Nancy J. Cooper

Document Type

Internship Report

Publication Date

Fall 2013


The science of applied behavioral analysis is fundamental to the maintenance of desired behavior of marine mammals in managed care facilities. Additionally, animal training in a managed care setting provides substantial knowledge to the scientific community concerning the anatomy, physiology, behavior and biology of marine mammals in both managed care and the wild. Furthermore, animal training in marine mammal parks and aquaria provides an immediate and direct benefit to the individual animal, with respect to health, clinical care, and mental stimulation. Moreover, marine mammal training is a tool utilized to entertain and educate the general public, while fostering a greater appreciation for marine mammals and ocean conservation. In order to maintain desired behavior, the cues that are trained to elicit a specific behavioral response and the criterion established to define the intensity, frequency, duration, and topography of the behavior must be described and implemented consistently. Without operational consistency utilizing applied behavioral cues and established criteria, animal trainers may inadvertently contribute to failed trials, decreased response rates, increased latencies, adventitious and superstitious behaviors, as well as resultant redirected aggression. Thus, marine mammal managers are challenged with the task of maintaining consistent behavioral cues, criteria and protocols amongst multiple trainers within a facility. The objective of this project was to create a behavioral inventory and training protocol manual for the bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) housed at Dolphins Plus, a marine mammal managed care facility in Key Largo, Florida. This project includes behavioral descriptions that represent two training applications: Foundation and Interactive. For each application, five relevant behaviors are described. Each description includes: a behavioral model power point which defines the name of the behavior, foundation behaviors required to train that behavior, a standardized video of the behavioral cue or discriminative stimulus (SD), the criteria for the behavior, and the detailed approximations required to train this behavior from inception to completion. This project also explains techniques employed to maintain a newly trained behavior, serve as a clear, concise, and user-friendly reference to the Dolphins Plus trainers, and provide a platform for consistency with the application of behavioral cues and the understanding and maintenance of specific criteria at Dolphins Plus. Due to the increased number of marine mammal facilities worldwide, a training manual of this nature could revolutionize how information is disseminated to new and current training staff. The benefits of cataloguing and defining training language and behavioral criteria with detailed visual aide, could improve the lives of animals, trainers and handlers in marine mammal facilities, zoos, aquaria, and research facilities on a global scale.


Department: MBF

MPS Track: MMS

Location: Dolphins Plus (Key Largo, FL)

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