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Sunday, June 11th, 12:50AM (Saturday night)

Weekends at the lab are much less formal than weekdays. When I arrived at 11AM, there was only something like 3 or 4 people there, most of whom actually live there full time. On weekdays, there’d often be 20 some people at the lab, so having so few people around was sort of strange. They only have 2 feeding sessions on weekend days, but the dolphins get the same amount as they normally would because they double number of fish for the two sessions.

Scooters and bikes
Scooters and bikes in Hawai'i are almost as common as cars.
Sean, our house monitor guy, was going to train in the afternoon session, so we went to the lab together. He’s actually a cool guy. He’s from New York, he’s into fitness and was working as a personal trainer while he was here working as a volunteer at the institute. Not a bad deal if you ask me. He gets free accommodations in exchange for keeping up the house and keeping an eye on the participants, and he still gets to come in a few times a week and train the dolphins. Unfortunately, one day on his way to work on his scooter, someone decided to open their door into him. The ground proved to be a little unforgiving and he ended up breaking his collar bone. Now he has lost the use of his left arm and has to go home to New York as a result. He’d been here for 10 months already, but he had hoped to stay a lot longer.

Sean has been great in describing some of the things the lab has done for research. They’ve done a bunch of studies into language, and actually trained Phoenix with an acoustic language relating to objects and actions. The problem was that when Phoenix tried to respond to questions, no real time response was possible since humans can’t hear into a dolphin’s full acoustic range and you’d need a computer to analyze the sound to give you an answer for it. Eventually, she just got bored of the lack of interaction and didn't want to do it anymore. They also trained Ake with a gestured language relating to objects, and Ake could actually respond to whether an object was present or not present. In one example, when asked to bring the Frisbee to the person, and there was no Frisbee in the tank, she actually brought the person to the "no" paddle without ever being trained to do that. Sean says that without a doubt it’s commonly assumed that Akeakamai is the smartest, or at least most educated, non-human on the planet. Apparently people have tried to recreate the experiments done in this lab without any success at all. I guess this facility’s training philosophies are better or the dolphins are just more eager to do things. Whatever it is, this is definitely the worlds most respected and advanced dolphin research facility. I feel very lucky to be part of it for even a short time.

One of the new interns, Rachel, asked if I could film her "training practice" session for her. Since I had nothing better to do, I said it’d be no problem. I was actually hoping that the informal style of the day would allow me to maybe help out with the feeding somehow, but I guess that was always a long shot. Oh well, maybe some other time.

You could see that Rachel hadn't done many of these types of sessions. She was working with Phoenix, who had been having trouble doing front and back summersaults properly, so Rachel’s "task" was to have her do a front summersault and then immediately after do a back summersault. Interns are assigned these tasks as part of learning to become a trainer. She spent nearly the whole session working on it, but you could tell that Rachel wasn't totally confident in what she was doing while trying to complete the task. She didn’t seem to be making the right decisions for what to tell Phoenix to do to complete the routine properly. She spent close to a half-hour trying different things unsuccessfully, only to have her supervisor walk in and get Phoenix to do it the first time. To be fair though, Rachel had already given Phoenix a good idea of what she wanted her to do, so the trainer was just finishing off the routine. As with many things, I’m sure something like this takes a while to get good at, and it's easy for me to stand there and criticize while she actually had to do it.

Sean and I decided to stick around and have a barbecue with a bunch of the guys from the lab in the front lanai section. It was dark when we got back from Safeway with the stuff we needed, which was quite a change from the normal blazing sun of the daytime that I was used to.
Three dolphins say hi
The dolphins say "hi" (click for larger picture)
This is the time you want to come if you want to interact with the dolphins outside of sessions. They seem to come up to you at the side of the tank almost every time you step up to their level as opposed to only occasionally during the day. Brian, one of the people who lives at the lab, had is laptop there with a bunch of MP3s playing music rather loudly most of the night. The dolphins came and went from the front windows depending on what music was playing, or so it seemed. Ellie seemed particularly interested in what we were doing, constantly trying to get our attention by whistling and clicking rather loudly at us. I guess she thought she had to be loud in order to be heard over the music.

A number of times all four dolphins came up to the windows for some attention, an extreme rarity during the day. Now it seemed like they always wanted attention, just to kind of hang out with you with no other reason than just for the company. They’d kind of float there beside me with their eyes half closed and would whistle and click at me softly.. Quite a few times tonight I saw Akeakamai or Elele lift their pectoral flipper up in the air like they were waving at me. Sean thought they probably learned that from us humans, since we are always waving at them. It’s neat when you get to interact with the dolphins in that way, when you know they have no other reason to do it than just to be with you.

Sean and I decided not to follow the rest of the guys to the nuddie bars (it was Brian’s birthday) since both of us expected to be up rather early in the morning. So much for that idea, it’s already 1:30 and I’m still typing this journal. Anyway, instead we went up with some of the lab’s residents to watch "Two to Tango" in the conference room.
Brian gets his birthday cake
The staff at the lab made Brian a cake for his birthday, which he was happy to share with us. He wouldn't share his Coronas, though... =)
It was actually a good movie. Afterwards, when we left the conference room, I noticed as I went by the tank that the water level seemed rather high. Sean agreed, so we informed Andrea (I think that was her name) about it. They don't chlorinate the water in the tanks (for the sake of the dolphins), but instead continually pump fresh sea water into the tanks. The great amount of sun that the tanks get causes algae to form, so every week they drain the tanks part way and clean them out one at a time. The cleaning schedule had been shifted by a few days in this case, so they decided to drain the tanks part way and then fill them again to clear some of the algae out and had forgot to turn on the drain until we walked out and noticed it. No big deal, it just meant the floors around the tank were a little flooded. It just looked kind of weird with the water at the exact same level as the walls. Oh well, the dolphins didn't seem to mind.

I think I’ll go back to the lab tomorrow. Steve and I were going to go to Pearl Harbor tomorrow morning, but he didn’t get too much sleep last night and wanted to do it another day. He went camping with a bunch of the girls from the lab to some bay where supposedly a bunch of dolphins go in the mornings. He didn’t see any dolphins though, and nothing really happened, so he said I didn’t miss a whole lot. Not like I could have gone anyway, I didn’t even know about it until he was already leaving to go.

They’re probably going to get sick of me at the lab, but who cares. I’m paying to be here so I can do lab chores in my free time if I want to… =)
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