Friday, May 25th, 2001
It's hard to think that today was the last full day we'd have. It's just like last year; you finally get used to the routine, you're getting better at working with the dolphins, and you end up leaving right at that point. I wish I had the money to stay on for a month instead of the two weeks, but the last two weeks have been so great it doesn't really matter that I'm leaving. It's just a bummer that I can't enjoy this amazing experience for a little while longer.
As I expected, all the leaving participants had their aloha locals with the dolphins today. The only ones of us who didn't were Sophie and Emamuelle, who are staying on for another two weeks (those lucky bums). Geoff and I didn't have our locals until the afternoon, so we were kept busy helping with research. I was TAA for cross modal with Phoenix, where my job was to hand objects to the people that would display them to Phoenix during a trial. That's actually a harder job than it seems, because the objects are usually quite complex PVC objects with two letter names you have to memorise. Which one is TC? Oh yeah, that long one with three arms that come out in front... Which one is SC? Oh yeah, that's the scorpion, the angled looking one... I actually like the challenge of it.
I was also reaction timer for angular resolution with Hiapo, who was doing quite well today. We had a wager going on how many timeouts we'd have to put Hiapo on during the trials. I guessed one, but Brian was the winner with two. Hiapo is quite funny actually. He can be right into what he's doing, like he was today, and he'll then just suddenly shift gears and take off from station towards the gate to check out the girls. I'd say he's very hormonially driven... =)
One other time Hiapo swam away with his eye cups on. They use these during angular resolution tests to prevent him from using his eyes to see the bars and so therefore must use his echolocation to find the correct answer. He can pop them off whenever he wants (they're just soft suction cups that cover his eyes), but he seems to actually like having them on. It was funny to see him today, swimming around the tank with these white eye cups on, just for the sake of having them on. Most people who don't know about a dolphin's echolocation ability would think this would mean he would swim into the tank walls or something, but he has absolutely no problem navigating around, even into the narrow channel without hitting the gate.
Geoff and I had our Aloha locals in third session of the afternoon. We were originally scheduled to be with Phoenix and to be trained by Chris, and Mike was to have Akeakamai. Phoenix is great and all, definitely my favorite for window play, but I had been with her the last two times and was hoping to have Ake for my final session. I talked to Mike and he was fine with switching dolphins to accomodate this. I was first up, with Leonard taking video and Geoff taking pictures. I was much more confident in my signs and what I wanted to do than I had been last time because of the amount of preparation I had put myself through. I had written down all the behaviours I wanted to try and looked them over a number of times with the hopes that my mind would never draw a blank. I had paid special attention to how the interns and others had been working with the dolphins too, trying to develop a better idea of how to make the session "flow" better, and to keep it interesting for Ake. As I've mentioned before, Ake likes to be challenged and so likes to be given combinations to try. To help me prepare for this, I wrote each combinable behaviour (straight jump, back swim, back dive, etc) along with each possible modifier (spit, tail wave, head shake, etc) that could also be combined with that. I then had a way to quickly review all the things that could go together, and it seemed to help a lot compared to reviewing each behaviour individually.
It seems the trick to developing my training ability and preventing myself from having my mind go blank is to change the way I thought about behaviours when I'm up on the stand. When you first arrive at the facility, they teach you the hand signals for each behaviour so you have a way to interact with the dolphins. After about the first week, most people have a fairly good grasp on most of the signals and what they will have the dolphin do.
As I said, I was first up with Akeakamai. Chris, one of the spring interns, was training and quickly directed me up after getting Ake to station in the Mauka station of the Mauka tank. I don't think I'm ever quite ready to step up on the stand when the trainer directs me up. I always feel like there was something more I could have done to prepare myself, even though I know I was perfectly ready for this. I stood up, and greeted Ake with big silient claps and cheering. I traded positions with Chris to be beside the fish bucket, and that was all Ake needed to be directed completely to me. She still melts my heart when she looks at me with those big, brown, rainbowy eyes of hers, but this time I was prepared and didn't let myself forget the things I wanted to try. I gave her a few basic behaviours, a few jumps, a few side and stomach pushes (which totally soaked the wireless mic I was using), and then got into some combos. No problem. She did them all perfectly, and if she didn't get it quite right the first time, she was very enthusiastic about getting it right the second time. Ake is a great dolphin to work with when all you're doing is basic behaviours because of how much energy she puts into them, but when you start doing combos and really start interesting her, she is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING to be with.
I had picked up on something the interns had been doing with the dolphins that I thought I should be doing as well. Most of the time when Ake, or any of the dolphins, come back to station after doing a behaviour, they will have their mouth open, head down, waiting for their fish. This isn't what they're supposed to do, but most people who haven't trained very much won't pick up on it and aren't really told to correct for it either. Craig had mentioned to me about the open mouth thing, so if Ake came back with an open mouth, I was quick to give her a quick wait signal to have her close it. Every time, she complied.
The other thing the dolphins are supposed to do when they come back is have their head up facing you, rather than head down resting on the tank wall or sideways in the water. All the interns, and particularly Chris, have a unique and almost entertaining way of dealing with this. When the dolphins come back from a behaviour they did successfully, Pete or Chris will stand straight up, head up, not reacting at all until the dolphins are also standing straight up like them. Once they have, the trainer reacts to show how great the dolphin had done on the last behaviour. It's almost a game to the dolphins, and they actually react more enthusiastically when you do this with them. Chris commented on how cool I was that I was doing this while i was working with Ake.
I brought up a ball for Ake to play with and luckily she seemed interested in that idea. She has in the past meeped or head jerked at a ball during a session, but today I guess she was in good spirits and had no problem with a ball being introduced. I tried to think of unique things to try with her and ended up asking her for a few unique things to try. I backed her away from station and asked for a peck catch flyback. She turned upside down, head towards me, and I threw the ball into her open pec fins and told her to do a pec carry. No problem. When she came back to station, she leaped at me, throwing the ball with her pec fins right into my arms and stationed in front of me, whistling and clicking away.
One thing Ake had trouble with during the session was the signal rain. I told her a number of times to go over to the scupper and do a rain (spitting water in the air) on it, but she didn't get it. She'd go over and slap her tail instead, or start whistling at it. I gave her the signal as clear as i could a number of times, but she still didn't get it. I told her to do a rain, and she initially did a whistle. Nope, that's not right Ake. I told her to do a spit, and she did that fine. Then I asked for rain again, and she did it perfectly this time. She was acting confused before this, offering things she thought were the right behaviour, but as soon as I asked for the spit, she remembered what the rain signal was and had no problems. She acts the same way any person would when they're confused. She seemed unsure of what she was doing, and I could tell she was trying to remember what it was she was supposed to do by offering behavours, all the while seeming to be asking me, "is this right?" When she did get it, she was very enthusiastic and full of energy as Ake always is when she's challenged.
I went up to the tower for a few behaviours, but I didn't stay up there long. There's only so much you can ask for when you're up there, and I think Ake prefers when you're at station with her anyway. Throughout the session, the biggest thing I noticed was how great it was to have a trainer so full of energy. I could totally relate to Chris's training style and I like to think it reflected mine as well, which made anything I was doing a team effort. I remember this particularly in the tower when we called Ake back to station.
Once we were back at station, I asked Ake for a side present and I gave her a few rubs. Usually when you do this, she'll sit there for about 5 seconds or so and let you rub her, but will sort of move around after that and start whistling and sit up waiting for the next behaviour. This time, she didn't do that. In fact, she had done this with me so many times I automatically stopped rubbing her after about 5 seconds or so. The funny thing is, she didn't move after that. She sort of angled her head at me, like she was saying "why are you stopping?" Ok Ake, I'll rub you some more if you want me to... =) Hey, she feels so cool I'd rub her all day if she'd let me. I stood there and rubbed her all over for probably a good 30 seconds, all the while she sat there with her eye closed, her permanent smile seeming to grow even more, completely content with the situation. Does this mean she was comfortable with me? I hope so... =)
Chris began to comment on the combos I was asking for. A number of times he complimented me on the behaviour I had asked for, and I was flattered actually. Akeakamai did seem to be in good spirits the whole session, and even when she didn't do the combo right, I was quick to send her off to correct it and she would be very enthusiastic about correcting her mistake. I think she was having a good time. A couple of times I asked her to do a flyback when she came back for a fish, and I threw her some fish in her upside down mouth. She seemed to enjoy that one. I think the biggest reason things went so well this session was that there was very little downtime where I was standing there thinking of what to do. This kept Ake moving and allowed me time to think of the next behaviour, as well as enjoy what she was doing, while she was away from station.
When time started to run out, my mind started racing a million miles an hour trying to think of things I had wanted to do with Ake that I hadn't done yet. I couldn't think of anything, and rather than stress over it, I just forgot about trying to think of behaviours and just enjoyed my last few minutes with her. She really is an amazing person (next person to call her an animal deserves a kick). When you finally get comfortable working with the dolphins and have a session like this where the dolphin you're working with really enjoys the session, you get a feeling of connection between you and them.
I ended the session with a few kisses on her rostrum and her melon, and a nice, big hug. She started clicking loudly for a moment when I started hugging her, much like Hiapo does when he's working with someone he's comfortable with, and she seemed a lot more relaxed than other times. I told her I was stepping down, gave her a quick wave which she quickly returned, allowed myself to absorb one last glimpse of her, and stepped down. It was a great end to what was definitely the best training session I had ever had.
Next came Geoff's turn. I was planning on filming his session while Leonard took pictures, but Leonard didn't want to leave the tower so I asked him to bring me the camera so I could take pictures instead from tank level. It's hard to take pictures and take video at the same time, so I didn't really bother to take many pictures. The session went very well, and Geoff was quite good at coming up with combos to have Ake do. Much of the session was high energy and combo behaviours which is exactly the kind of session Akeakamai likes to have. Geoff told me afterwards that the session was great, and he commented on how Ake was very enthusiastic about high energy stuff. That's Ake alright...
Last session was an interesting one for certain. Today wasn't only the participant's last day at the lab, but also the spring interns' last day at the lab as well. These people, Craig, Chris, Pete, Lara, Tanja, Mike, and Alisa, had been at the lab for 5 months and this fourth session was in most cases their last session with the dolphins. To allow all of them to have a chance with each dolphin, they decided to do a switch around every five minutes, where each trainer would rotate between dolphins, with a new trainer stepping up for the first dolphin and the trainer on the last dolphin stepping down. It was a zoo of running around, and to say the session was rushed is an understatement, but I have no doubt that it was a great way to say goodbye to each of the dolphins. I gave myself a goal of photographing each intern with each dolphin, and I think I actually managed to do just that. I took a total of 94 pictures in that one session alone! The entire time I've been here I've been focusing on getting pictures of the people working with the dolphins rather than the dolphins by themselves because I know what it means to others to have a really great picture of yourself and the dolphin you're working with.
As is standard fare when the participants leave, the staff at the lab held an aloha party for all of us after fourth session. To make things that much more interesting, Craig hosted a raffle for a bunch of crap he bought (and that people donated) as a sort of going away present for everyone at the lab. Everyone got a ticket for free so everyone had a chance of winning. Most of the stuff was small, touristy stuff, but a few prizes were quite funny. Craig managed to get Scott to sign a document stating he would do someone's daily chore for them, no matter what it was. What made this particularly funny, was Tonja was the one who won the prize, and even though she was a leaving intern, she still had one chore left... Aloha party cleanup! Scott was a little choked about that one... boy was it funny! I actually won a package of jelly belly jelly beans and an insinc sucker with a sticker.
A number of the staff at the lab had brief speeches to thank all of the participants for all their help and presented each of us with a flower leigh.As was the case last year, almost everyone from every possible division of the lab had something to thank everyone for, so the speeches went on for a while. Once again, it seemed like none of the participants was going to say anything to thank the people at the lab, but I wasn't going to let that kind of thing get missed for the second year straight. I stood up when I thought it appropriate, and told everyone I wasn't going to let a thank you slip by like last year. I thanked everyone for an absolutely amazing time, and for allowing people like me and all the rest of us a chance to come in and partake in something we would otherwise have no chance of experiencing. I told them how much our time at the lab meant to me and to every one of the other participants, and that they had better remember me because I was DEFINITELY going to be back! Afterwards, CJ, the lab vet, thanked me for what I said, so I guess it was well received. The party was good fun, and a great way to end things off.
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You may use the pictures and content from this page for school and personal use ONLY. Please feel free to use the pictures as your desktop background, in school projects, or give them to friends, as long as they are unmodified. The material on this site is NOT permitted to be used on other websites or for comercial use without written permisson from Rob Harrison.
Feel free to email me if you have ANY questions or comments, and be sure to sign my guestbook!