Aloha From Hawaii By Sammi Mercer (née Berlet, We, 2011) From the moment I can remember, I have always loved the ocean and always dreamed of training marine mammals. As I grew up, so did my passion. I learned that if I was to turn every girl’s dream of being an animal trainer into my own reality then I needed to be a stand out. Studying science at A Level was an easy choice. I was determined to study Biology at university and pursue research as a starting point. I graduated College in 2011, moved back to America, and attended Pennsylvania State University to obtain my BSc in Biology. After graduating, I was faced with navigating my next steps in the field. While I entertained pursuing graduate school to earn a Master's degree, by what I can only describe as random luck, I came across an 'Animal Care and Husbandry' internship close to family in Florida. My childhood dream was in the making. Even if only for three months, I eagerly said yes! That was the beginning of the path to my career as a Marine Mammal Specialist. I completed three internships before I ended up with my first permanent job with Dolphin Quest on the Big Island of Hawaii, exactly 7,221 miles from Cheltenham College. At Dolphin Quest, a conservation company owned by two marine mammal veterinarians, the top priority for a Marine Mammal Specialist is
to provide the highest standard of animal care. On top of animal care, our mission is to educate and inspire conservation efforts by creating a personal connection between guests and animals. Here was my chance to make a difference! Dolphin Quest In the late 1980s, world renowned marine mammal veterinarians, Dr. Rae Stone and Dr. Jay Sweeney, created the first Dolphin Quest facility in which guests could learn about and interact with dolphins in large natural, ocean-fed lagoon environments. Fish and other species also call the dolphin lagoons home which creates a naturally enriching environment. The dolphins move between the different lagoons throughout the day for stimulating environmental and social variability. Our dolphin habitats mirror the shallow water bays and estuaries these coastal variety of dolphins inhabit in the wild. The dolphins are adored and well cared for at Dolphin Quest, where they receive the very best veterinary care, restaurant-quality food and lots of love and attention. Animal training and care Training at Dolphin Quest focuses on a lifestyle of positive reinforcement. This means presenting something valuable or motivating following a desired response to increase the likelihood of that response occurring again. For example,
you ask a child to do a task. The child completes the task. If you give the child something meaningful (such as money), the child is more likely to complete the task in the future because of the positive consequence that followed. Money would not work with the dolphins, just like fish would most likely not work with the child. The reinforcer following the completed behavior must be something specific to the animal’s interests or needs. Along with fish, some dolphins are reinforced with ice, toys, play, and even unflavoured and unsweetened gelatin! Dolphin Quest trainers have a mutually beneficial and collaborative learning style with the dolphins. Cooperative behaviours are mentally stimulating for both the trainer and dolphin. As trainers, we aim to keep each day different, not only to provide variability to the dolphin's day, but also to our day. Training also provides physical stimulation and problem-solving opportunities. The dolphins’ days are filled with lots of variability including mutual discovery between the trainers and the dolphins. These sessions are fun and build trust between the dolphin and human. My favourite kind of sessions are the play sessions, during which I provide an assortment of toys from which the dolphin chooses. Having marine mammal veterinarians as owners means Dolphin Quest provides state-of-the-art veterinary care. The high level of preventative health care provided at Dolphin Quest relies on the strong relationships that trainers develop with the animals over time. This relationship is the foundation for everything, especially when it comes to teaching the dolphins co-operative behaviours to participate in their own medical care. With this relationship, husbandry samples can be collected more readily and easily, which in turn makes providing state-of-the art care more effective and immediate. This allows the trainers to obtain blood, urine, fecal, gastric, respiratory and milk samples which provides baseline information for the species and ultimately increases longevity. Daily animal care also involves
The Cheltonian Society Magazine with articles from the full range of Society members, from pupils to parents, OCs and staff.