Thank you for your interest in careers
related to marine mammal training. If
you are interested in marine mammals, there are many
career paths you can choose to work with them or
for them. Due to an overwhelming interest in training,
we have created this guide to answer many of the
most commonly asked questions about how to become
a trainer. Of course the responsibilities of being
a trainer and the requirements to become a trainer
vary from facility to facility. We have focused our
responses on training at Dolphin Research Center.
Good Luck with your future training career!
How should I prepare educationally for my training
It’s never too early
to start preparing for your training career. While
in middle and high school, you can gain valuable knowledge
and experiences in the field of biology. You will need
lots of math and science classes to gain a strong background
for college. Many trainers pursue degrees in Biology,
Marine Biology, Psychology, or Animal Behavior in college.
There are really no specific colleges for marine
mammal training. Moorpark College in
California does focus on exotic animal training in
a two-year program. The school is extremely hands-on,
and graduates have a great success rate of employment.
Please bear in mind, however, that some marine mammal
facilities require a four-year degree for employment.
The college you choose will depend on your interests.
You must first decide the area in which you would like
to major. Your library will have a book of colleges to
help you determine the schools in the U.S. that offer
your intended major. Look for schools that offer biology
or animal behavior and psychology majors. You
can then look at the size, location and cost of the listed
colleges to help you narrow-down your choices. We have
a list of colleges and universities in Florida on our
that offer biology majors. Look under the section “Marine
Education/Career Information/Schools and Universities”.
Once you find your top choices, you should try to visit
the schools to see if they meet your needs. Talk to both
faculty and students to learn about the positive and
negative aspects of the school. If possible try to spend
a night with a current student in your future major and
attend at least one or two classes. Also, make sure the
professors in your department will be supportive of your
future career and will be able to assist you in achieving
your goals. The school career centers also have helpful
resources for students, so you may want to see what your
potential schools have to offer their graduates.
What other skills do I need to be a trainer?
Every facility has a different philosophy and mission
and therefore looks for different skills in their employees.
At many dolphin facilities public speaking skills will
be very important. Take classes that will advance your
public speaking skills and knowledge of the animals and
environment in which you will be working. Physical fitness
is also important and because you will be working in
an aquatic environment, swimming skills will be required.
Many facilities required a swim test before you will
be hired. Additionally, you should become SCUBA certified
since some facilities only hire trainers if they are
Should I volunteer or intern?
Yes! It can be quite difficult
to get your foot in the door of a marine mammal facility.
The best way to gain valuable hands–on experience is to complete
volunteer work or an internship at a facility that has
animals (they don’t necessarily have to be dolphins).
Many colleges require or strongly advise these programs
because they enable you to learn while in the field.
They also help you to determine whether or not you want
to continue to pursue
a training career. People often have a glorified
image of marine mammal training and do not realize the
hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in the field.
DRC offers both volunteer and intern programs for individuals
18 and over. You can find information about our programs
in the Volunteer/Intern area
of this website. *Roughly one-quarter of DRC’s
staff participated in our volunteer program before being
hired as employees. Many facilities look highly upon
the dedication and commitment necessary to be a volunteer*
Are there any programs to help me learn about
training and dolphins?
Participation in programs like our week-long DolphinLab can
be very helpful. DolphinLab introduces you to
the overall operation of a marine mammal facility and
educates you about topics such as training, husbandry,
physiology, maternity, stranding, conservation, research,
and more. This program also lets you get up close and
personal with the dolphins through swims and dock time. DolphinLab exposes
you to many different career opportunities in the marine
mammal field and helps you to determine your area of
interest. You can find more information about DolphinLab on
page. We hope to see you soon!
What are the average salary and benefits of
a trainer? The average salary of a trainer
varies from one facility to another but is often in
the $18,000-$20,000 range for an entry-level position.
Most trainers have a second source of income to supplement
Higher salaries are often given to people with multiple
years of experience; on average a trainer with 8-12 years
of experience will make $25,000 - $40,000 a year. Most
facilities usually offer medical plans to full-time staff
members. Of course, the greatest benefit is the relationship
you form with the animals!
What is a typical day like being a dolphin
Only dependable people can
be successful trainers. Trainers are responsible for
preparing meals, feeding, training, cleaning fish containers,
and stimulating marine mammals both physically and
mentally. The dolphins and trainers have training sessions
each day, which are both mentally and physically stimulating.
All trainers at DRC vary the dolphins with which they
work. All of the dolphins receive at least three meals
a day – usually
a feeding in the morning, midday and afternoon. Trainers
also make sure that all of our animals receive their
vitamins and any necessary medications. The dolphins
also practice medical behaviors with their trainers,
and each dolphin has a physical twice a year. As a trainer
you need to show a great deal of enthusiasm and energy
to keep the dolphins excited and interested. Trainers
may continue to work on behaviors that have already been
taught to the dolphins or they may have the opportunity
(after they have gained much experience) to train a dolphin
a new behavior. Each day brings something new to a trainer’s
schedule. Life is never dull when you are a dolphin trainer!
What are the positive and negative aspects
of your job?
Of course there are drawbacks
to working with animals. Being a trainer means you
will have to maintain the animals’ living
environment, which includes cleaning animals’ homes.
This can be difficult and tiresome work. At many facilities
you will also be outside a great deal during the hot
summer months. You are working with dynamic animals,
so you need to be flexible to their schedule, which may
mean long, irregular hours. Trainers often work on holidays
because the dolphins still need to be provided with care
no matter what day it is. There are many positive aspects
of being a trainer, which include the relationships you
build with the individual animals. On a daily basis you
get to work with animals who all have their own unique
dolphinalities (personalities). You also have the chance
to work closely with a team of other trainers and to
support each other in your progress with the animals.
How long does it take before I get to work
with the animals?
When you start at a facility, you will probably shadow
(follow) senior trainers a great deal to become more
familiar with the characteristics of each dolphin and
to learn different training procedures. You may then
start to feed and interact with a dolphin under the supervision
of senior trainers. Eventually, the trainers will teach
you to communicate with the dolphins through hand signals.
As you grow and learn, you will gain more responsibilities
with the animals. For example: training new behaviors,
working on medical behaviors, or facilitating programs
where the public interacts with the dolphins. Your growth
rate will depend on past experiences, your comfort level
Do I need to be a trainer to work with animals?
If your goal is to have direct contact with marine
mammals on a daily basis, then you would most likely
need to become a trainer. If your character and skills
are more suited for other careers in the field, then
there are many other ways you can work in a marine mammal
environment. Here are a few examples:
Educator: As an Education member,
you teach seminars and lead workshops on a variety of
marine mammal topics. Facilities teach with live marine
animals and sometimes bring them into the classroom for
hands-on education. As a DRC educator, you focus on our
week-long program called DolphinLab. We also
respond to requests for information from the public,
visit schools and community organizations for outreach
programs, and create exciting classroom activities.
Veterinarian: As a marine mammal
veterinarian, you are responsible for the care and health
of the animals. You will assist with medical procedures
and check-ups. You will assess their needs and monitor
their diets, vitamins and medicine. You may have a private
practice for domestic animals and be affiliated with
a facility that has dolphins or sea lions.
Researcher: As a researcher you will
conduct a variety of studies often relating to dolphin
intelligence, communication and physiology. You may conduct
these studies with dolphins in human care or in the wild
depending on your research question. Your work is typically
supported by grant money that you will have to solicit
in competition with other researchers. You are often
responsible for publishing your results. If you would
like to conduct your own research, a doctorate degree
is necessary to succeed in this field. If you would like
to assist other researchers, an undergraduate degree
Husbandry Expert: As
a husbandry expert your job is to supervise the preparation
of the animals’ food and vitamins, and to order
the food supply. This job requires a great deal of
physical work, because it involves the maintenance
of the fish supply and the sanitation of the marine
mammal kitchen. This area needs to be clean enough
so you could eat off the floor! You need to pay attention
to detail to make sure your fish supply is of the highest
quality. You can take pride in the fact that you are
directly responsible for maintaining a healthy diet
for the animals.
We have listed a few of the many career options that
are available at a marine mammal facility. Look for opportunities
in management, media, marketing, accounting, human resources,
program development, computer programming, ground and
tank maintenance, customer service, photographers, videographers,
dolphin assisted therapy, medical, and much more.
What books or references would help me to find
out more about training and other careers in the marine
“Careers in Marine Biology”,
Jay Hemdal (freshwater and Marine Aquarium, Vol 10,
Feb. 1987, pg. 66-67).
“Don’t Shoot the Dog”,
Karen Pryor (Bantam Books, 1999).
“I’ll do Anything to Work with Whales or
Dolphins!”, Valerie Chase (Current, 1992, 11 (1):
“Training and Careers
in Marine Science: An Information Packet”
for a small fee from:
International Oceanographic Foundation
Miami , FL 33149
Copyright © 2007 Dolphin Research Center
Information Can Be Used with Proper Citing
Dolphin Research Center, 58901 Overseas Highway, Grassy Key, FL 33050-6019