Day 3
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Wednesday, June 7th, 9PM

Today was even more enjoyable than yesterday, or at least, very different from yesterday. I had spent yesterday getting the basics of the facility, and I used today to expand my knowledge and experiences further. All the new participants, including myself, had the fish-room lecture today, so we were there bright and early to get started.

We arrived at around 7:30AM or so, and immediately were directed into the fish-room to get started.
Boxes of fish for the dolphins
The dolphins get only the best restaurant-quality fish. From Canada too, eh? (click for bigger picture)
Obviously someone has to prepare the fish for the dolphins for each session, so that was what we were learning how to do today. Other than the fishy smell while your doing the job, it really wasn’t that bad. Much to my surprise though, you don't smell fish AT ALL in the room once you have all the fish put away, I guess 'cause it's so clean all the time. Dave had already defrosted the kaplin, sardines, and herring, we just had to sort out the ones with broken skin, missing eyes, or other problems and throw them out as rejects. Well, actually we were told they don’t get thrown out, but rather given to a sea turtle facility. I was working along with Katie weighing out the fish for the first two sessions, putting in a particular weight of kaplin, sardines, and herring. Each dolphin got a different amount of each fish too, but mostly they all got the same weight in the end.

I found out as well that they only buy restaurant-quality fish for the dolphins, meaning they’re the same fish you’d get served in a restaurant. How impressive! They give them a great deal of vitamins as well. I think we pulled out 6 different bottles of multi-vitamins, of which all but one (Seatabs) were the same ones humans take that you can buy at the drug store. Naturally we doubled their dosage since humans are about half the size of dolphins (the dolphins at the institute are about 8 feet long and weigh 300 to 400 pounds). Dave stuffed the vitamins into some fish through the gills until they were practically bursting, and then we all got to go out and feed the vitamin-packed fish to the dolphins. Other than the vitamin fish, the dolphins get about 5 and a half or 6 pounds of fish per session. That’s about 50 fish or so each session! After we were done feeding them the vitamin fish, we scrubbed down the fish room with comet cleaner, and went to pre-session to get our assignments for the morning.

My assignment for first session was to videotape an angular resolution session with Hiapo. I really like this experiment. I think it’s very relevant to the type of research that comes out of this facility, hopefully giving a better idea into just how precise a dolphin’s echolocation sense actually is. The experiment consists of two groups of vertical plastic pipes, one group of two and one group of four. The trainer puts eye cups on Hiapo before he is guided to the right place by his trainer. The experiment has the dolphin put it’s head into a ring a particular distance away, and using only echolocation, determine what side has the four plastic bars on it. They adjust the gaps between the groups of bars so as to make it harder to determine, and register Hiapo’s responses. Today he didn’t do that well, but I guess it’s a fairly difficult test for him.

In between first and second session, we were given another sign training session. It was fairly uneventful and we learned a few new commands, including getting a better idea of how to do combination behaviours. In particular, it’s a good idea to do the modifier command before the main command. For example, if you wanted the dolphin to do a spit swim, you would do the spit command first and then the swim command, not the other way around. This got me thinking about combinations I could try next time I had a local.

The second session was spent learning a few things about dolphin hearing biology and some evolution, hosted by Mattias. It was kind of interesting learning how a dolphin hears by way of two fatty channels that extend from the jaw/middle ear section to the front of the rostrum. Of course, that was only part of what we learned, but that’s all I can remember right now. We missed most of the actual dolphin session, but I don’t think they did a whole lot anyway.

Lunch was actually a fairly important time for me. I spent some time throughout the day watching how others were playing with the dolphins in between sessions, and became quite interested in trying it myself.
Playing with the dolphins between sessions
Playing with the dolphins between sessions (click for bigger picture)
I didn’t feel confident that I knew enough about what they wanted or how to read their moods, so I started paying attention to how others were doing it. I also found a great article in the binder Amy gave me at the lab, describing things about between session dolphin play. It’s actually quite easy to tell if any particular dolphin is bored and looking for something to do. They generally swim around the tank, squeaking and clicking, or if they’re particularly bored, they’ll even slap their tails or flippers against the water. It’s just as easy to tell if they DON’T want to be bothered, which is usually communicated by way of spitting water at you, head bobs, or squawks. I learned as well the most important difference from sessions and play, is you don’t use any hand signals during play other than possibly a point, and tactiles should be minimal at best.

I’m also trying to figure out what Hiapo is trying to say when he bobs his whole body up and down around the tank, and violently comes back down splashing whomever he is trying to look at (at least, I think he’s looking at them). I can’t figure out at this point whether he’s just looking at the person going by (since the tank wall is higher than water level and he has to look over it to see anyone walking by), or he’s trying to tell us to get lost. At this point, I think he’s trying to tell us to get lost, but I’ll keep watching to figure it out.

Once I finished reading the article, I felt like I could try playing with them a little. It was the middle of lunchtime and hardly anyone else was around other than a few occasional passers-by. The dolphins were quite obviously looking for something to do, at least Ake was being quite vocal about it. Someone had already put a bunch of buoys in the water for them to play with, and Ake was pushing one around the tank, squeaking for someone to play with her.

I ran into Mattias over by the back lanai on the ewa (pronounced eva, meaning west) side getting his hair cut (don't ask, I don't know either) by Erin, a rather friendly lady who gave us a sign lesson earlier.
Elele playing between sessions
Elele was constantly asking for attention between sessions.
I had a quick conversation with them about playing with the buoys, and stepped up on the platform in the ewa side of the makai tank to show Ake that I had heard her. I said, "Hey, how’s it goin’? You want someone to play with?" and just kept talking with her through the plastic guards they have going around the tank. In case you were wondering, the reason they have those guards going around the tank is to prevent the dolphins from falling out of the tank if they balanced too far on the edge (Ake, for instance, often "surfs" around very close to the edge of the tank).

As I stepped up, she squeaked and clicked a little, and so I put my arms over the guards slowly (I was told to NEVER put my hands THROUGH the guards, but rather over them) and moved the buoy that she had with her around a little. She had the buoy handle in her mouth at the time. She dropped it and opened her mouth a little, and thinking she wanted a little splash, I splashed her in the mouth (they seem to like that and I'd seen others doing it). When she poped her head through the plastic guards and invited a kiss, I gave her a little kiss on the rostrum. At this point, Pheonix, Ake’s closest companion, had come over to see what was going on. I guess I didn’t pay enough attention to Pheonix, ‘cause she got a little jealous. She actually came up and pushed my free left hand aside quite abruptly with the side of her rostrum, as if to say "how come you’re not playing with me?" Everything I had read said that if you ever encountered jealousy, you should walk away immediately and give them a 10 minute break or so to cool down. Poor Ake, she seemed to be enjoying things too. Next time I’ll be sure to play equally with both of them. Even though things didn't go so good this time, I felt like I had found a new and exciting way to interact with the animals.

In pre-session, I was told I’d be having another local that day in session 4, this time with Pheonix. I had watched a number of sessions with Pheonix, and she seemed at those times to be quite energetic and enthusiastic. I hoped she’d be a little more enthusiastic than Hiapo was yesterday. Hiapo seemed a little lazy, which most people seemed to think as well. I was quite excited about this one, having gained a lot of confidence yesterday with Hiapo, so I spent a while figuring out things I wanted to try with Pheonix, like different combinations and stuff like that.

I spent the third session helping the humpback whale research group enter in data into the computer. A little boring, but I was happy to help out. Besides, it’s what I was assigned to do for that session anyway.

Fourth session, Colin and I discussed the session we were going to have together. Colin decided to go first. He wanted to focus mostly on tactiles, since he felt the other stuff was too much like asking Phoenix to perform. I was quite the opposite, wanting to focus mostly on novel behaviours and combinations, hoping to challenge Pheonix a little. Colin went up and did his session with very little in ways of energy behaviors, although he had her do a few jumps and such. Our trainer, while obviously very experienced, didn't seem as outwardly energetic as some of the other trainers seemed to be. Colin also said very little, so poor Pheonix was, I’m sure, quite confused if she actually did something right or not. I knew I’d have to step up and try to fill in the enthusiasm gap.

When I stepped up, Pheonix was whistling loudly to welcome me (I guess). As usual, most of the things I had thought to try began to slip my mind, but somehow I remembered the one I wanted to try the most: backwards spiral/backwards swim. After doing a few simple ones, like wiggle and a few tactiles, I gave her the combination. She obviously didn’t know this particular maneuver, because she started to swim backwards, kind of slowly, I suppose trying to figure out what it was I wanted. She came back, I gave her a quick wait signal, and then did the combo instruction again. Again she just swam backwards, confused about what I was asking. The trainer told me to try it again, only this time we’d both do the instruction together. This time she swam backwards a little, and tried to spin a little, but didn’t do anything really different. That’s when the trainer showed me that I can show Pheonix myself, by starting her spinning by turning her rostrum, but we couldn’t get her spinning fast enough to really demonstrate properly and we just gave up. Poor Pheonix was quite frustrated by this point. I tried to make it up to her by asking for a spin jump, which she did quite well. She was quite vocal about that one when she came back, and I tried to be as enthusiastic as I could be. The session went on for about another 5 minutes after that, although Pheonix seemed a little out of touch and didn’t really put a whole lot of effort into much. Maybe she was just frustrated. In any case, next session I’m going to ask to be beside the fish bucket, because Pheonix would continually look over at the trainer instead of me since they were the one handing me the fish. Oh well. It was still a good session and I enjoyed it a lot.

After the session was over, people began to leave. I had no desire to leave yet, so I stuck around for a while to see if the dolphins wanted to play at all. Sure enough, a little while after the session, Hiapo and Elele were looking for some attention. I decided I should probably head back to the house soon, so I washed off a 1 foot diameter inflatable rubber/plastic ball and stood up to the guards with it. I had seen a ball similar to this one in the tank at lunch hour, and since my task for the week was dolphin toy monitor, I thought I'd give the dolphins something to play with. Little did I know that the ball I was about to give them wasn't supposed to be in the tank at all in between sessions or over night. Elele, who was casually swimming through the middle of the tank at the time, saw the ball and immediately started heading for me. She came over and opened her mouth. At first I thought she was expecting a fish or something, but then I realized, she just wants me to give her the ball. Sure enough, I dropped the ball into her open mouth, and she started to throw it up in the air a little bit. It was just too cute. She began to swim away with it, so I kind of stepped back and watched for a while before I intended to leave. Someone came passing by and saw Elele with the ball, and told me that we couldn’t leave that ball in the tank overnight ‘cause she could puncture it and one of the dolphins might (under some remote possibility) end up eating it.

Naturally, getting the ball back was going to be a problem, especially since Elele seemed quite aware that we wanted it back and had no desire to bring it back. She was having too much fun swimming around under water with it in her mouth, and just generally parading around the tank showing off. I went over to her and asked for her to please bring it back. She thought about it, and started over with it, but got distracted by another person trying to get her to come over too. We decided to ignore her for a while to see if she got bored with it. We could have easily just taken it away, but that undoubtably would tick her off, and we don’t want her to think we’re being mean.
Elele being a brat movie frame
Elele teases me with the ball she knows we want back (click for a quicktime movie, 2.7MB)
She has to willingly give it to us.

One time I managed to get her to come right up next to me in the middle gated section with the ball in her mouth.I talked to her softly, telling her I needed it back,and I slowly reached through the guards and touched the ball. As soon as she felt the touch, as I knew she would, she quickly pulled the ball away. Right after that, I asked again, "come one Ellie, please? Please can I have it back? I did give it to you, you know…", and she actually pushed it up against the guard. I began to slowly reach for it again, and again she pulled it away. There were now about ten people trying to get this ball back. Eventually the general consensus was that we needed fish to get her to bring it back. A few people came from the fish room with a couple fish to get the job done. All the dolphins came up very quickly when they saw the fish, except Ellie. She knew we wanted the ball back an she wasn’t giving it to us, that brat. The other three dolphins got their fish, and that got Elele’s attention since she was the only one who didn’t get a fish. She dropped the ball and went over with her mouth open for the fish. Right then someone tried to scoop the ball up with a net, but Elele saw that too and came back quick to prevent it.

Right after that, she realised that she wouldn’t get any fish unless she brought the ball back, so she brought it back and she got her fish. It reminded me so much of my boxer dog Tyson, who takes things and runs off with them on purpose when he knows you want it back. I felt like an idiot afterwards, doing such a preventable mistake like that and having everyone know that it was me. Oh well, everything worked out in the end.

At least I don’t have to get up particularly early tomorrow, only 7:00 this time.

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