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!

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.

DONATE TODAY!

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!