Day 11
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Thursday, June 15th, 8PM

I can’t believe it. After today, I only have two more days at the lab not including weekends. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the last few days, but it’s hard to think that this will ever end.

I had a local with Phoenix today, and it went fairly well. Unfortunately, the trainer I had was definitely better suited to training with interns rather than participants like myself. He definitely was focusing more on what I was doing wrong and didn't seem as patient with my questions as some of the other trainers had been. I guess he was just in a bad mood... oh well, I can understand that.

I tried not to let the trainer's attitude ruin my enjoyment of the session, and for the most part I succeeded. I did a number of nifty behaviors today that I hadn’t done before, including a little mimicry (although I didn’t use the hand signal because I wasn’t allowed to).
Steve "picking up" Akeakamai
Steve "picks up" Akeakamai. This is one of my favorite behaviours (click for larger picture)
I turned backwards, Phoenix waved her pecks at me, so I turned backwards again, and sure enough she did the same. I waved my hand while facing backwards, and she did the same. I waved my other hand, and she did the same. I turned around in a circle, and she did that too. I waved my foot in the air, and she waved her tail in the air. She really seemed to like the mimicry, and I’ll probably try to do it again with the next dolphin I work with to see how they act out the same moves.

I tried a couple of other neat behaviours too, including rostrum twirl (where they put their rostrum on your hand and spin around), snob swim (head high in the air while they swim around), whistle, click, blow kiss (where they back up and when you blow them a kiss they dive backwards), bubble rings (apparently Phoenix is the best at this), and pick up dolphin (probably my favorite move now). Phoenix wasn’t in the best of spirits today, but I’m betting that’s because my trainer started her off in a seemingly non-energetic fashion. Combine that with being thrown commands from a newbie like me, and I can see why she wasn’t too thrilled with the situation. I tried my best to keep her interest with new commands this time, but I still forgot almost everything I wanted to do when I actually got up there. I seem to forget everything when an animal that cute looks me right in the eye waiting for me to ask something of them… =)

After my local (which was in the first session), I was kept busy in either lectures (sperm whale and dolphin language discussion) or helping to verify humpback whale data. I was also decision timer for the cross-modal session with Hiapo and Elele. Elele wasn’t in the mood for the cross-modal stuff today. Tim, a rather quiet English fellow with a great skill for dolphin training, wouldn't send Elele over when Dr. Pack asked him to because she was totally not interested in doing the trial. A few times she head bobbed quite violently when she was asked, so Dr. Pack told Tim to do a few behaviors with her. A few times she just drifted away from the makai-makai station to the middle of the tank, grinning away with her mouth barely open. She’s such a little brat. Tim knew she was just trying to play around, so he didn’t give her a time out or anything. Even though she wasn’t into doing it, she still got 5 out of 6 trials right, including two "none of the above" responses.

Of all the stuff I did today, I think the coolest was when I videotaped a training practice session for an intern named Rachel. I had video taped one of her sessions a few days ago, and I definitely think she’s gotten better since her last time. I started taping the session not knowing anything about what she was supposed to do with Akeakamai.
Akeakamai spitting water
Akeakamai does the mermaid behaviour (sort of)
Usually, the interns are given some kind of task to accomplish during their sessions and they’re observed by the intern supervisors while they attempt it. In this case, Rachel was supposed to have Ake bring a foam Frisbee from station to the scupper, leave it there, and come back to station. Robert was there along with one of the other intern supervisors (I don’t remember her name) acting as Rachel's supervisors.

Rachel tried a few things first, like asking Ake to swim over to the scupper (a lower section of the wall where the dolphins often do a behavior called mermaid) and she’d blow the whistle when Ake was beside it. Then she threw in a big foam Frisbee and told Ake to do a peck carry swim with it. She then took it to the next level and asked Ake to do a peck carry swim but she pointed to the scupper after the sign. Ake swam over doing a peck carry, but came back to station after doing a half loop. She then tried telling her the same thing, but this time she threw a fish near the scupper. Ake was confused by that one, and ended up dropping the Frisbee before she even reached the scupper. After that, Rachel tried running over to the scupper when Ake was doing a swim, but Ake just lost track of where Rachel was and went back to station. Rachel called Ake over to the scupper and she went there, but naturally she didn’t see any significance to this command.

Akeakamai was definitely getting a little frustrated at this point but was still quite attentive, waiting very patiently while Rachel defended her ideas with the supervisors and thought of new ones. She was ready to give up, when she decided to send Ake over for a mermaid at the scupper. Ake went over and did it, and when she came back to station, Rachel sent her on another swim to the scupper. When Rachel blew the whistle as Ake went by the scupper, I guess Ake figured out what she was being asked to do. She jumped up out of the water to come back to station, and popped her head out of the water and started clicking and whistling. She knew what to do now. Rachel gave the peck carry swim hand signal one more time and pointed to the scupper. Right away Ake jumped under the water, flipped belly up under the Frisbee and swam over to the scupper, dropping it there and coming back. Rachel repeated the signal, and she did the same thing again! Akeakamai was very happy with herself and Rachel was as enthusiastic as she could be.

I have to say, when Ake figured it out, it was like someone hit a switch in her head. She was so excited that she knew what to do. You can tell she loved every minute of the whole process, from start to finish. Her unwavering attention during the whole session made it clear that she was interested in what was going on. This whole process truly made me believe that she loves learning new things.

Tomorrow might be my last local unfortunately. They’re trying to spread them out for each of the participants so each of us can have a whole session for ourselves. I mentioned that I would really like to have Elele for my last session and that I’d rather have it on Monday, but Alyssa didn’t seem too convinced either was possible. Oh well. Either way, it makes me sad to think I only get one last chance to work with the dolphins. I’d have better make the most of it…

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