I spent a day training dolphins. It was fun

Our 20-year-old intern investigates the business of dolphin-training.

Sally Ong | January 8, 2014 @ 06:09 am

We are all “experts” when it comes to dolphins. We know that they are very friendly, and they jump real nice.

In fact, our only experience with a dolphin is probably the pink dolphin.


But to gain real experience, I spent a day with 24 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins as a trainer at Resorts World Sentosa.

Here goes:


1. The way to a dolphin’s heart is food, and this is the general idea:




I first had to prepare their meals according to a menu customized for each dolphin. I had to throw away raw fish that were bruised or that had dropped on the floor. No five-second rule here!


For your information, a dolphin can have about 10 meals a day, and one meal’s an average of about 1.5kg of seafood. *Jealous* But I guess I’m happy I don’t weigh 115 kg you know.


2. Having done some diving previously, I kinda fantasised about floating around the pool with the dolphins.

My expectation:


A dolphin trainer’s reality:


Definitely not all play and fun as a trainer! You’ll see through working with the trainers that they probably run as much as a sprinter in Dolphin Island because everything can get very flexible, fast and lively suddenly to suit the dolphins’ needs.



I also got to speak to their in-house vet who showed me some dolphin blood samples and poop collected from husbandry.

For the Biology geeks out there, a dolphin’s blood sample looks pretty much like ours under a microscope. I don’t think I can say the same about their poop though.

Each dolphin’s characteristics (food intake, breathing rate, training progress etc) are keyed into a health management application by OERCA on iPad.


3. Dolphins actually have ears!


Ten points to Gryffindor if you can spot them!


4. The mucus along their eyes actually serve as goggles in water.



Good for them. My contact lens kill my eyes when I swim without googles and our eye mucus just signals to our friends that somebody just woke up.

Another unfair fact? Dolphins shed their skin about every two hours to keep their skin smooth. Their shedding looks the resulting black dirt when we rub our palms together. And yeah, we’re considered “dirty” when we shed instead.


5. If you’re wondering what husbandry earlier meant, hint: it has nothing to do with finding a husband.




You actually get the dolphin out of water willingly and turn her on her back so you can perform a health check. This actually requires a lot of trust from the dolphin (and is the closest husbandry will ever be linked to finding a husband).

The white platform above is actually a weighing scale.


6. The scratches and wounds on the dolphins are actually love bites or battle scars from each other during mating.



Talk about tough love. Our love bites look nicer.

I think.


7. Oh yeah, I must also know my dolphins by their names. Easy right?


But they all looked the same to me.


Get what I mean?

Some dolphin trainers have been with the dolphins since they were being bred in the Philippines, and spending more than eight hours everyday with the dolphins definitely helped with recognizing dolphins.


8. I finished off with two dolphins pushing at my feet to propel me forward on a swim board.


Fast but not very furious, the ride only lasted seconds. Those kids next to me on their Dolphin Adventurer program definitely enjoyed it!


9. Remember those transparent kayaks you reblogged on Tumblr?





Yup, they have it on Dolphin Island as well. Imagine being on the transparent kayak while four dolphins are swimming around and below you. Who needs tumblr?


10. So I also heard national swimmer Joseph Schooling is so good that he teaches stingrays how to swim.

But the swimmer himself admitted that he wished he could swim as fast as the dolphins. And so Joseph went off to Dolphin Island to be schooled on dolphins.


I guess the dolphins ended up congratulating him on his five medals at the SEA games as well. There’s no way I can beat him at swimming… but maybe I can edge him in a dolphin quiz since he only spent 75 minutes at the park? Check out his experience here.


11. Lastly, I said farewell with a dolphin’s kiss, a hug, and some crazy synchronized jumps from the dolphins.


Oh, and a fountain display when a dolphin peed while being on his back. Something like that:


Some personal thoughts:

While there were parts of the programme that felt like it was entertainment for participants, such as kissing and hugging the dolphins or getting pushed in the water by dolphins, the majority of the day was focused on education about dolphins. Our trainer Kiyo Tamura was constantly encouraging us (me and fellow trainee Nicholas) to ask questions about dolphins. Even when we did not have any more questions, Kiyo would ask us questions about dolphins which we had no answer to and thus we learnt more.

Truthfully, I enjoyed the learning part more than the entertainment part of the programme. Lastly and most importantly, I have learnt and now feel so much more for the dolphins. I’ll daresay Nicholas  feels the same too. You can read his informative article here.


Below are some tips on the Dolphin program:


Tip #1: RWS offers other dolphin interaction programs. Personally, I think Trainer for a Day program is the best. I stayed in the park for 6 hours and received more interaction with the dolphins while customers for the other programmes had to leave after 30 minutes to an hour.  I also learnt more than them as well! A three-course set lunch at the Ocean Restaurant is also included.



Tip #2: Don’t bother bringing your camera as you are not allowed to bring anything inside. Life jackets are provided for non-swimmers and wetsuits, towels and lockers are provided. The crew will be there to help take photos.


More details of RWS’ Dolphin programmes can be found here.


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About Sally Ong

Sally was traveling with her bicycle, earpiece, skates and books when she met a fork in the road. She chose write.

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