“What’s your advice for someone who wants to become a marine mammal trainer?”

“Definitely volunteer, so you can really know what it’s like behind the scenes.”

Marine mammal training is not as glamorous as it seems. Sure, the marine mammal staff get lots of face time with the Pacific white-sided dolphins, belugas and harbour porpoises (among other animals), but Leonora Marquez, a senior marine mammal trainer at the Vancouver Aquarium, says there is more to her job than that. It can be a physically demanding role that requires trainers to be outside in all sorts of weather, and they have to be able to deliver interpretive talks on microphone during some of the programs.

Leonora suggests getting hands-on experience as a volunteer or intern at a facility like the Aquarium to learn about the day-to-day operations of caring for marine mammals. On top of that, she also suggests working towards a science degree at university. Leonora studied marine biology before going on to work with marine mammals in her native Mexico.

Leonora knew since she was eight that she wanted to become a marine mammal trainer. After seeing marine mammal staff in action during a childhood aquarium visit – “I said ‘I’m going to do that one day.’”

Learn more about marine mammal training and other Aquarium careers during the Ask the Staff program taking place daily during Vancouver Aquarium Up Close, a special feature exhibit on now until April 30.

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7 Responses

  1. Michael Wood

    I read many of the questions forwarded to you and they seemed to imply that you are using the animals for human reasons and not merely as extensions of their natural behaviors and abilities. Basically saying you are using the animals for human entertainment. This is an age old battle or argument of humans using animals for human purposes.

    I used to train sea lions in the Navy’s Project Quick Find where we used sea lions to recover objects from the ocean floor. In that process we trained at-sea and our sea lions were free to leave anytime they wanted. Once trained they never had a tether line. Everyday the sea lions returned because the 30-60 minutes a day they worked for us they got their 5-10 lbs of smelt fish reward. It sure beat swimming around all day out in the deep ocean looking for food and facing predators on a daily basis. After their work they lazed around all day in the pen or pool forcing with each other or lying in the warm sun. They always came back!

    For more information I have a book called Project Quick Find: Memoirs of a U.S. Navy SEAL Training Sea Lions at https://www.navysealphoto.com.

  2. Marianne Yelle

    I imagine you are already aware but one of your female sea lions has a stereotypie (repetitive behavior) where she sucks on one of her fins frequently. I wonder if more tools to relieve boredom/anxiety could be used to reduce this.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thanks for your inquiry, Marianne. The sea lions at the Aquarium do have a number of opportunities for enrichment that keep them stimulated and active. By nature, sea lions are inquisitive animals, which is why we are committed to providing them with a variety of choices for recreation and activities that enable them to utilize physical and social behaviors they exhibit in the wild.

  3. Birthe Levie

    I don’t understand why are you “training” them? Training implies that you want them to do something that is not natural to them. Wildlife do not need to be trained, unless it is for human entertainment purposes. What are you training them “for”?
    I look forward to your response.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thanks for your inquiry, Birthe. Training allows us to care for our animals, and enables us to get up close to the animals for ongoing veterinary care and animal enrichment. Our animal care team builds a bond of trust with the animals that’s essential to their welfare. This bond allows us to safely handle the animals so we may gauge their ongoing health and use diagnostic tools to help with their assessments. We also use training to highlight the special traits and behaviours that our animals execute naturally in the wild for our visitors’ learning and understanding, in hopes that visitors will better understand the role they can have in supporting ocean conservation.

    • Helloneil123

      Isnt the best way to learn through play? by showing aquarium guests the bond between trainer and animal having fun performing, jumping, swimming it will inspire them to learn more about the animal/s that they saw that day at the Vancouver Aquarium

    • Jeff

      Birthe, if you go to the Vancouver Aquarium, you will hear the Biologists and Trainers explain how by training them to perform, it allows them to act in the same manner in which they do in the wild.

      Having seen many wild animals play in the wild, it’s perfectly understandable why they would want these dolphins to act as they would in the wild.

      These dolphins were deemed unfit to be re-released in to the wild. Simply look at the picture above to see the scars and severely damaged pectoral fins. Again, by going and looking at these dolphins in person, you would see the physical scars.

      Training = exercise


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