|Tursi opens her mouth wide when she's excited.|
During a recent Dolphin Encounter, a member pointed out that Tursi shakes her head back and forth as if she’s saying “no” when a trainer asks her to do something. They asked if she did that because she didn’t want to do what the trainer had asked. Her trainer, Sarah, explained that Tursi shows her excitement in different ways. Sometimes she shakes her head in a manner that says “What are we going to do next!?” or she does a chomping behavior we call an alligator when she’s really into a session. To an untrained eye, a dolphin shaking their head “no” may mean no, but those of us who work at Dolphin Research Center spend a lot of time watching our dolphins and getting to know each and every one of their dolphinalities.
Dolphins will do the same behavior both when they’re playing and when they’re agitated. A great example of this is tail slapping. A dolphin may slap their tail for attention, to show dominance, or because they want to be left alone. The way to differentiate is to see in what context the behavior occurred. A tail slap during a play session when a trainer is spending time with a dolphin is simply a way to get attention. However, a tail slap when no one else is in the lagoon means something entirely different. It could be a simple sign of hierarchy or it could simply mean they have something on their tail that they want to get off like a piece of seaweed.
Getting to know our dolphins takes time and is extremely important for both trainers and the animals. Just like humans, dolphins have baseline behaviors. These behaviors are the way they normally act. For Tursi, chomping and shaking her head are normal behaviors. They come as naturally as her loud scream when she’s engaging in aerial behaviors. We study all the dolphins and have identified baselines on numerous behaviors they exhibit.