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Learn how to become a dolphin trainer. Research the job description and the education requirements, and find out how to start a career in dolphin training.
Dolphin trainers are responsible for keeping the dolphins healthy, mentally stimulated and physically active while living in a captive environment. Trainers are often responsible for keeping the tank clean and providing nutritious meals. Although programs at zoos or aquariums use dolphins for public entertainment, they also usually try to incorporate a message of conservation awareness for dolphins and other marine mammals. Trainers may do this by providing commentary about dolphins and their habits during public shows. Work hours may be irregular since care is needed around the clock. Dealing with sick or injured dolphins is usually the most difficult aspect of this job.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree|
|Degree Fields||Biology, marine biology, zoology, animal science|
|Certification||CPR, first aid, scuba diving|
|Experience||Animal handling experience; senior-level trainer positions might require multiple years of work experience in the field|
|Key Skills||Swimming, communication, public speaking|
|Salary (2014)||$25,770 per year (Median for animal trainers)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, SeaWorld, O*Net Online.
Zoos and aquariums usually require that entry-level trainer applicants have bachelor's degrees. Because there are no undergraduate programs specifically in dolphin training, employers typically seek candidates with a degree in a life science, such as biology, zoology, marine biology or other animal-related fields.
These programs usually include courses in foundational sciences like biology, chemistry and physics. High-level mathematics may also be required. Courses specifically related to animals include animal behavior, zoology, and marine mammalogy and physiology. Oceanography, marine ecology, evolution and conservation courses are typically incorporated into marine biology programs.
Many aquariums or zoos with marine mammals require their animal trainers to be scuba certified. Individuals can complete basic scuba diver certification or take additional courses to gain certification as rescue divers or master scuba divers. The first portion of most basic scuba courses involves classroom or online courses, along with tests. The final part involves the applied portion of the training, where students learn how to use scuba equipment in a pool and/or in open water locations, among other skills.
Depending on where and how much experience was acquired, trainers may begin by shadowing more experienced trainers or complete a training period before they are allowed to perform more complex behavior training with the dolphins. Trainers can advance to senior-level positions as they get to know the dolphins under their care and as training techniques are refined and mastered. Trainers might work in aquarium settings or in a natural ocean environment.
Marine mammal trainers and animal keepers may join organizations, such as the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) or the International Marine Animal Trainers' Association (IMATA). Members have opportunities to read current news and literature about the field, make professional connections with other trainers and attend voluntary continuing education workshops.