#123: How did we get this job?

This is a question we get asked A LOT! Sure, there are things we can recommend you do that may help you, but there isn't one path that guarantees you will be hired as a marine mammal trainer. Before you get discouraged though, realize that this means you can create your own path. Below are brief stories of what each one of us did before we were hired here at the New England Aquarium.

Kathy, Curator

Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of animals in a number of different settings. Some of my memorable experiences before becoming Curator here in 1987 include working with orcas and Pacific white-sided dolphins at the whale stadium as well as the dolphins in the lagoon at the Flipper Set in Miami Seaquarium's popular dolphin and whale shows; seeing a number of dolphin births, training a blind dolphin over 60 behaviors when nobody thought it could be done; answering a number of questions regarding animal cognition by teaching sea lions to participate in behavioral research studies in California; being an animal trainer for a movie filmed in the Amazon and Bahamas, assisting with rescue and rehabilitation efforts for cetaceans and pinnipeds in Florida and California; and working with sea lions and beluga whales who were being trained in open water off San Diego and Seattle.

While I have a number of pictures from these experiences, this is one of my favorites (above). Both Bear and Salty were trained to work in films, and because of this, it was important that they be comfortable working with a variety of people and animals. Bear was brought to the Miami Seaquarium so that he could get some sea lion experience and this picture was taken.

Jenny, Assistant Curator

As a five-year-old in front of the TV, I was awestruck watching a killer whale breach during a Jacques Cousteau special. From that moment, I knew I wanted to be around whales. While in high school, I got my foot in the door as a landscaper at Marine World in California. I ultimately landed a job in the training department, where my morning routine entailed plunging my hands into icy water to thaw 800 pounds of fish for the whales, dolphins, sea lions and seals. One year a sea lion pup had to be hand raised because his mom was no longer producing milk. I was part of a team that took Buckwheat home to feed him a formula of mashed herring, vitamins and heavy cream every few hours throughout the night. A big part of raising Buckwheat involved lots of playtime. We taught him to wear a harness so that we could run around the park. This picture was taken while resting after a long walk and a swim. It was as fun as it looks. Kathy was conducting behavioral research with one of the sea lions at the park and we got to know each other. A year and a half after she became Curator of Marine Mammals here at the Aquarium, I followed and took the position of supervisor in 1988.

Cheryl, Senior Trainer

This picture was taken in the winner's circle at Foxboro Raceway with Birdwatcher, a horse that I broke and trained (that's me just in front of the horse). I trained Standardbred horses for 10 years. I sold a horse for quite a bit of money which enabled me to leave the horse business and spend some time figuring out what I wanted to do. I volunteered for the Mammals Department for a year in 1984 and was hired in April of 1985.

Paul, Senior Trainer

My first three years as a marine mammal trainer were spent at the Miami Seaquarium. “Back in those days” a college degree wasn’t the requirement that it is now. I got the job based on the fact that I was a good swimmer, a certified diver and had a good basic knowledge about marine mammals and was comfortable in front of the public. In addition to Tokitae (stage name: Lolita--shown in this picture) I worked with a Pacific white sided dolphin named Makani, many bottlenose dolphins, sea lions and stranded manatees and cetaceans. During my time there I met Kathy, our curator here at the Aquarium. When they had an opening for a trainer here in 1989 she offered me the job and the rest, as they say, is history.

Erin, Senior Trainer

Since I knew that being a marine mammal trainer was what I wanted to do, I attended an agricultural high school (Norfolk Aggie) where, in addition to my regular studies, I could take a variety of classes that focused directly on animal care. One of the classes I took was a Canine Showmanship course that required participation in the FunMatch at the end of the semester. This Golden Retriever made it very easy for me, but I can honestly say that wasn't the case for my follow-up course: Canine Obedience. The dog I worked with that semester and I were both very inexperienced. Even though we were using the same techniques I currently use when working with the seals, I didn't understand them then. After I graduated from there, I received my B.S. in Biology from UMASS Dartmouth. After that I started as a Marine Mammal Intern in 2003 and I've been here ever since. I'm happy to say that now I have a much clearer understanding of those training techniques!

Belinda, Senior Trainer

I have always enjoyed kayaking and knew that I wanted a career working with marine life, I just wasn't sure what it would be. After I graduated college, I started volunteering with the Marine Mammal Dept at the Aquarium to see if training was the best choice for me. The longer I stayed with the dept, the more I learned about the field, and I ultimately applied for a position and was hired in 2004.

, Senior Trainer

This picture was taken at the top of a 100-ft. wall at Devils Lake in Wisconsin. It was before my sophomore year of college and my first time camping and rock climbing, which was a wonderful experience. After that weekend I knew that I would never be able to work a normal 9 - 5 job in an office setting. I was on track to get my biology degree, started focusing on animal behavior, and even found out that my school offered a class for scuba diving. Having grown up in the Midwest I had never seen an ocean before, not even on vacation. I took a chance after graduation, moved to Boston, and luckily started as an intern at the aquarium. I became a full time trainer in 2004 and have been here ever since.

Patty, Senior Trainer

My fascination with the ocean began in grade school. My family and I would visit my Aunt Mag in Nantucket for a week during the summer (that's me in the pink with my mom). It was in this amazing place that I had the opportunity to spend hours on end investigating the ocean, the bay and all its inhabitants. My love for the world of water grew from there and in college I continued to explore the ocean with the help of my research professor. We did weekly field research on jellyfish off the coast of Rhode Island. After graduating, I moved to Boston in 2004 and as they say... the rest is history!

Lindsay, Trainer

This picture was taken at the Spring River in Arkansas; not only the best place for spring break and lots of canoeing, but also the place where the Water-Rock-Life lab at Arkansas State University collected fish for research. I had the opportunity to work in the lab dissecting fish, pulling otoliths (ear bones) and scales to age fish, and collecting different species of fish along the river. Being part of a research team was a really cool experience and made my fascination with aquatic animals grow even deeper. I've loved the water all my life and knew I would work with animals someday. I moved to Boston on a whim for a change in life and to hopefully find my career path. I fell in love with a few pinnipeds and since 2007, I've had the best of both worlds!

Justin, Trainer

Unlike many people in the marine mammal field, this was not always my dream job. I started out in a career in environmental education and interpretation. My first job was working in South Africa’s Kruger National Park where I coordinated educational programs teaching people (mostly local school children) about the flora and fauna of the South African bush. By working closely with local communities our goal was to increase their support for the Park and nature conservation in general.

In addition to program design and teaching, I also helped out with game capture; catching and translocating animals such as white rhino, buffalo, zebra and wildebeest. Animals were herded and darted using the helicopter in the picture (I’m the 3rd from the right). After my time abroad I moved back to frigid New England and a job in the Education Department at the Aquarium. After a few years as an educator, a trainer position opened up in 2007 and I was lucky enough to step into the marine mammal world.

So there you have it!
Hopefully, these different stories will encourage you to follow your own path. Who knows where it will lead!



  1. Through my years (in the quest to become a trainer or not, etc etc) I've heard a lot of similar career stories. I feel like a career finds you if it's your fate. So it's great to hear all your various paths to get to your current positions. One thing I've learned is to never give up your dream, but be flexible to any opportunities that come your way.

    I <3 the marine mammal team.

  2. Marine Mammal TrainersJune 8, 2009 at 5:38 PM

    We really appreciate your support Kmoy!

  3. I Graduated in 2004 with a BFA and am an artist. I also have ample experience with very public oranizzations, and customer relations, marketing, etc. But I have always been interested in working with marine animals and am only finding stories of...i 'am in college now...or I started as a bio major in college....how would you suggest I start in the field as I feel I am a little late? kimboski423@hotmail.com
    thank you!!


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