Archive | January 2014

Trials & Tales of an Intern Dolphin Trainer

Submitted by Ashley Williams, Career Services Graduate Assistant

Remember when you were a kid and dreamt of training dolphins or whales? Well intern Bethany Eriksen got to live the dream this past summer with her internship at the Georgia Aquarium!

Here, Bethany reflects on her new competencies in animal husbandry, dolphin physiology and psychology, and running a marine mammal show. She also offers valuable advice to individuals shooting for a career in animal care.

Bethany Eriksen @ The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, GADolphin

Hi Everyone! As I begin my final blog post, I have learned so much this summer that I don’t know where to begin. My knowledge of marine mammal training has increased tremendously through participation in this internship. Prior to starting this internship, I had little comprehension of the steps necessary to properly train dolphins, however I now possess an extensive understanding of the professional techniques and tools of the trade for training animals. I also now have a much better grasp on what it takes to run a marine mammal show. It is incredibly fast paced, as most live show productions are, and involves a lot of running around backstage. However, unlike most productions, our shows involve animals with unique personalities who can decide to deviate from the script and perform their own adlibbed version of the show. I’ve learned to think on my toes and be ready for anything!

I have gained a lot of experience in animal husbandry by preparing the dolphin food, cleaning up the areas and maintaining their cleanliness by completing AM, PM and weekly cleaning duties, as well as assisting the trainers as they care for the dolphins. I have also gained an incredible amount of knowledge by standing back and observing how the trainers react and work through each situation with the animals. Through my internship’s lecture series, I have learned even more about dolphin physiology, training, and troubleshooting situations. I have been able to get to know a talented team of trainers who each possess a unique background and lots of experience in the field. Through conversations with them, I have been able to gain personal insight that will help me navigate this competitive field.

Moving forward, I hope to continue to learn more about the marine mammal field and about the conservation efforts of zoos and aquariums. I am interested in experiencing other animal training facilities too, to gain as many different perspectives as possible. One of my new goals is to visit Marineland, the Georgia Aquarium’s sister location in St. Augustine, FL! Check it out: I believe that the more people I can talk to and the more I can learn, the more successful I will be in my future career.

As I come back to Rollins, I hope to apply this internship to my academics and Environmental Studies major. Through my study of the world’s environment, I will continue to reflect on the value of zoos and aquariums and the important role they play in addressing today’s environmental issues. My previous studies combined with this experience will help me as I persist in defining my career path and the role I hope to play in making the world a better place for animals, the environment, and people.

My advice to students interested in pursuing a career in the world of animals is to gain as much animal experience as possible through volunteering at zoos, aquariums, vet clinics, shelters, etc., but to also talk to as many people as possible. When you visit zoological parks, talk to animal care takers, animal trainers, education staff- ask them questions and try to get a feel for what each job involves so you can figure out what might be the best fit for you. Even spend a day shadowing at one of these facilities if possible. Attend an IMATA conference to meet current animal trainers and network- students are allowed to attend too!

For students interested in interning at the Georgia Aquarium, be ready to work hard, do dirty work, be a good communicator, and have a positive attitude. Above all, when pursuing any internship, don’t give up! Apply for EVERYTHING- you may not always be accepted to your ideal internship the first time, but if you are persistent you never know what may come your way.