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.”


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!

Reinforcement Contingency refers to the direct relationship between the properties (approximations) of a behavior and the reinforcement that follows.

Reinforcement contingency allows trainers to work all aspects of a trained behavior. Reinforcing the entirety of a behavior (from start to end) is very important, but maintaining a behavior and preventing break down is equally important. Behaviors are maintained by reinforcing all aspects (aka steps or approximations) of the specific behavior.

For example, when sending Hope on bows (jumps), we as trainers can work on the different approximations like her run (agility to get moving up out of the water), the height of her bows, number of bows, her body position when reentering the water, etc. By reinforcing specific approximations, this communicates to Hope specifics of the behavior like the speed, height, or body positioning. In the end she will be able to put all the parts together to create a complete picture, thus shaping and maintaining the behavior “Bow” as a whole from start to finish. This way, when asked for bows, she will be able to consistently give a desired speed for her run, height to her bows, reentry to the water, etc.

Not only does reinforcement of specific aspects of a behavior strengthen each part of the behavior, it also keeps training variable and unpredictable, which can strengthen the behavior as a whole and keep the animal engaged.

Name: Emily

Title: Associate Marine Mammal Trainer

Education: Bachelor’s in history and government, Associate’s of science in zookeeping technology

Bio: Hi my name is Emily, and I’m an associate marine mammal trainer here at CMA. My background was originally in zookeeping. After getting my bachelor’s degree in history, I went back to school for an associates degree in zookeeping technology. While studying for that degree, I started volunteering in the elephant barn at the local zoo and eventually got hired first as a seasonal animal keeper, then as a relief keeper for all the animal areas in the zoo. I worked primarily with big cats, bears, primates, small mammals, and some birds and reptiles.  I then accepted a position as an elephant keeper at another facility where I helped care for one bull elephant and two females in a mostly free contact handling system. Although I liked the animals very much, I found that the free contact handling system was not for me, and decided to try for an internship with marine mammals at CMA, where one of my fellow elephant keepers had interned and volunteered. I moved out to Florida to do my internship, continued as a volunteer afterwards, and recently got hired on as staff working with these amazing animals!