Jenny with Ursula
We're often asked how we got our jobs training marine mammals. While there is no clear path to the profession, there are many key things you can do to put yourself on the road to trainerdom. Most aquariums, including ours, require that you have a bachelor's degree, preferably in a science. Many trainers do have backgrounds in marine biology, but others have degrees in biology, animal behavior, ecology, zoology, or psychology. Psychology is especially helpful to understand how we train our animals using operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. A degree will only get you so far. Most of our learning occurs on the job. SCUBA certification is also required as we dive in our exhibits often for routine cleaning and maintenance.
One of the best ways to get a lot of experience is by volunteering or interning. Although there is no hands-on work with the animals, our volunteers and interns get a good taste of what it's like to be a trainer. They help prepare diets, make toys, conduct enrichment (play) sessions, and there's cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning. If dish-pan hands that smell like fish are not your cup of tea, then you might get a rude awakening. It's not all glamorous, but for us working with the animals far outweighs the dirty work.
2 of our volunteers, Jamie and Cindy-Justin