite the odds against me I decided to go for it and give it a shot. What did I have to lose; at the very least I can be content knowing I tried. Right before graduation, I began to fill out any and every application for marine mammal training internships for the fall of 2011.

I had filled out several applications and ultimately I chose an internship at Clearwater Marine Aquarium due to their unique mission of rescue, rehab, and release, which is near and dear to my heart. I loved the internship it gave me not only a large amount of information on animals, but also training concepts. After I finished I decided to stay on as a volunteer and continue my learning in the hopes that one day I would become a trainer somewhere. Shortly after an opportunity presented itself, a job posing for an associate training position had opened up. After the swim test and interviews I finally received my big break, I was hired in February 2012! Currently I am one of the associate trainers that work with our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, North American river otters, African great white pelicans, and nurse sharks! My motto: Better to have tried and failed than not try at all!

Name: Erin

Title: Associate Marine Mammal Trainer

Hometown: Opelousas, Louisiana

Education: Bachelor of Science – Animal Science

Pastimes/Hobbies: Horseback Riding

Bio: “I was born in Opelousas, Louisiana. There, I lived on a horse and cattle ranch where I first learned to ride horses before I could even walk! We lived there until my family and I moved to the Bay Area in Northern California. Through high school I worked at a vet clinic, starting as a volunteer when I was 14, and then continuing as a vet tech by the age of 16 up until I graduated. I then went to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo as an animal science major. After my freshman year, I did a summer internship at Dolphin Quest Bermuda where I learned a lot about marine mammal training. This was an extremely beneficial and hands on internship. Next I completed a summer internship after my junior year with the Navy Marine Mammal Program in San Diego, CA. This was also a very hands-on experience in which I was able to further develop my skills in dolphin training, and learn to interact and work with California sea lions. I finished my bachelor’s degree in 2011. Just before coming to CMA, I was a zookeeper at a small, nonprofit zoo in Paso Robles, CA called Zoo To You. This was a very fun position in which I was able to work with all sorts of animals, from mountain lions, tigers and bears to primates, birds of prey and various hoof stock. Outside of work, I continue to enjoy horseback riding. I also love taking my Great Dane, Max, to the beach on my days off!”