A dolphin trainer typically works in an amusement park or water park setting. He or she teaches the dolphins new performances for shows and reinforces already learned performance tricks through positive reinforcement methods. In addition, a dolphin trainer is responsible for monitoring the dolphins' diet, overall health, and emotional well-being.
Behind the scenes, the trainer must feed the dolphins he or she is charged with training. This can involve handling hundreds of pounds of fish each morning. Dolphins are fed three times a day; their feeding is coordinated with rehearsing, medication needs, and habitat cleaning.
Alkalinity and water temperature of the dolphin habitat must be maintained at levels optimum to dolphin health. Checking these levels is the responsibility of the dolphin trainer. Cleaning is usually done by the trainer, who wears a scuba diving suit and gets into the habitat to scrape algae from the glass sides.
Dolphins in captivity are trained to cooperate with veterinarians and others involved in the dolphins' care. Training a dolphin to present itself to a veterinarian for blood work is an example of husbandry training expected of the dolphin trainer. Recordkeeping is an essential part of the dolphin trainer's day. How much food each dolphin consumed, what time medication was administered, and other important details are included in daily records.
Rehearsing the dolphins for shows is another responsibility of the trainer. Developing new routines, building steps for the dolphins to follow, and getting them to perform consistently are time-consuming tasks. Positive reinforcement is typically used to teach dolphins new tricks and rehearse tricks already learned. The dolphin trainer acts as part of the performance for park visitors by commanding the dolphins to perform. Following the show, most trainers remain with the audience to answer questions about dolphins.
Along with training dolphins in captivity, a dolphin trainer will typically be involved with the transportation of dolphins to and from the park. For example, if a new dolphin is coming to the park to live, the dolphin trainer will accompany the transportation team to pick the dolphin up. This helps ensure that the dolphin's stress level will be kept to a minimum as the trainer works on calming the mammal during the trip.