Monday, May 28th, 2001
As I thought would be the case, today was a completely relaxed day at the lab thanks to Memorial day. What surprised me more than anything is that no one else decided to come down to see what was going on except for me; all the other participants found other things to do or were in the process of packing up to leave the house.
I arrived just after 9 o'clock to find Brian and Matthias at the lab, but nobody else. It was strange seeing so few people there in the beginning of the day. Brian is one of the residents at the lab and was just sort of hanging out, while Matthias was in the fish room getting fish ready for first session. I offered to help, but he was almost done and didn't need any, so I sat around in the tower and watched the dolphins while they played around with each other. Ake and Pho came over a few times and whistled at me in the tower in between Hiapo's onslaughts of chasing and sexual activity. He was being particularly aggressive towards Phoenix, chasing her and trying to bite her tail, but was leaving Ake alone basically. I guess she's just too fast for him so he didn't seem to bother chasing her that much.
Once Matthias finished with fish duty, we talked about what would happen that session. He asked me if I wouldn't mind taking some pictures of him training the dolphins, especially digital ones, since he has so few of him working with all three and doesn't have any digital shots of him with the dolphins at all. Naturally, I was happy to do so considering how many sets of batteries I had charged for today; I had planned on taking tons of pictures anyway, and this gave me an excuse. I setup my video camera as well on the opposite side of the tank from where Mattias was planning on running the session so I would have a video record of the whole thing along with the pictures I was going to take. I do have to admit, I was hoping to get another shot at helping with training today, but this was only the second time I had seen Matthias train and I have a feeling he doesn't get to do it as often as he likes to. Working with all three dolphins must be even harder to schedule in.
Matthias started the session quickly and without problem. For once, Hiapo didn't have any problem coming over and he stationed right away along with Akeakamai and Phoenix. I helped take some of the rails out, and began positioning myself for picture taking. It became evident within the first few minutes just how good Matthias is at working with the dolphins. It can be challenging working with one dolphin, but keeping things straight when working with three can be downright frustrating I'm sure. Not a problem for him! He actually managed to focus on each dolphin and anything they might have done or not done, all the while keeping it clear that he was speaking to only one of them. Usually the one needing talking to was Hiapo...=) All three dolphins were full of energy and put up a great show when asked for higher energy behaviours, with the possible exception of Hiapo. I think he knew that if he just did the bare minimum of what he was asked, he'd probably get away with it and still get rewarded. Nope, sorry pal. Matthias was aware of the times he did a half-assed behaviour or didn't do one at all, and would show him that he saw it and ask for it again sometimes. Other times, he'd just look sternly at him and give him a wait signal, but was quick to be energetic towards Akeakamai and Phoenix when they went out and did something correctly. Matthias' ability to keep the three seperated was what made it such an amazing session to watch, along with his generally humorous and entertaining approach to training. He did tend to keep close up behaviours, such as hugs and kisses, out of the routine, so it was hard to get personal style shots of him with the dolphins other than him standing straight up and the dolphins sitting at station. I did get a few though.
I was very interested at the dolphin's inability to do one behaviour during the session.
Tandem behaviours seemed to be a common thing throughout the session. Matthias wouldn't give the tandem sign particularly, but the dolphins understood that when they were given a command that they were to do it together. Straight jump, backward tailwalk, even side present and hug were all done in threes. Even Haipo seemed to go along with most of the behaviours in one way or another, but not always. One time, Matthias brought three frizbee's in the tank and asked for a rostrum twirl. Ake and Phoenix sat there and twirled away, but Haipo just sat there, looking at his trainer, never really trying at all. That's just totally typical of him though. Still, when the dolphins did do something together, it was really cool. There's nothing quite like seeing three dolphins jump out of the water at the same time and come back clicking and whistling away, beaming with content, enjoying their time with their trainer, and showing off to the world their incredible abilities together as a team.
Ashleigh and Julia stopped in half way through Matthias' session to say goodbye and to see the dolphins one last time. Both Matthias and I were so busy, we probably seemed like we were ignoring them, but I think they understood. They were on their way to drop the rental car off in Waikiki, and were catching a plane back home shortly after that. I wished them well and promised to keep in touch.
I kept taking pictures throughout the session, clearing out my memory cards twice to make room for more.
I wondered around the lab at lunch hour and finished off a few tech projects I had set for myself while I was at the lab. I transfered the pictures I had taken over to Matthias' computer, then finalised the wireless network (called "Airport") I had managed to figure out over the last few days. Leonard and I had been playing around with this, using an iBook laptop computer to play MP3s we had stored on one of the computers in the tower over the wireless network. It went over great during the Aloha party on Friday night! I figured out how to share both the internet connection and still be able to access the local appletalk network in the office over a totally wireless connection, plus a way to join two wireless base stations together in a password protected combined network between the tower and the mauka offices. It's actually a lot less complicated than it sounds, but making it sound complicated makes it cooler to talk about... =) Now that this system is setup and working, people will be able to use the iBook laptops from the lab to do behavior observation data entry from anywhere they want, and just about anything else computer related too! It adds a nice bit of mobility people didn't have before. Now you can sit in the sun, watch the dolphins have fun, and get work done at the same time! Now that's productive!
During lunch, Mike wondered into the lab to prepare for his session this afternoon with the dolphins. I was sitting in the tower, eating my sandwitch from Skuzi's deli across the street, watching the dolphins and relaxing for a while. Then, I noticed something peculiar; I saw four fingers on the top of the wall at the back of the facility near the staircase. I didn't think much of it at first. Maybe it was just someone trying to sneak by another person on the public walkway on the other side of the wall and they reached up or whatever. Then, I saw someone pull themselves up on the wall, and bring a video camera around with their other hand! What the? I have to admit, it caught me by surprise! Frankly, I was surprised he was able to get up to where he was at all. I looked around quickly to see if anyone was around to deal with this, and I called out for Mike, but nobody answered me, so I guess it was up to me. I yelled out to the guy, "Uh, excuse me, what are you doing?" in a very puzzled tone.
"Are there dolphins in there?" he asked, in an energetic fashion.
"Could you get down from there please?" I said, almost laughing at the guy's stupidity. I didn't bother to answer his question about the dolphins. I had to repeat myself again, but eventually he looked over at me and said, "No problem", and pulled himself down. I ran down from the tower immediately to find someone and told Mike about the whole deal once I managed to find him. Naturally, he was worried. This sort of thing happens occasionally, but very rarely. He went over to the staircase that overlooks the wall, and tried to see the guy who might have done it. A small group of kids were there hanging out and he talked to them briefly about what the facility was and how we can't have people hanging off the walls to try to see in. He told me they understood, and everything was cool, so we didn't give it any more thought. We just kept a closer eye on the walls from then on... Considering the number of people going by the lab and to the beach, incidents like this would be hard to prevent on a day like this (Memorial Day).
A little while later, Mike and I discussed what he was planning on doing for the afternoon session. I had offered a few days ago to take pictures for him today, and he was once again overconcerned about getting everything perfect for the pictures. He reminds me of myself if I were in his situation... =) I told him not to worry, that I'd get all the pictures he could ever want, and that he should stop worrying about it and just focus on enjoying his last time with the dolphins. This was going to be his final session with them before he has to leave, but talk about a way to end it off! Training all three dolphins, with nobody watching except the camera man (me), unlimited time, and three dolphins in a great mood, it just doesn't get any better than that!
I used Mike's camera to take the pictures this time, and alternated between video and still photos to document the session as well as possible. Mike did all the behaviours he could with them and managed to keep all three interested the entire session, even Hiapo. He tended to do things as a group more than Matthias had been doing, choosing to interact with the dolphins on a group basis rather than singling them out like Matthias.
After session was over, it quickly became time for me to head back to the townhouse to pickup my luggage and meet up with Geoff and Shannon. Before I left, I helped Mike get the video camera hooked to the VCR (although he didn't really need my help), and finished off the video Leonard had made for Craig and asked Mike to write it to CD once it was finished compressing (Leonard had messed up on it last night). I said my goodbyes to the few people at the lab, but it was hard to say goodbye to the dolphins. I went up to the side of the tank, and Ake and Phoenix quickly altered course and came over to see me. When they first came over, they seemed quite inquisitive as to why I was at the side of the tank like that. Then, I started saying I had to go and how much I'd miss them, and waved at them. They almost seemed to change their mood after this, and they both leaned over and waved at me, clicking and whistling, like they knew I was leaving and were saying goodbye. It was so reciprocal, I almost didn't feel sad. It was like they were saying, "see ya soon". They both acted different than any other time I had interacted with them at the side of the tank. Do you suppose they really did know I was leaving?
Be back soon guys... =)
I was lucky enough to hitch a ride with Bob, a long time person with the lab. He actualy works for the University's other dolphin facility over on one of the smaller marine bases, but used to be working with KBMML around 10 years ago. He's a VERY interesting guy to talk to. He told me stories about the lab 15 and 20 years ago that blew me away. He brought his photo album and showed me pictures of how they used to do tank cleaning. They used to lower the water down and come in with the dolphins in a few feet of water and scrub one side, move the dolphins over to the opposite side of the retaining wall (a two or three foot wall in the bottom of the tank that extends and seperates the tank in half), and then scrub the other side of the one tank. It didn't take long, but it meant that chlorine wasn't used and the cleaning wasn't as thorough as it is when we do it these days. He showed me pictures of Ake and Phoenix when they were only a few years old too; they were SO cute. He also showed me all the changes they made to the lab over the years. It turns out the tower used to be on the opposite side, but it was falling apart, so they ripped it down and built the new one that is still there today. There used to be two channels, but one was filled with concrete and that made the beaching platform that is there today. He also showed me pictures of when Ake and Phoenix were at Sealife park for 9 months while the tanks were being renovated. So THAT'S how they did it! Research was basically put on hold while they were at Sealife park, but the same people were training them while they were there, including Bob.
He was telling me about his recent efforts to build a new seapen for the dolphins and false killer-whale over at his facility to replace one of the ageing ones; it's no small task, let me tell you. He was telling me all about how they construct one of the floating platforms that forms the pen, and boy was it ever more complicated than I thought. No wonder the poor guy looked completely tired out! At his facility,they house their dolphins in the open ocean in caged-off areas rather than tanks. This isn't really better than a tank facility, it's just different, as Bob explained. He told me that while the sea pen style is cheaper, it requires a LOT of maintenence. He told me about this kind of fish in Hawaiian waters that likes to munch on dolphin skin, which obviously has to get delt with.
As I said, Bob offered to give me a ride to the townhouse to save me a bus trip, so I hopped into his little Subaru with him and said goodbye to the lab for another year. Why wasn't I upset about leaving? I'm not really sure. I guess something in the back of my head was just telling me not to worry, that I'd be back again soon enough. I hope I'm right... =)
Shannon, Geoff, Sophie, and Emmanuelle were at the house when I got there, along with the whole new group of participants. Shannon, Geoff, and I ended up staying for dinner before we decided to leave. Sophie and Emanuelle stayed too, but they're staying on for another two weeks, so they're supposed to anyway... =) The new group was acting much like we did on the first day. Most of them were very shy and they were being really quiet unless they were being talked to. I couldn't help but tell them how great a time they were in for, and how unbelievable an experience it has been for me. I can only hope they get out of their experience some of what I've gotten out of mine, because if they do, I know they will never look at things the same way again.
After calling for a Taxi and saying our goodbyes to everyone at the house, Shannon, Geoff, and I loaded our luggage into the taxi and went off to our home for the night; the Hyatt Regency in Waikiki. Shannon's parents had booked the room for her for the final night and she offered to have us stay with her to save on room costs. Naturally we were more than happy to do so, especially considering how nice a hotel the Hyatt was supposed to be. Man, was it ever! The room was easily double the size of the room Geoff and I stayed in on our first night at the Outrigger Hobron hotel, with a seperated bathroom, and our own patio with a great view of Waikiki. Thanks Shannon! Naturally we had no intention of staying in the room the whole night, so all three of us decided to wander around Waikiki and see the sights for a few hours.
Our first stop was to the beach. There's nothing quite like going out at 9 at night and being able to walk through the water without getting cold feet; you can do that here! The sand is so amazing too, so fine and soft, you barely know it's there. I wish the beaches were like this in Vancouver.
After we washed our feet off, we wondered through the streets around the hotel.
We wondered through some rather interesting art galleries in our travels too. One in particular Shannon wanted to go through, but I can't remember the artist's name. Much of the work in there was dolphin focused and varied from paintings to sculptures to motorcycles (yes, there was a Harley in there with dolphins painted all over it). It's interesting to see one persons work all collected together in a way that you can compare each piece. I can see how people can pick out a person's style if you saw enough of it like this.
I personally found my way into a Wailand art gallery in the hotel while Shannon and Geoff went to the room, which had some truly breathtaking artwork in it. I remember one piece destinctly, with a bunch of children shown playing with dolphins by the ocean, with one child manning a ricketty table and sign that said, "Dolphin rides, 5 cents". It, for me, showed the combination of a dolphin's curiosity towards humans, and not humanity's control, but rather mutual understanding with dolphins that seems to exist beond a realm of mere interest. It summed up how my perception between dolphins and humans has changed in the last year after working at such a close level with these animals and seeing how free spirited they are. They could completely ignore you if they wanted, but they don't. They make efforts beond what's needed for reward in attempts to reach out to you, to get to know you, to understand you, to AFFECT you. They really do seem as interested in us as we are in them. I wish the experience I've had could be something everyone could have, because this realisation has bent beond recognition any perceptions I had drawn about humanity's place in this world. Suddenly, life has opened up for me, and released to me thoughts I had never even considered, much less experienced. How is it that one animal can make such a profound affect on someone?
Geoff and I get up at 3:30 tomorrow to make our 6:20 AM flight. Shannon wants us to wake her up to say goodbye no matter what... Maybe she's delerious with fatigue and forgetting how early that is... =)
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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!