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Wednesday, May 16th, 2001

Today was largely a work day for most of us. We all arrived at the lab at around 7:45 so the new participants could get their fish prep lecture. I figured I'd probably need a refresher into how to do the fish prep, but it turns out I knew all I needed to know anyway and I didn't stick around for the whole tutorial. Chris and Mike were cleaning the front Mauka tank with brushes, so I decided to give them a hand doing that instead. There is one interesting thing about how the lab cleans the tank now compared to how they used to. Last year, when the tanks had to be cleaned, they lowered the water level down to below the level of the channel between the tanks to prevent water flow between the two tanks. Now, they move the dolphins into one tank like last year, and put the big wooden wall in to block the water flow. It doesn't perfectly seal the water off, but the pump seems perfectly capable of keeping the water level normal in the one tank with the other completely drained for cleaning.

Scrubbing the tank is actually quite a lot of work.
Open Mouth
Here the trainer is giving Ake a signal to open her mouth. (click here for a lager version)
The new pump that had been installed a week ago was pumping in a lot of sand and dirt into the tank, and so a lot of the tank floor needed to be sweeped to get the sand out of the tank. Actually, the algae build up was very minimal, very likely because of the extra water flow from the new pump. Still, scrubbing off the algae that was there was a lot of work, but I actually enjoyed it. Hiapo was at the channel the whole time, and that was the easiest exit for us from the drained tank, so every time we got in and out we got a little greeting from him.

Most of the morning consisted of some research sessions, including an echolocation to echolocation matching cross modal matching session with Phoenix. She didn't do very well, and Dr. Pack was quite confused as to why that would be. He seemed aware of particular ones she commonly got wrong in the past, but he was still confused as to why she didn't get the other ones in the set. Actually, all the dolphins seem to be interested in right now is each other. My brother Geoff told me that Ashleigh and he saw Hiapo "getting it on" with Akeakamai earlier in the day. You can tell Hiapo is ONLY interested in the ladies right now...

During second session,
Open Mouth
Here I am trying to clean up the dirty walls. (click here for a lager version)
I was asked to help clean up the facility in preparation for the inspection on Friday. Every year, the lab gets a fitness evaluation, so the goal is to make the lab look as clean and perfect as possible, obviously. Most of this involves basic sweeping up and painting stuff. Leonard and I were asked to paint the freezers in the fish room and to paint over any rust stains or missing paint on the exterior of the dolphin tanks. I scraped the freezers and, with Leonard's help, painted the dolphin tanks with some non-reactive latex paint in any areas that didn't look quite right. It took about 3 hours to finish this off including much of the lunch break.

Luckily, I finished on time to catch most of the 3rd session and to see the "free" sessions with the dolphins. By now, the clean tank had been filled and the dolphins had been moved over with the back makai tank left to drain, so the water was very clean and blue (although still a little cloudy from the new pump).
Ake jump
This would be a great shot if Ake was facing 90 degrees different. (click here for a lager version)
I took a bunch of great pictures of the session, but I couldn't get a decent action shot out of the entire session. I'm finding more and more that the hard part of photographing the dolphins for jumps and such is you don't really know the orientation at which they will be jumping. I did get one good shot, but Ake's jumping the wrong direction so all you see is her tail. Oh well.

One of the neatest things the dolphins can do now is how they can toss you the ball from their pec fins. I first saw Ake do thisyesterday with one of the interns, but today Julia, one of the participants, was playing ball with Phoenix and her way of passing the ball back to Julia was to do a straight jump in the air and throw it towards her. It's hard to describe, but it's very impressive. Pho doesn't really move her pec fins but manages to jump out of the water from a standstill so fast the ball leaves and shoots forward of her body. I hope to get some video of it in my next session.

After that session, Scott and Lara brought all the participants out to the park beside the lab to partake in a little training game.
Open Mouth
Julia gets a ball from Phoenix. (click here for a lager version)
I can see why they choose to do this with people who are new to animal and dolphin training. The game consists of a "dolphin", played by one person, and a "trainer", played by another person who has a clicker. The trainer is given a task by everyone else, and the only thing the trainer can do is click their clicker whenever the "dolphin" does what they want. They can't give any commands; no nods or spoken words. Basically, the "dolphin" just wonders around doing things until the trainer clicks to show they're on the right track towards something, such as walking the correct direction, picking up the correct object, stuff like that. It was a remarkably fun game, and really does teach you a lot of what is involved in getting an animal to do what you want. It made me think about the importance of reinforcing even subtle advances towards what you want the animal to do, and how much better it can be to give constant and consistant reinforcement when things are going how you want.

I was trainer for Geoff, and my task was to get Geoff to log roll down a hill. I managed to get him to go to the hill, and he even managed to start log rolling after a while, but it wasn't down the hill... then I had to reverse train and reinforce him for standing up and turning another direction. Eventually, he got it. When I was "dolphin", Julia was my "trainer". She did everything she could to get me to do what she wanted, but all I did was stand by the road with this expandable plastic ball thing on my head while cars drove by. It was quite funny actually... a bunch of people were cheering me on as they drove past! I was supposed to do "I'm a little tea cup", but I couldn't figure out that one hand was supposed to be on my hips while the other extended out. Remember, all I could do is do things and wait for a click to see if I was right. It was a fun game.

We've been playing poker and talking it up at the resident house tonight, having lots of fun. Sophie and Sharron have been more than patient with the rantings and ravings of Geoff, Leonard and me while we threw insults at each other. No early morning stuff to do, so we'll be leaving at around 7:45 to make the 8:30 presession.

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