There's nothing like the feeling you get when you make a connection with a dolphin. When it happens, you'll share a special, two-way communication and develop a deep sense of trust that's hard to describe. It can take time to accomplish, but if you stick to it, you’ll achieve rewards few people experience.
To be a successful dolphin trainer, you need to be committed to working with animals and have a natural affinity for marine mammals. You'll need some flexibility, too; the job may include working a variety of schedules and shifts. Possessing an upbeat, positive attitude is important, as is comfort with public speaking. You'll also need to be able to lift at least 50 pounds and be able to work outdoors and in water in all types of weather.
After years of hard work, you'll not only master the craft and gain authority, but you'll feel good knowing that you've had a positive impact on animal welfare. You’ll positively affect the dolphins’ physical and mental health, helping to keep them in top condition. And, your observation and communication skills with the dolphins will help broaden the understanding of their needs and capabilities and lead to protection of their wild counterparts.
As a dolphin trainer, you’ll help educate people through demonstrations and interactive programs. You’ll feed the dolphins, ensure safe and comfortable structural habitats and provide medical care. You'll examine the animals daily and meet with other trainers to discuss each dolphin's needs. If employed at a public facility, you may interact with guests. You'll also choose new social groups in which the dolphins will rotate.
Depending on the facility, you might be able to land an entry-level job with just a high school diploma. To specialize in dolphin training, however, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in life science, biology, animal psychology and behavior. You may also need certification from a school specializing in animal training and management. It’s important to develop excellent skills in swimming, snorkeling and scuba. An advanced degree in animal behavior is essential if you want to become a supervisor, curator or director.
Practical, hands-on experience is the best way to gain the understanding and skills needed to train dolphins. You can acquire this training by working directly with dolphins under the supervision of senior team members. You’ll also get valuable on-the-job experience by preparing fish meals for the dolphins, cleaning the animals, writing records, giving public educational demonstrations and doing some of the dirty work, like keeping the facility sparkling clean. You can get practical experience volunteering at zoos, oceanariums, veterinary hospitals, wildlife rehabilitation centers and animal shelters. You can also apply for internships, either paid or voluntary, which will allow you to break into the field working at an actual marine mammal facility.
If you’ve got what it takes to be a dolphin trainer, you can look forward to a career where employment is expected to grow 23 percent between 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
2016 Salary Information for Animal Care and Service Workers
Animal care and service workers earned a median annual salary of $23,040 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, animal care and service workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $19,540, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $29,490, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 296,400 people were employed in the U.S. as animal care and service workers.
- DolphinTrainer.com: Career Info: A Career Guide to Marine Animal Care and Training
- Dolphin Quest: Career Information
- National Aquarium: Training the Dolphins
- DegreeDirectory.org: Animal Trainer: Career and Salary Facts
- United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Animal Care and Service Workers
- The Winter Dolphin Chronicles: Marine Mammal Training: How It’s Done
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Animal Care and Service Workers
- Career Trend: Animal Care and Service Workers
Michelle Reynolds has been writing about business, careers and art since 1993. She was the publisher of a newsletter, “Working Parents Monthly," as well as a graphic design guidebook. Reynolds also served as human-resources director at a resort/spa for eight years. She is an artist and promotes the arts and other artists through ElegantArtisan.com, a website she developed and maintains.