Building the Dolphins' Resiliency

As they continue preparing our dolphin colony for its move to a seaside sanctuary, marine mammal staff members are currently focused on developing the dolphins' resiliency so they can build the skills necessary to thrive in a new, more natural environment.

Resiliency is a critical component of the individualized plans that will allow each member of our dolphin colony to successfully acclimate to their future home at the Dolphin Sanctuary. The dolphins in our care have relatively routine lives, dependent on the marine mammal staff for many aspects of their daily care, including enrichment and food. Though the dolphins will still receive the same level of ongoing care from staff at the Sanctuary, we want to ensure they are comfortable with the independence and exciting new stimuli their new environment will afford them.

As part of our long-term resiliency plan, the marine mammal team is currently working on building upon the dolphins' innate abilities to problem solve and work cooperatively. For wild dolphins, these skills are essential to preserving the colony's social dynamics and ensuring their shared ability to secure food and avoid predation.

Here are a few examples of the resiliency training our dolphins are currently working through:

Dolphin Jade Swimming Towards the Camera

Cooperative Enrichment

Staff have created custom-made feeders that require two dolphins to work together in order to release the positive enrichment that has been secured inside. These exercises build and reinforce the dolphins' natural inclination to work cooperatively to secure food and share the results of the work.

The dolphins have shown an overwhelmingly positive response to these new enrichment items. Though some of our dolphins were less eager to engage with the new enrichment tools at first, seeing their peers receive the positive enrichment emboldened them to try it themselves. Spirit has been particularly engaged and interested in these new tools. She has perfected the balance of being gentle while also strategically applying force to open the enrichment and secure a treat for herself and the other females!

Dolphin Chesapeake Receiving Enrichment Training at a Floating Dock

Environmental Changes

In addition to getting the dolphins comfortable with variable water temperatures, the marine mammal team has been incrementally increasing the types of sanctuary-related stimuli the dolphins will encounter in their new home. Examples of environmental stimuli include placing outdoor umbrellas near their pools and introducing the dolphins to the shapes and figures of wildlife they will encounter, such as birds.

Recently, the team introduced floating docks into the dolphins’ habitat. In the Sanctuary, floating docks will be installed in order to give marine mammal staff the ability to provide care to the dolphins. At this point, our dolphins are acclimated to engaging with staff solely at the edge of their habitat’s various pools. Floating docks are now being utilized in the dolphins' current environment two to three times per week, giving each dolphin the opportunity to get comfortable approaching and feeding from the docks. Of all the dolphins in our colony, Foster has been the most comfortable interacting at the dock with staff. He always approaches the dock and participates in exercises without hesitation.

It's critical that the dolphins understand these docks do not represent environmental barriers. The team wants to ensure each dolphin understands they can swim under and around the docks with ease.

Stay tuned for more updates on the dolphins' journey to their future home and learn more about how you can support the Dolphin Sanctuary.

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