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Sunday, June 18th, 11:30PM

When I arrived to help with tank cleaning at around 8AM or so, the makai (south) tank had already been drained, and chlorine had already been sprayed on the walls. I helped out with (very) thoroughly hosing the walls down and then we started filling up the tank. I was expecting a few of the other participants (Steve, Jon, and Stephanie) to come in and help with the cleaning, but as it turned out the chlorine process meant that we couldn’t get in and help scrub anyway. I gave Josh (another intern) a hand getting the fish ready for the morning session after we finished with the rinsing (morning sessions 1 and 2 are done all at once on weekends, making one big session). It actually took an awful lot longer to do the fish sorting than I thought when there’s only two of you and you’re working from a block of frozen fish thawing in the sink. I spent a good 20 minutes separating and sorting the kaplin fish from the frozen block. Quite to my surprise, Josh and I found out that technically speaking we weren’t supposed to be doing the fish duty without supervision, but we felt comfortable doing it by ourselves. It’s fairly basic stuff, and it’s hard to mess it up as long as you’re careful like we were. In any case, Allison and Lea were constantly checking in with us while they did other stuff, so if anything had come up, we could have asked them.

After fish duty, we were informed that we were short of people for the feeding session, so Josh and I would have to fill in as the trainers. Oh darn, I’m so upset. Oh, and since there’s only two of us, we’d also have to take two dolphins each. Oh, that’s just horrible. I mean, why would I ever want to be trainer to two dolphins, with double the number of normal fish, with full control of the session? WHOOO HOOO!

Josh is an intern who’d been here for about a month already, so he wasn’t new to training without another trainer. As for myself, I had never trained by myself before. All I had ever done were locals, where the trainer came up, assessed the dolphin’s mood, did some initial behaviors, and had me come up to take over. I know for a fact that participants normally DO NOT get to do what I was about to do. I was really lucky. Lea and Allison were right behind us while we did the session, so we were always supervised, but I actually initiated and ended the session by myself. I felt totally confident that I could do it. I think I’ve observed every single session since I’ve been here, and I doubt anyone could be more ready than I was for my first time alone. I guess Lea and Allison thought so too.

Hiapo and Elele at station
Working with two dolphins can be quite challenging (click for larger picture)
Surprisingly, it was a lot harder to actually start the session than I had thought. First of all, I was working with the dolphins in only half a tank of water (because of tank cleaning). Second, I had to get both Ellie and Hiapo to come to me. Eventually they figured it out and positioned themselves directly under me, squeaking and clicking away. I could tell on the first few behaviors that Ellie was in a great mood, whereas Hiapo was his typical lazy self. I would send them both off on a behavior such as a spiral swim or something, and Ellie would immediately start doing the behavior, while Hiapo just sat there and looked at me. Perhaps he didn’t understand that I was signaling to him too, but I thought he would have figured it out after I re-motioned the same behavior that Ellie was doing for the 3rd time. Most of the time, Ellie was already back at station when Hiapo decided to leave and do his behavior, and so Ellie ended up doing the same thing a few times. Combine that with Hiapo doing the behavior wrong a few times, and Ellie started to get a little annoyed at doing the same behavior more than a few times. I should have just used two hands to signal to them both, but oh well. They eventually figured it out. I only wish I could have asked them to do some jumps or something, but the water was only 3 or 4 feet deep so they couldn’t do a whole lot. I did a few motorboats (which they both did with lots of energy) and a few double rostrum twirls, and stuff like that. I was totally unloading the fish on them since I had to feed them both buckets full and I only had a few behaviors I could actually do with them. Tactiles were naturally out since I couldn’t even reach them down there, aerials were out since there wasn’t enough water, and there’s only so many swims that you can ask for.

One thing I have to remember for tomorrow’s session (my last local, called my Aloha) is not to be so quick to move towards the fish bucket. The dolphin is very unwilling to do another behavior if you’re constantly leaning towards the fish bucket when you don’t feed them. I’m hoping I can spend more time congratulating them on a good behavior with silent clapping and cheers and so forth before I actually reach for the bucket. I’m going to try not reacting at all until they pop their head up and are completely at station, and THEN I’ll go nuts. They seem to like it when people do that.

All in all, I think today’s session went fairly well and I enjoyed it a lot. I feel very fortunate that Allison and Lea had confidence in my abilities to let me do the session that way. Josh had mentioned to me that I was probably the most "gung-ho" person at the lab. Lea seemed to agree… I guess my efforts hadn’t gone unnoticed after all! I was flattered... =) Josh said I was the only person in the last two weeks who’d been there every day to help with everything. That included today, when I wasn’t scheduled to do anything but came in anyway, as well as yesterday when I managed to find the problem with Dr. Potter’s data-acquisition module. To tell the truth, I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than helping out at the lab. That might seem strange, being that I’m in Honolulu and all, but I just love being part of this whole facility and I can’t think of anything I’d prefer to spend my time doing.

Josh and I had a great conversation about possible ways of allowing the dolphins to interact with a computer. Dr. Potter had brought up the idea of using a gyroscopic mouse and equipping it with some kind of a mouthpiece where the dolphins could click it by biting down on it. A good idea, but likely will not work properly for an animal who cannot re-center the mouse every time it goes off screen (an annoying part of the gyroscopic mice). Still, it was an intriguing concept and I’m probably going to look into it further. Josh and I promised to keep in touch and to collaborate any ideas with each other in hopes of going to Dr. Herman or Dr. Pack with a proposal. That’d be a great reason to come back to the lab some other time at least.

After Josh and I had our session with the dolphins, Allison asked us if we could help to retrieve some bits of rusted pipe from the bottom of the clean dolphin tank. Naturally, the dolphins were still in the other tank since the tank in question was the tank we had just cleaned. I was more than happy to jump in, but Josh was a little hesitant at first. I suppose this was mostly because he didn’t have a swimsuit on, plus he had never been in the tank before, whereas I had swam in it last week. I had never been in a CLEAN tank before though. It was amazingly warm, as warm as a swimming pool, and every bit as clear and clean. It was deceiving at first, so much so that I forgot it was salt water when I first jumped in. The taste and burning of the eyes was my first reminder of the particularly high salt content of Hawaiian sea water. We stayed in there for about 15 minutes or so and played Frisbee and basketball, just for the heck of it. We couldn’t transfer the dolphins over until the other tank was up to the right water level anyway, so it was better to be swimming than sitting around. It’s funny, I think I’ve spent more time swimming in the dolphin tanks than I’ve spent swimming in the actual ocean while I’ve been here. Same water I guess, just no jagged rocks to hurt your feet on. I only wish we could have let Ellie or Akeakamai in with us… those two seemed real interested in what we were doing.

Later in the afternoon, I decided to head over to a facility called Sea Life Park, over on the Eastern side of the island in Waimanalo. I had heard about it from a few of the staff at the lab, one of whom actually worked there part time. They described it as sort of a miniature Sea World, with a much different atmosphere from the Dolphin Institute. I decided I'd be disappointed if I didn't at least check it out, so I caught a bus over at Ala Moana Center and grabbed the bus that headed to Sea Life Park. The bus ride was worth it all by itself. It takes a very scenic route through the Hawaiian hills and past a number of small towns by the ocean, although after the hour and a half long trip I was ready to get off.

When I arrived, I walked up to the admission counter and bought a ticket. The lady in the booth was surprised I even wanted to go in, since after 3:00, all the feeding sessions were finished and nothing much happens. I knew that if I didn't go in now, I would never come back, and I told the lady that. She was nice enough to give me a discounted admission from the rather steep $12 you would normally pay since I was going in so late. As soon as I stepped in, I knew I was in for a commercial experience.
Dolphin Cove
Dolphin Cove was an impressive habitat
I was surrounded by one of those manufactured tropical attmospheres you get in cheap hotels that try to be tropical by putting in a few palm trees and covering everything in bamboo. That's what this place looked like, but I suppose that's not too much of a surprise. I slowly made my way through the facility, taking pictures of anything that seemed particularly interesting. One exhibit, the Living Sea, was quite well done, but lacked documentation about the animals in the tank. It was a large, circular tank with a windows all the way around, and a walkway that circled around it like a corkscrew. It was filled with all sorts of tropical fish, including sting rays and sharks. While the setup was beautiful, I couldn't help but think how many people would look at this marvelous display and not have any clue about the animals in the tank. At the Vancouver Aquarium, every tank from the biggest to the smallest have information plaques telling you everything about the animals in the tank, including everything from diet, to predetors, to what they look like. While there was SOME information, education definitely seemed to take a back seat to presentation in this particular facility, comparatively speaking.

One of the dolphin tanks, called Dolphin cove, was particularly impressive compared to tanks I've seen at other facilities.
Akeakamai spitting water
The Hawaii Ocean Theater was a typical "Sea World" type tank
It had been done up to look just like a tropical beach, with an old-style sailing ship sitting to the side and varous other separate holding tanks occupied the water around the ship. When I arrived, a group of people were in the water with staff from the facililty partaking in a program called "Dolphin Adventures". In this program, you're brought into the shallow water of discovery cove with a group of 6 or so other participants and introduced to the dolphins in the tank. While I can see how a program like this would appeal to many people, compared to what I'd been doing for the last two weeks, this was like watching flipper on TV. You got to "touch" them, meaning the trainer brought a dolphin over and everyone got to rub the dolphin's side. Then, everyone floats out to the middle of the tank and one of the dolphins jumps over everyone while someone takes a picture (which they sell to you afterwards). After that, you get to hold onto the dolphin's dorsal fin and they drag you through the water back to where you were at the shore. The in-water part takes about 15 or 20 minutes from what I saw (although I'm sure there's time taken for preparation and lecture), and costs $112. Afterwards, I talked with one of the participants while I was waiting for the bus. I asked her whether it was worth it, and she seemed to think it was, but she wished she could have been pulled through the water for a little while longer. She didn't feel it to be much of a "personal" experience, but she liked it all the same.

The other dolphin tank, the Hawaii Ocean Theater, is what I'd classify as a typical Sea World-style tank. It appeared about as large as one of the two tanks at the Dolphin Institute, but it was a bit deeper and had glass going all around it. It had seats going all the way around it like you would see at a theater, and there were smaller tanks at the back of the main tank with a number of other dolphins in them. I counted four dolphins in the main tank, and a few more in the back tanks.
Whalphin at Sea Life Park
Interesting looking dolphin, don't you think? She's actually half dolphin, half false killer whale! (click for larger picture)
Perhaps the most noticable thing to me was just how agressive the dolphins were being to each other. At the Dolphin Institute, it was rare (although it did happen occasionally) to see any of the dolphins being agressive towards each other.Here, I observed all kinds of squaks and head jerks (showing the dolphins were ticked off), and I saw a number of the dolphins seeming to "team up" on each other. It was quite strange, although for all I know it could be typical behaviour for these animals. Who knows, maybe I just caught these dolphins in a bad mood... =)

Probably the most interesting thing I saw during my visit was the worlds only whalphin. Yeah, that's what they call her, although I can't remember her actual name. She was born to both bottlenose dolphin and false killer whale parents, her mother a dolphin and her father a false killer whale. She is very interesting looking, a perfect mix between the two species, and to top it all off, she's had a calf of her own before! It's the only time that an animal has ever been conceived between species and remained fertile, or so I heard. She is just a little bigger than a bottlenose dolphin, and has very dark grey colouring with a slightly shorter and wider rostrum. She was very energetic during the "Dolphin Adventures", doing a number of jumps quite high in the air and just being plain enthusiastic towards anything she was asked.

Well, tomorrow’s my last day. I can’t believe how fast the time’s gone by. It’s going to be hard to leave, but I think I’ve made the absolute most of my time here. I don’t think I could have possibly spent any more time at the lab than I did, and I have a great collection of experiences I’m coming home with. Hopefully tomorrow can live up to the rest of my trip, so I can end my experience with even more memories.

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