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!



A photo of Nicholas playing with his new device!

This past year, CMA’s training staff has been working closely with entrepreneurs Don and Cindy Lang, who create environmental enrichment devices for marine mammals. We received our first device from the Langs, a bubble machine for Winter, Panama, and Hope, at the beginning of this year. We are pleased to announce that our second device is finally here!

This device is for Nicholas, CMA’s only male dolphin. It works like the game “Simon Says”; the device is capable of playing different music note sequences, and each music note corresponds to a different light. The trainer plays a sequence and Nicholas has to repeat the sequence by using paddles in his water. Each paddle represents a different note, and when he gets the sequence correct, he is rewarded. The device is designed to tap into Nicholas’s cognitive and creative abilities. Come up to Dolphin Terrace at CMA to see it in action!