How to Become a Dolphin Trainer & Why It’s a Great Job


It’s time to break out the sunscreen, wet suit and your whistle! Why? Well today we are going to tell you all about the wet and wild world of being a dolphin trainer. Yep, that’s right…we are going to give “swimming with the fishes” a whole new meaning. Step aside Tony Soprano and make room for flipper. So grab a towel and dry yourself off because we are going to cover lots of ground or water today!

How to Become a Dolphin Trainer

The steps for how to become a dolphin trainer are pretty straightforward and totally attainable. You’ll have to work hard to become a marine mammal trainer, but it seems like a really awesome job and worth all the hard work.

Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree

Most zoos, aquariums and other animal training facilities require that the applicants vying for a spot as a dolphin trainer have at least a bachelor’s degree. There aren’t any dolphin training undergraduate degrees offered at this time, so employers prefer other degrees that are somewhat geared in the right direction.

Some bachelor’s degree program options to pursue will include biology, zoology, marine biology or any other area that is related to animals. These types of programs will likely include courses in introductory biology, chemistry and physics. Some higher level mathematics may also be required…feel free to groan and roll your eyes at the math part, we sure did. Some other courses that you will want to pay extra attention to are the ones that are specifically related to animals.

Classes that cover animal behavior, zoology, marine mammalogy and physiology are going to be the big ones to watch for and take oodles of notes. There are some helpful courses under a marine biology degree that will also really help to become a dolphin trainer. Courses like oceanography, marine ecology, evolution as well as course work that covers conservation are going to provide you with a ton of knowledge that will likely help you lock in a job and understand the complex creatures that you will be working with.

Step 2: Time to Earn a Scuba Certification

As we are sure you can imagine, you will need a scuba diving certification to become a dolphin trainer. Depending on your comfort level and what is required for your position, you will have a few different certifications to choose from.  You may choose from a basic scuba diver, rescue diver or master scuba diver certification course.

 During the diving course there will be in class as well as in water learning sessions. The very final portion of your certification will be to complete a full dive with all of the equipment and for an extended amount of time. This will give you a chance to demonstrate all of your skills for your instructor to assess and decide if you are ready to take the leap from average Joe to experienced scuba Steve. This final skills assessment may be performed in a pool or any other open body of water.

Step 3: Time to Gain Some Work Experience as a Dolphin

This is a step that may or may not be required; it will really depend on the facility that you are applying to. Some employers may prefer that you have some time at least shadowing more experience dolphin trainers prior to getting the job. You will be able to gain a ton of experience from the shadowing process because the senior level trainers obviously have lots of knowledge. So make like a sea sponge and soak it all up!

It’s a great idea to pay close attention to some of the more complex training techniques used. They will come in handy in the future and having at least a small inkling of how it all works, is going to be a good thing. You will also be able to pick up some dolphin behavioral tips along with care tips. The senior trainers may work in an aquarium, natural ocean environment or a theme park (a la Sea World). There may be different training techniques in each, so pay close attention and ask lots of questions.

Tips to Help You Succeed

We’ve told you how to become a dolphin trainer and you are now on the right path to achieve this dream. We figured we would help you guys out and give you some helpful tips for success as well. These tips may be applied throughout the process of becoming a dolphin trainer and will make your application jump at out employers.

Jot these success tips down and bust a move to get them done:

  • Try to work on your communication and public speaking skills. As a dolphin trainer, you will be working with the public a lot and providing them with information. It will help you to be clear and concise when you are speaking to them, allowing you to convey your intended message as best as possible.
  • Since you will be working around water and possibly will be responsible for people in the water, it’s a good idea to become CPR and first aid certified. This will be a hotly sought after skill with employers for sure. It will likely provide you a bit of peace of mind as well. You’ll have the skills to respond quickly and appropriately in case of an emergency
  • We suggest brushing up on your swimming skills and staying physically fit. The job as a dolphin trainer is very physically demanding and requires a lot of stamina. You will also be spending a good amount of time in the water, so super swimming skills are pretty important.
  • There are some great organizations for dolphin trainers to join. These organizations will have the most current news and literature about the field and will have voluntary continued education workshops available too. You may want to check out the American Association of Zoo Keepers or the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association.

What Exactly Does a Dolphin Trainer Do?

The job of a dolphin trainer is pretty cool and so are the daily duties that are performed. As a trainer you will teach dolphins new tricks for performances or therapy methods if they are used for that service. You’ll be tasked with reinforcing already learned behaviors and tricks through positive reinforcement methods.

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When dolphins are in captivity it is the responsibility of their trainers to teach them to be cooperative of a variety of people because they will have to interact almost daily. It is especially important to help the dolphins to feel comfortable with veterinarians since there will be times where blood work is needed. You will be required to participate in husbandry of the dolphins as well which at times may involve extra blood draws from a veterinarian.

The water temperature and alkalinity of the dolphin habitat is really important. You will be in charge of maintaining very specific levels daily to ensure that they are always in tip top health. The cleaning of the habitat will also be your responsibility and will give you a chance to show off your scuba skills. You will also have to feed these awesome ocean creatures multiple times a day. This requires the handling of hundreds of pounds of fish a day. Dolphins need to eat three times a day and are also offered fish as a reward for following instructions.

Dolphin Trainer Abilities

We’ve talked about the specials skills that will help you during your day to day working experience, but we wanted to touch on a few more. Some of these abilities are innate while some are more learned abilities and can be worked on if you feel that you are lacking in those areas.  Here we go, let’s take a look at some super helpful abilities:

  • Problem Sensitivity: Problem sensitivity is when you have the ability to tell when something is wrong or may go wrong due to a variety of factors. The ability to recognize a problem or potential problem is a super helpful tool to have when you are a dolphin trainer. It will help you to keep your dolphins and anyone interacting with them.
  • Oral Expression: Oral expression is the important ability to communicate effectively. As a dolphin trainer you’ll be talking to a lot of people to educate them and share your ideas with them. Being able to talk and make sense is an incredibly important skill to have.
  • Deductive Reasoning: Deductive reasoning is the ability to apply universal rules to a specific problem. The intent when using deductive reasoning is to produce answers that makes the most sense.
  • Speech Clarity: This ability is pretty straight forward. The ability to speak clearly will help keep those you are speaking to engaged for longer amounts of time and shows that you are an excellent communicator.
  • Far and Near Vision: Unfortunately there is no way to really control what your vision is. You are able to wear contacts or glasses to correct any issues you may have. The ability to see near and far will help you monitor what your dolphins are doing in greater detail. So get those eyeballs checked!
  • Fluency of Ideas: Having the ability to come up with a number of great ideas about any topic at hand will be very beneficial.
  • Inductive Reasoning: Inductive reasoning is the counterpart to deductive reasoning. You will need to be able to combine pieces of information to put together a conclusion. This is an ability that will help you to find a relationship among seemingly unrelated events. This is a great ability for dolphin trainers to have as it may help you to figure out some behaviors displayed.
  • Information Ordering: Information ordering is a helpful ability to organize things into a specific order or a pattern. The order or pattern you place things in will follow a specific rule or set of rules that you decide upon. This can help you maintain order in your job as a trainer and can help you to maintain a schedule.

Dolphin Trainer Salary

Let’s go ahead and talk about the cash-ola, shall we? The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have specific salary information for dolphin trainer, a bummer indeed, but we will improvise. The BLS does have some great information on the median annual wage for animal trainers in general. So we are going to take that and run with it. Do keep in mind that the actual figures for a dolphin trainer may vary slightly.

As of May 2012 the median annual wage for animal trainers in $25,270, according to the Bureau for Labor Statistics. The lower 10% of trainers will earn a yearly salary of $17,580 and the highest 10% will pull in more than $49,840. As with all jobs, there are bound to be some salary variations depending on the place you are employed, the state you live in and on the amount of schooling and experience you have.

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Dolphin Training Schools

As we’ve said, you will have to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field to become a dolphin trainer. We figured we would share some schools that have the programs that would fit perfectly for your educational requirements to become a trainer. If nothing else this section will provide you with some program ideas as well as give you a picture of some courses to take.

Moorpark College – Animal Science Degree

Moorpark College offers students an Animal Science degree program. The curriculum of the Animal Science program offers students the basic understanding on some important things that are pretty important for those that are considering a career as a dolphin trainer. Some of the topics covered during this degree program are animal health, nutrition, anatomy/physiology, behavior, diversity and conservation. Moorpark College has a teaching zoo that provides a great training down for students. There are opportunities at this school for laboratory experience as well as hands on experience with animals for training purposes

Florida Institute of Technology – Marine Biology Degree

The Florida Institute of Technology offers a marine biology degree for students that are interested in the ocean and all its moving parts, so to speak. The course work in this degree program covers a pretty wide berth of information and will help to prep you for your new position as a dolphin trainer. You will study the interesting areas of molecular biology, global warming, marine organisms and oceanography.

San Francisco State University – Biology Degree with a Concentration in Zoology

San Francisco State University offers students that may be interested in a future as a dolphin trainer, a degree program right up their alley. This school has a Bachelor of Science in Biology with Concentration in Zoology program. This program will provide students with course work that will cover evolutionary biology, ecology, anatomy and physiology of both vertebrate and invertebrate animals. This degree program will prepare you to enter the worlds of evolutionary biology, zoology and animal behavior.

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Where Can I Work as a Dolphin Trainer?

Good question! Most of us think about dolphin trainers that work at places like Sea World or sea aquariums that have dolphin habitats and put on shows. These aren’t your only choices though and there are some really cool places to submit an application for a job or internship. Take a look at a few other facilities and read a bit about what they do.

Dolphin Quest

Dolphin Quest is a fun facility that employs dolphin trainers year round. They are located in Bermuda and on a few of Hawaii’s islands. As a trainer at Dolphin Quest you will help patrons splash around in the water and play with dolphins. There are also shows that are put on that you will assist in on a daily basis. Your other duties will include educating those that attend all about the animals and their environment.

Dolphin Cove

Dolphin Cove is a facility that is located in beautiful Key Largo, Florida. This facility also allows patrons to swim and play with dolphins in a stellar hands on experience. They offer many hands on experiences for both adults and children. There is also a heavy focus on education at Dolphin Cove with many sessions set up similarly to lectures, but with lots of fun and some visits from our flippered friends.

Island Dolphin Care

We knew right away that we were going to include the amazing Island Dolphin Care into this article someway, somehow. You see we have personal experience with these great dolphin trainers and the dolphins themselves.  Island Dolphin Care is set apart by their mission to help children that have special health or emotional needs. They offer services to families in hopes that connecting with the dolphins on a therapeutic level will help the kids. They offer camps where each child gets full attention and equal time with the dolphins. It’s truly amazing to see and be a part of. Island Dolphin Care does offer services to those that do not have disabilities as well. They are located in sunny Key Largo, Florida as well.

Final Grade

As usual, we like to provide you with a full picture of what exactly you are getting yourself into with a career as a dolphin trainer. This little final grade break down will show you in broad strokes some of the more important factors that may need to be considered before jumping in with Flipper. Take a look at our final grade for becoming a dolphin trainer:

  • Degree vs. Debt: B-

A minimum of a four year degree is required to become a dolphin trainer. So with a four year degree comes with 4 years of schooling to shell out the money for. We also know that dolphin trainers don’t have the highest pay scale either, so the degree to debt ratio is really not that great. It could be worse for sure, but still it’s something to consider when trekking towards this profession.

  • Degree Difficulty: B

 We suppose that the degree difficulty may be in the eye of the student, but we don’t think that any of the degree avenues are too bad at all. None of them are loaded technical courses and it’s all science based, which should be right up your alley anyhow. It will definitely require some focus, serious note taking and a red bull or two to get you through the study sessions. Nothing too terrible though and totally worth it in the long run.

  • Happiness Quotient: A

Well there isn’t much better than a day spent in the water and sun, right? Add to that spending all day with one of the world’s most intelligent creatures while educating the masses about how to keep them and our planet safe…in the words of the great Charlie Sheen – winning! There will also be those days as a dolphin trainer that allows you to work one on one with children or adults that have special health needs. You will be making a difference in their lives and may feel pretty satisfied that your job allow you to do that as well.

  • Job Outlook: C

The job outlook isn’t much to write home about, unfortunately. This niche of the animal training industry is projected to have slow growth and not much expansion. This is likely do in part to people not leaving their positions and because there aren’t dolphin training facilities popping up on every corner a la McDonald’s. It isn’t all that easy to get a job as a dolphin trainer for those reasons as well. It’s a great job that is fulfilling, so if you do snag one…do not let it go.

Sources and Recommended Reading

Sources to us are like fish to a dolphin. We need them and we love them. The detailed information that we are able to provide you comes from our sources and will hopefully help you decide if being a dolphin trainer is for you. As usual, we drop the source links into our articles for the easiest click-ability imaginable. If that just doesn’t seem to cut it for you, no biggie! You can click on all of our link sights right below too.

 

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