|Flagler has learned dorsal pulls but now gets to learn how to drive!|
How many of you out there have swimming with dolphins on your bucket list? It’s an activity that many people dream about throughout their entire lives and Dolphin Research Center is fortunate to be able to make those dreams come true! Guests can do a multitude of interactive programs from both on the dock and in the water to spend time with the DRC pod.
The most popular program is the Dolphin Encounter, where guests get wet with a dolphin. This program includes a kiss, handshake, imitations, signals, and a dorsal pull. The dolphins do these sessions every day, so it becomes second nature. However, DRC has several younger dolphins who are still learning how to master the pulls.
DRC doesn’t have any “behind the scenes” areas where training takes place, so guests not only see how we teach the dolphins, but they also often get to be part of the training process.
One of the first things dolphins learn is to follow a target pole, which looks like a giant cotton swab. The dolphins learn to put their rostrum, or other parts of the body on the pole.
During a recent Dolphin Encounter, Luna and Flagler (Ages three and two respectively) worked on their dorsal pulls. An important part of the behavior is the pattern. The kids are learning a nice figure eight in a smaller lagoon. Working on this required four people.
The first was their trainer, who sent them on the dorsal pull. The second was the guest who held on as the youngsters took him for a ride. Two other trainers stood on the boardwalks with target poles to guide Luna and Flagler.
The trainers stood on each side and slapped the poles against the water to indicate which direction Luna and Flagler were meant to go. The kids traveled from one pole directly across the pool to the other pole, then around to drop their swimmer off at the dock. With each guest, Luna and Flagler got better at their pattern. They began to understand where they were supposed to go and do it without the added hint of the target poles.
The youngsters are still perfecting this behavior but they’ve almost got it down. Every day, the trainers work with them so that they can get better and better. Luna and Flagler love to know that they’re doing exactly what they’re asked and we love seeing their growth with each program.