Day 9
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Tuesday, June 13th, 9:30PM

Today we had some visitors from the Wall Street Journal come by to observe the facility. These people, husband and wife, are free-lance writers who often write about travel and stuff like that.
Dr. Herman and Journalists
Dr. Herman chats with some journalists from the Wall Street Journal (click for larger picture)
This time, they’re doing an article on alternative vacations, including the dolphin institute. They asked myself and the rest of the participants a lot of questions about why we came, where we were from, and how we found out about the facility. Strangely enough, it turns out that Rima, Stephanie, and I were the only ones that actually applied directly to the institute for the participant program. Everyone else went through a non-profit organization called Earthwatch that apparently has lots of other programs like this one, although not with dolphins particularly. The article is supposed to be printed in the first week of September, likely on the first Saturday in the "Encore" section of the Wall Street Journal. I’ll have to remember to pick up a copy.

Today I got a local with Akeakamai in the first session. I was more than ready for her energetic style… what I wasn’t ready for was the husbandry session going on with Phoenix in the same tank. Kerry, the trainer, was very supportive and was a great person to deal with, but she was definitely worried about losing control of Ake. More than once she told me to try to calm her down, when I didn’t see any real reason to do so. I suppose she did know better, but still, Ake was raring to go and I wasn’t going to calm that down. I did as many jumps and high energy moves I could with her, but certain points in the husbandry session with Phoenix meant I had to keep the waves down. Too bad, I could tell Ake was more than willing to give a show. She did very well though, and I had a blast working with her, but I wish I could have done more.

Akeakamai close up
A close shot of Akeakamai (click for large picture)
I can see now what people mean when they say that Akeakamai is fish motivated. Nearly the whole time she was pointed right at the fish bucket, and I had to continually move her attention to me. She wasn’t as loud as I thought she’d be either. Most of the other dolphins are quite vocal compared to Ake, but I guess that’s because I wasn’t particularly challenging her. I gave her a Frisbee to twirl around once, and she did that fairly well, but probably the best move she did was the stomach push move. She jumped completely out of the water in front of me and absolutely soaked me when she came down. It was cool of her to be so spontaneous; I was not expecting that kind of energy at all at the time. I hope to work with her again to try a few combos. She is, after all, the smartest "non-human" on the planet… =)

As part of the tour for the Wall Street Journal people, Dr. Herman and Dr. Pack demonstrated a number of things that we don’t see in regular sessions. Certain behaviors are put on "hold" to prevent the dolphins from getting confused when too many people use them and re-enforce the wrong things. This keeps the dolphins idea of the behaviors fresh for when they have to use the behaviors for research. As a result, certain things like creativity, tandem (meaning do something together with another dolphin), and some others specifics aren’t used in the regular training sessions. Dr. Herman demonstrated the cross-modal paradigm with Elele and Hiapo, the language paradigm with Akeakamai, the object-absence paradigm with Akeakamai, and the tandem/tandem-creative with Phoenix and Akeakamai. The language thing showed that Akeakamai could understand the difference in sentence syntax, meaning she can understand the difference between "take the left Frisbee to the surfboard" and "take the surfboard to the left Frisbee". It was really cool to see her do all those things right away and so enthusiastically. You could tell she was enjoying doing it.
Ellie being cute
Ellie showing her playfull side. She just popped up out of the water in between sessions and did this. (Click for larger picture)
Dr. Pack was training Ake, and I’ve never seen Akeakamai so relaxed and interested. Dr. Pack is very VERY precise in his hand signals, so there’s little chance of Ake confusing them with something else, and he’s very good at reading her moods and showing her encouragement. Dr. Pack wasn’t particularly vocal, but he made it clear when he was happy with what she did. Strangely enough, Ake got nearly all of the object-absence questions wrong. Dr. Herman was very surprised about that. In this paradigm, Ake had to say either yes or no to whether there was an object present. He says that normally, she gets them all right, but today she was having a little trouble I guess. Oh well, no one’s perfect, even the world’s smartest dolphin.

I asked Dr. Herman if I could get any pictures of the demo, but he said we shouldn’t take pictures of research since it could be interpreted in the wrong way. I was surprised to hear that, since all the stuff they showed us today was already published and released to the public anyway. I’ll ask him again on Thursday, when some other guy is coming from Singapore and they’ll probably give another demo.

I did get lots of great pictures today… the water was so blue it was hard not to take pictures. One in particular is absolutely great, with Ellie looking up at the camera with her mouth open. Actually, if you look at the picture (seen above), you can see she's looking at me. I wonder if she wants me to give her the ball again? Does she even remember? Her mouth is open like it was when I mistakingly gave it to her the first time...

Oh well. It makes a great picture anyway. Darn, I shouldn’t have signed that agreement not to sell pictures… =)

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