June 6th, 10:20 PM
Today was the best day of my life. Really. I have no idea how Im going to put into words what I experienced today. I cant really. Ill start from the beginning
I got up at 6:15 AM so I had lots of time to get ready. We left the house (Sean, Colin, Jane, Zelecia, Katie, Steve and myself) at about 7:30 to head for the bus. "The bus", as its called here in Hawaii (its actually written on the side), was very well filled when we got in, but we still managed to get seats in the back. It was my first time in an air-conditioned bus; a welcome thing in the 85 degree heat with me dragging a hundred pounds of laptops and camera equipment around with me. I think Ill leave the laptop at the house tomorrow.
The facility is right smack dab in the middle of a marina and a beach, with a single road running beside it heading towards the marina and some parking. The ocean appears to be all around it on the diamondhead side (a Hawaiian custom, showing direction towards the diamondhead volcano). The surf was pounding all around on the shore as it ran through the shallow reefs out in the beach that surrounded the facility. This was definitely a unique facility, no question about it. We found our way to the front door, and rang the doorbell. We could hear dolphins squeaking occasionally in the background, including Hiapo (I think) whistling his usual signature whistle. Someone came and opened the door for all of us, and our experience had started.
We walked into the facility, taking in everything we could as we walked to the sort of main mauka (north) area of the facility. We walked by the mauka tank, seeing at first nothing but a couple of light green windows in the side of the mauka tank (front tank). Soon enough, two of the dolphins were there to check us out. Sean, being the only one of us who knew anything about the dolphins, was quick to go up to the tank and say hi. Us new participants werent supposed to interact with the dolphins until we knew how to react to their signs of aggression (sudden head bobbing mostly). Sean was playing the "gravity" game in the window with the two dolphins, where he would drop a ball from the top of the window and the dolphins would follow it right to the bottom. I guess they like it, at least according to a few people I asked. It was really hard not to go up to the window and try to play with them too. They really are incredibly cute animals. I found myself saying things like that out loud, but I could tell that I wasnt the only one who thought that way.
Slowly others started to show up and give us intros into the various parts of the facility. Scott gave us all the full tour, showing all the offices, the tower, the back lanai (deck), the fish room, the conference room, and all the rest. After that, we met over in the front lanai area for pre-session and introduction to everybody that would be working there that day. After all 20 or so people had introduced themselves (and yes, thats a lot of people for the size of the facility), they very quickly listed the people assigned to the 2 morning sessions. Naturally, we werent on the list, since we had no idea how to do anything at that point.
The first session was really cool to watch. Naturally, I had never seen anyone work with these animals before given I hadnt even seen a bottlenose dolphin an hour before this. The two trainers we could see from the back lanai were doing traditional session stuff with two of the dolphins, jumps, rolls, summersaults, etc. The first thing I noticed was just how vocal both the trainers and the dolphins were, especially the dolphins. I was used to the Vancouver Aquarium where the animals did their maneuver and came back silently, but not these guys. They were very very loud, not that Im complaining. It was probably the coolest sound Ive ever heard - so complex yet so simple at the same time, all those clicks and whistles. The trainers were constantly yelling "yeaaaaay! That was great! My goodness!" and similar phrases whenever the dolphins did something right. Its really cool to watch it too. If one of the dolphins does something with lots of energy and really puts an effort into it, theyre really obviously proud of themselves when they come back to their trainers, squeaking and clicking loudly (especially Pheonix, who seems particularly loud).
During the first and second sessions, they did a cross modal research session, or echolocation study, with Elele and Hiapo (the kids, as theyre called, since theyre only 15 years old). They put an object into a black box with a plexi-glass front (which is also blacked out) and tell the dolphin to figure out which object is inside the box by choosing from a list of choices above the water. The term "cross modal" refers to matching objects between senses, in this case, sight and echolocation. The possibilities are held out on the side of the tank above the water by a few people (wearing blacked out goggles so the dolphin cant see their eyes), and the dolphin has to choose one based on what it saw using its echolocation. Elele only missed one out of 6 or 8 trials, and Hiapo missed only one as well out of 5 or so trials. Eleles trials included very complex objects constructed out of PVC plastic and included three possible answers and a bobber used to show none of the above. Elele missed one once, but you could tell she wasnt totally sure about whether or not to chose the one that was actually in the box. She went past the first two without pause, but she did kind of a double take on the correct answer. Nonetheless, she chose the none of the above. Oh well. She did very well other than that one. Hiapos trials only included simple objects, like a big round metal dish and a clay pot and only two possible answers instead of three with the none of the above. Dr. Adam Pack told me there were differences in how each dolphin did the test because Elele had been doing it for a very long time, while Hiapo was fairly new to it and they were warming him up to it.
The other research they did in the sessions was called angular resolution tests. In that one, they position sets of 4 and 2 plastic bars closer and closer together
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