Day 8
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Monday, June 12th, 8:30PM

I arrived around 9:30 or so and the first tank had already been cleaned. Mattias did the first tank as early as possible since the treatment they were using this time required the person doing it to wear a full rubber suit. He tells me those suits can get kind of hot when you’re in Hawaii, and I don’t doubt it. Strangely enough, the acid treatment they did meant that only one person can even do the tank cleaning anyway, so all the people who told us to come in and help out obviously weren’t aware that the acid treatment was being done. It wasn’t a total loss though. I did get to help feed the dolphins for the morning session.

Whenever they do tank cleaning, they drain the tanks to just below the level of the middle channel and, with the big wooden wall in place, they completely drain one tank for cleaning while the dolphins stay in the other half-full tank. They didn’t seem to mind much being kept like that for a little while, although I could tell they were starting to get tired of one another (the girls and the kids are usually in different tanks when they have their choice). Apparently, they used to leave the gate in place at all times to keep Hiapo and Elele and Akeakamai and Phoenix in different tanks, so I guess they got used to that sort of a situation and they seem to prefer to be in those couples when they can be.

Since the dolphins were in relatively shallow water (due to tank cleaning), we obviously couldn’t ask much of them during feeding, only small swims and spins. We couldn’t even ask for tactiles because we couldn’t reach them over the tank walls. Oh well. Mostly it was just a mass feeding session, where we just kept handing them fish for anything they did. Ellie was definitely the most energetic once again out of all of them. I guess I could be a little biased though, ‘cause I was the one feeding her (lucky me!!). She did everything I asked of her, and even tried to interpret the times I moved my arms around to see her better (she was quite a ways down there). I only remembered a few things to ask her though, and I could tell she was getting bored of them, but she did keep doing them, a few times even adding in things to keep me interested (or so it seemed). Once I asked for her to turn on her belly, and once she did she put her head up so I could throw the fish in her upside-down mouth. A few other times she just decided to do something to earn a fish. Once, while I was thinking of something to ask of her, she did a water spit and started whistling. I pointed at her and said, "I hear you!", being as enthusiastic as I could. I love it when she does stuff like that. It doesn’t seem like much when you read about it, but when she does it in front of you, you just get blown away. She’s actually offering YOU something. It is so neat.

I continued the session, doing whatever came to mind, like spiral swim, back swim, spin in place (which actually I know now I should have asked for a pirouette), blow bubbles, sing, pec wave, and stuff like that. I should have done a few more combinations, but I guess it doesn’t matter. The other people didn’t seem to be doing much with their dolphins anyway, or at least I was the only one I heard being particularly vocal in my re-enforcement. Maybe I was just blocking everything else out because I was having such a good time. Although I didn’t see her do this today, Ellie likes to end her maneuvers in a grand fashion, with her body perfectly upright, completely silent, like she’s bowing before the applause. When you react to her action with the silent claps and cheering (we can’t actually make any noise when we clap, since it sounds too much like a "callback"), that’s when she starts whistling and comes towards the tank wall for her reward. I haven’t seen any of the others do anything like that yet. They usually just come up whistling right away. I think if I get to work with Ellie again, I’ll hold off my congratulation until I see her doing the "bow".

When they had brought the water level back up to halfway in the clean makai tank, it was time to let the dolphins into that tank. Mattias and I lifted the big wooden gate out of the slot and handed it off to Jane and Collin.
The beach beside the lab
Not a bad beach considering it's literally 10 steps from the lab's front door (click for larger picture)
I motioned to Ellie and Hiapo to head on over, and they quickly slid across the shallow channel. Ake and Phoenix weren’t so easy to convince. We spent a few minutes trying to motion for them to come over (at least, I did). While I did this, Ellie and Hiapo sat in the nice clean tank at the end of the channel, looking over at Ake and Phoenix to see why they hadn’t come over yet. Eventually, Ake and Phoenix decided together to just slide on over, and we put the wall back in place. The difference between the two tanks was amazing. The clean tank was a bright, sparkling blue with clear water, while the dirty tank had greenish-coloured, murky water from all the algae build-up. Other facilities use chlorine to prevent algae from building up, but at the lab, they believe that chlorine is not a good thing for the dolphins. Instead, they continually pump fresh sea water in from the ocean beside the facility and clean the tanks every week to keep the algae from building up. Apparently, the algae isn't anything that can hurt the dolphins particularly since it exists in large quantities in the wild as well, it just makes the tanks look a little ugly. The acid treatment makes the tank walls a little bluer in colour than just brushes alone. Apparently, they only do the expensive special acid treatment they did today a few times a year, and usually only when important people come to visit so that the tanks look the best for those people. They do clean the tank very thoroughly every week with brushes though.

I didn’t spend the whole day at the lab today. The rest of the participants had reserved all of us to go parasailing, but the 2:30 appointment we had for whatever reason was already full and we had to wait ‘till 4:30. I walked around with Zelecia and Katie to the Ward Center mall where I bought a few presents for my family. Afterwards, I went swimming at the beach beside the lab, the first time I had done so since I had arrived (quite pathetic, I know). I was actually quite surprised to discover just how many lava rocks were scattered around in the sand of the beach. It made it rather painful on the feet to walk around, but the water was quite nice. Very salty, and it hurt your eyes a little, but you float very well and it’s very warm.

I highly recommend parasailing to anyone going to Hawai'i. The view was great! (click for big pic)
The parasailing trip was lots of fun. I had already been parasailing twice when I was younger, but everyone else there had never been before. The company we used had a 6 cylinder turbo diesel flat-backed bow-rider boat so we could start the sail right from the boat. They suspend the parasail above the boat, attach you to the sail, and they let the line out. I went tandem with Jon, one of the lab participants. He’s a good guy from New York, rather quiet but always ready to add some kind of humerous remark into the conversation. We were the last ones to go, so I guess the guy driving the boat wanted to give the others a show. He dunked us at least 3 times, which didn’t bother Jon or me at all. We made it clear that the dunking wasn’t a problem, being the macho men that we are… =) The view was great. It’s amazing just how blue the ocean is here when you’re flying above it.

Apparently, there’s someone "important" coming tomorrow to see the lab, so that could explain the reasoning behind using the special, expensive acid treatment for tank cleaning. I’m hoping the next few days will include some demonstrations to show some of the things the dolphins can do but they normally don’t incorporate into daily sessions due to research restrictions. I’m hoping to see things like asking about the absence of an object in the tank, the creativity sign where the dolphins do whatever it is they want to, and the tandem sign where two dolphins do the same maneuver together (even with the creative maneuver). Any stuff like that would be very cool to see.
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