Posts Tagged ‘dolphins’

Behavior Analysts on Vacation

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

“Swimming with dolphins” is a bit of a misnomer. Actually, you just grab onto their fins and hold on for dear life.

This great experience was a delayed 31st Anniversary trip planned by my wife. It was a wonderful experience that totally suited two behavior analysts. We spent the day at Discovery Cove in Orlando (part of SeaWorld) and had our dolphin “encounter” in the late afternoon.

With six others, under the careful supervision of a trainer, we took turns rubbing the back of a beautiful 3-year old dolphin named “Maui” and giving her SDs for a variety of “tricks.” These operantly trained behaviors had been shaped over several months and were now under the control of subtle hand signals and maintained by a CRF schedule of 5-inch fish plucked from a bucket of ice.

The other guests were amazed by the intelligence of these remarkable marine mammals and we were fascinated at the presentation skills and repertoire of the trainer. Kelly was smooth as silk in explaining what we would see and how to handle the dolphins, but short on how the training was done. By making the training process somewhat mysterious, most non-behavior analysts are spellbound with what appears to be magic.

I was thinking to myself how much further along we would be as a field if Skinner had worked with dolphins instead of rats and pigeons, or if SeaWorld chose to use Discovery Cove as an opportunity to enlighten their visitors about behavior analysis. “And now for this next demonstration, watch carefully and notice how I wait until Maui shakes her head three times. This is called an FR 3 or fixed ratio 3 schedule of reinforcement. You can do the same thing at home with your kids. When they do three pages of homework, they can come to the kitchen for a cookie. Of course, just as we had to start with Maui shaking her head just once, then twice, and now three times, you’ll have to do the same with pages of homework. Start with one page for a cookie, then two, and so on. You can learn more about how to use the principles when you get home by checking out the book What Shamu Taught me About Life, Love, and Marriage by Amy Sutherland.”

For those who want a more in-depth experience with the dolphins, visitors can sign up for a package including Trainer for A Day. This would be a great opportunity for anyone thinking about animal training as a career.