Marine Animal Trainer

Have you ever taught a puppy to perform a trick -- perhaps to roll over or come when called?  Well, imagine if that 15 pound puppy was instead a 14,000 pound whale! And instead of rolling over on the carpet in the living room, you are trying to teach the whale to jump out of the water and over a rope upon command. While these examples sound very different, there are many similarities. Let’s take a look at the process!

How do you teach a 15 pound puppy to roll over? You break down the trick into steps and provide him with rewards. First you could gently turn the puppy on his side, say the command “roll over”, and give him a cookie as a reward. The puppy learns that when he performs the trick, he gets yummy treat. By repeating these steps, the puppy will eventually learn to roll over on his own. It is important to be patient as the puppy learns.

How do you get a 14,000 pound whale to jump 30’ out of the water over a rope and dive back into the water? A Marine Animal Trainer breaks down the trick into steps and rewards the whale with yummy treats. As with puppy training, this takes a lot of patience! Trainers at a popular marine theme park explain that the first step in teaching this trick is to start with the rope under water. If the whale swims over the rope, the trainer rewards the whale with a sound and a tasty treat. If the whale swims under the rope, the trainers don’t provide any reward. Over time, the whale learns that there is a link between the rope and the food. The whale begins swimming over the rope more often – and that’s when the trainers raise the rope! This process is repeated until the rope is outside of the water and the whale is jumping over the rope and back into the water.

In addition to teaching marine animals how to perform tricks that visitors to marine theme parks will find fun to watch, Marine Animal Trainers also teach the animals tricks that will make it easier for veterinarians to do medical exams. Marine Animal Trainers are responsible for the total health of the animals in their care. This includes, feeding, training, and caring for them when sick. But let’s not forget the scrubbing! The aquarium’s in which the animals live must be kept clean and healthy.

While being a Marine Animal Trainer does not require a degree, it does help when looking for a job. Some organizations will only hire a trainer if he or she has a bachelor’s degree (4 years) in animal science, marine biology, zoology, biology or a related field.

Those wishing to enter the field should seek internship or volunteer opportunities. Doing so will provide hands-on practice in working with marine animals, something which can’t be experienced in a classroom. Visiting research facilities, aquariums and marine exhibits can help those interested in the career to decide where they are interested in working.

Trainers must be physically fit. They work indoors and outdoors, often in extreme temperatures, depending on the type of animals in their care.  Marine Animal Trainers may specialize in working with a specific type of marine mammal, such as seals, sea lions, whales or dolphins. To be a successful Marine Animal Trainer, you need a Scuba diving certification, knowledge of marine life, experience caring for marine animals, people skills and an ability to work with a team.

Find Out More:
Learn more about the Role of a Marine Animal Trainer – These websites developed by Busch Gardens and the Vancouver Aquarium provide an introduction to animal training and career advice.

Keep up with Current News in the Marine Animal Training Field – Click the link below to access the International Marine Animal Trainers Association (ITMA) website and read current industry news.

Observe Marine Animals in Real Time through Live Cameras at an Aquarium – Click links below to watch marine animals at the Vancouver and Monterey Bay Aquariums.

Learn More about Scuba Diving –Marine Animal Trainers are required to have Scuba diving certification. Click the link below to read about the history of diving and different types of diving. There is also a video sponsored by PBS which describes how underwater life impacts the overall environment.

Learn how to Stay Safe when Observing Marine Animals in the Wild – This document developed by the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources provides helpful tips that can keep you safe when you encounter marine animals in the wild.

Learn about Marine Life from the Experts - Listen to audio podcasts to discover more about the ocean, marine animals and what it is like to work at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. With over 150 podcasts available, you are sure to find something of interest!

Learn More about Whales - Learn about the Blue Whale through an interactive program sponsored by National Geographic. Here you’ll be able to compare the size of the whale to other things (from a school bus to a human, etc.). This will give you a better understanding of its massive size!

For information about some of the many types of whales, explore the links below which are sponsored by the National Geographic:

Blue Whale:

Gray Whale:

Sperm Whale:

Humpback Whale:

Killer Whale:

Beluga Whale:

Explore this webpage sponsored by the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources includes pictures and descriptions of eight different types of whales.