As a dolphin trainer, you will be responsible for keeping captive dolphins healthy, stimulated, and active. You will need to feed the dolphins, keep their tanks clean, and train them to entertain a crowd. Though captive dolphins can be used as a form of public entertainment, they can also be used to encourage the conservation of dolphins and other marine life. To be a successful dolphin trainer, you will need to have an academic background in behavioral and biological sciences, the necessary experience and training, and the willingness to work hard.
EditUnderstanding the Role
- Understand the career prospects of the role. Dolphin trainers often work long hours and are often in the water with the animals or walking around talking and educating the crowd. It is a popular profession that is not made for everyone. The field is competitive and you will need to distinguish yourself among a sea of applicants.
- The average salary for dolphin trainers varies from facility to facility. The salaries for entry-level positions can range between $ 18,000-$ 20,000. Many trainers have a second source of income to help them stay financially stable.
- The more experience you have as a trainer, the higher your salary will be. A trainer with 8-12 years of experience can make $ 25,000-$ 40,000 a year. Many trainers stay in the profession out of a love for working with dolphins and the opportunity to form long lasting relationships with them.
- Be aware of the role expectations for a dolphin trainer. As a trainer, your typical work day may include preparing the dolphin’s meals, feeding them, and cleaning their tanks. Dolphins need at least three meals a day: morning, midday, and afternoon.
- Trainers also need to give the animals all necessary vitamins and medications during your dolphin daily assessments (DDA). DDAs are done at the beginning of every work day to assess the dolphin’s entire body and their medical needs.
- You will also need to stimulate the marine mammals physically and mentally through hands-on training sessions. As a trainer, you will need to be enthusiastic and energetic as you work with the dolphins to practice existing and new behaviors with the dolphins. You may observe and study the dolphins if you work in a research facility, or you may display the dolphin’s skills and behaviors to a crowd if you work at an entertainment center, like SeaWorld.
- Keep in mind the pros and cons of the role. Though every child that has been to a dolphin show may dream about being a dolphin trainer, in reality, it can be a demanding job. You will need to clean and maintain the large tanks where the dolphins live and you will need to work outside during hot summer months. Because you will be working with dynamic and highly intelligent animals, you will need to adapt your schedule to fit the dolphins’ needs, so you may be working irregular work hours. You may also need to work on holidays, as dolphins need to receive constant care.
- However, there are many pros to being a dolphin trainer, such as the long term relationship you get to build with dolphins and the opportunity to work closely with dolphins on a daily basis. You will also be able to work alongside a team of trainers and support each other as you teach and learn from the dolphins.
EditGetting the Necessary Education and Training
- Do well in your science and math courses in high school. To prepare early for your training career, you should try to do well in your biology classes in high school, as well as your math classes. If your high school offers any classes in animal science, you should enroll in them and try to get high grades in these classes.
- A strong background in science and math will help you succeed in your undergraduate degree as you pursue a training career.
- Get a bachelor’s degree in biology, marine biology, or animal science. Though some entry-level dolphin training positions may accept a high school diploma, receiving more advanced training through an undergraduate degree can only improve your chances of landing a good position as a trainer.
- Many trainers have undergraduate degrees in biology, marine biology, psychology, or animal behavior/animal science. A four year degree in a life sciences related field will give you a good starting point in terms of the necessary expertise and knowledge to be an effective dolphin trainer.
- There is a one-year program through the College of Marine Mammal Professions located in Florida that focuses on classroom and hands-on experience in dolphin training. There is also a two year program through Moorpark College in California that focuses on exotic animal training, including dolphin training. Taking an animal training specific program can lead to a higher success of employment. Keep in mind, however, that some facilities, like SeaWorld, prefer to see the perseverance it takes to get a bachelor’s degree. 
- Check if your local zoo or aquarium has volunteer programs or internships in animal training. You should also get more experience with animals by volunteering or interning at your local zoo, aquarium, veterinarian clinic, wildlife rehabilitation center, or animal center. You can start doing this during your high school years or during your undergraduate degree.
- Getting first hand experience in a work environment can help you get a better sense of duties and responsibilities required when working with animals. This will give you a chance to determine if you have the patience, persistence, and dependability necessary to be a dolphin trainer. As well, volunteering or interning will also allow you to build relationships and contacts with individuals working in the field.
- Keep in mind most interns are not allowed to have contact directly with the animals and are often allowed to only observe and assist, but not do any hands on work. If possible, look for volunteer programs that focus specifically on dolphin training, as this will be good practice as you pursue your career goals.
- Consider getting your SCUBA certification. In many dolphin training positions, you are expected to be a strong swimmer, as you will often be working with dolphins directly in the water. Strong snorkeling and SCUBA skills are also beneficial and can elevate you above other applicants.
- You can complete a basic scuba diver certification program or take additional courses to become a master scuba diver. Most programs are a combination of classroom learning, testing, and applied training with scuba equipment in a pool or an open water location. Some scuba programs also offer training in CPR and first aid, which can come in handy when you work in a marine mammal facility, with other trainers and with the public.
- Many dolphin training facilities will give you a swim test as part of the hiring process and some facilities will only hire trainers that are SCUBA certified.
- Brush up on your public speaking skills. As a dolphin trainer, you may be expected to educate the public about these animals and their behaviors. You should have strong public speaking skills and be comfortable talking in front of a crowd every day. Improving your public speaking skills will make you a more well rounded candidate to employers and ensure you are able to communicate well with people, as well as with dolphins.
- Many specialized programs in dolphin training will offer public speaking courses as an option. You can also take a public speaking class at your local college or university to brush up on your skills.
- Be physically fit. Physical fitness is an important component of being a trainer, as you will need to be fit enough to work in an aquatic environment every day. In addition to being a strong swimmer, you should also maintain an exercise routine that includes cardio and endurance training. As a trainer, you will need to be able to keep up with the daily demands of your role and not get easily tired or overwhelmed by the physical requirements of the role.
- You may want to integrate swimming into your weekly workout routine, in addition to cardio and strength training. This will ensure you are at a constant level of fitness suitable for the role of dolphin trainer.
EditFinding a Position
- Join a marine mammal trainers organization. As a member of an organization like the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) or the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association (IMATA), you will be able to keep up to date with the field and network with your peers. You will also get access to current news and literature about animal training and continuing education workshops to improve your knowledge and expertise.
- An association is also a great opportunity for networking and connecting with other trainers and potential employers.
- Apply for entry-level positions at a training facility. Once you have the necessary education and hands on experience, you may start to apply for entry-level positions. Depending on your interests, you may apply at a research facility so you can interact and observe with dolphins for scientific studies. Or, you may apply at an entertainment facility where you display dolphin behaviors to a crowd and share information on dolphins with the public.
- Keep in mind entry-level positions can be competitive, so apply to several open positions at once. Make sure your resume and cover letter showcase your strong skill set, including your education, your volunteer and intern experience, and your strong swimming skills.
- Consider applying for a position through your internship or volunteer program. Many volunteer programs and internships can lead to a full time position, so do not be afraid to use your existing contacts to your advantage. If you feel confident in your work through an internship or a volunteer program and there is an open position, let your supervisor know that you are strongly interested in working at the facility as a full time trainer.
- Be prepared to watch and learn from more senior trainers. Once you land an entry-level position, you will start by shadowing more experienced trainers and go through an extensive training period before you can perform more in depth training with the dolphins. Watching and learning from a more senior training will allow to become more familiar with the personalities of each dolphin and learn different training procedures according to the needs of the dolphin.
- Once you have shadowed and done several weeks of training, you will then feed and interact with the dolphin under the supervision of the senior trainers. Over time, you will be taught how to communicate with the dolphins through hand signals.
- As you become more senior as a dolphin trainer, you can train the dolphins in new behaviors and facilitate public interaction with the dolphins. The speed of your career as a dolphin trainer depends on your past experience, your level of comfort with dolphins, and your level of confidence in your knowledge and skills as a trainer.
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