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!

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!”