5 Misconceptions About Being a Trainer

“So, like, you get to play with dolphins all day?”

Being a marine mammal trainer forces you to live in two different worlds: the real world and the world everyone thinks you live in. Most people have a terrible misconception of what being a marine mammal trainer means, let alone what it entails. Being a marine mammal trainer means you have dedicated yourself to making the lives of animals better. Not just those under your direct care, but those in the wild as well. It entails giving up your free time, your weekends, your Holidays, money, and forces you to keep up with the physical demands of this glorious career. It’s tough, but so so so worth it.

During my time as a trainer I have heard it all and I continue to hear outlandish misconceptions on what it means to work with marine mammals. So, in honor of everyone who thinks trainers spend their day tanning and splashing around with their flippered friends, here are “5 Misconceptions About Being a Trainer.”


1. We’re Marine Biologists

Marine mammal trainers are not always marine biologists. Marine biologists study marine biology, marine mammal trainers study marine mammal behavior. While those two topics most definitely intertwine, most marine mammal trainers do not have a degree in marine biology.

The most common, and preferred, area of study for marine mammal trainers is psychology. As trainers, we are concerned with the behavior of animals and how to shape behavior in a positive way. Because psychology is the study of behavior it is only natural that most trainers have backgrounds in psychology.


2. We Swim With Dolphins All Day

Don’t get it twisted, we love our jobs, but it is a far cry from swimming with dolphins all day. In fact, interacting with animals in the water only makes up a small portion of the job. Even then, only experienced trainers are given the privilege to enter their world.

It makes since that the public would think trainers spend most of their time swimming with dolphins because that is the only thing they see. They come to a 30 minute show and see trainers and animals swimming in the water. However, once the guests leave, the trainers get out of the water and get to work. Cleaning takes up a large majority of the day. Even when trainers train the animals new behaviors, it is usually done with the trainer on land.


3. We Get Paid A lot















4. It’s An Easy Job To Get

This is a more recent misconception made popular by Blackfish (my response to Blackfish here). Becoming a marine mammal trainer is very difficult. Anyone who understands basic supply and demand will understand this. There are thousands of people across the country who want a very limited number of positions. ┬áTherefore, facilities are able to be very picky. You cannot (I’m sorry), show up to a marine park and “sign-up” to be a dolphin trainer. You have to work, study, practice, and get the necessary experience before you will be qualified to apply for this position. After the application process you are still competing for limited spots.

SeaWorld gets 100s of applications in the first 24 hours after a new trainer position is posted.

I know trainers who have worked five years straight (after getting a college degree) and still haven’t landed their dream job. However, if they stick with it, they will make it. The industry is tough and removes people who don’t have the drive and ambition required to make it. At the same time, it reinforces and rewards those who have the education, experience, and endurance to make it happen.


“Few things are harder than becoming a trainer, but even fewer things are as rewarding.” – Kyle Kittleson


5. We Know Everything About All Animals

Your friends and family assume that because you know a lot about dolphins, you know every single thing about each animal on the planet. Friends will point at a wild bird and ask you where it migrated from. Your Uncle will show you his new puppy and expected you to know which three breeds its a mix of. Your parents will watch National Geographic with you and ask you dozens of questions instead of listening to the show to find the answer.

People assume that marine mammal trainers know everything about every animal.

That being said, because your job as a marine mammal trainer will more than likely entail work with other animals, you will gain a large understanding of a variety of animals. I primarily worked with marine mammals for five years, but during that time I also worked with marine birds, parrots, pets and other land animals.


What misconceptions do you get as an aspiring or working animal trainer?


  • I’m gonna have to say the marine biology thing is the most common. Whenever I tell people I need a psychology degree, they give me the strangest looks, and a few of my family’s friends are planning to become trainers after their marine biology degrees. I will tell them if I meet them, and point them here.

  • It irks me when people (and Hollywood!) use the term negative reinforcement when actually discussing positive punishment.

  • “So, do you have to touch the fish?” You expect a lot of repetitive questions, but I never thought I’d be asked that so many times. I think some people assume that not only do trainers just swim and play with the animals all day, they also have “people” to do all of the fish-touching and cleaning. Trainer =/= royalty.

  • I really liked what you wrote about being a marine mammal trainer. I visited Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida. I have become a founder with them. I absolutely fell in love with the dolphins. Having suffered with PTSS for years I have finally found a way to reduce this condition by just being with the dolphins. I am able now to do more things that I ever was due to them.

    More people need to learn that these animals are very loved, cared for, and treated with respect. They also teach children about caring for animals as they act as ambassadors for all sea life.

    My grandchildren have learned so much from me telling them about the dolphins and other sea life. They’ve learned to not waste water, cut up plastic items that could injure an animals and I think they have also learned a newer respect for the ocean and why we must beware of the chemicals that go into the water.

    After all, the water in the ocean is not only what the sea life drink, but eventually we’ll be drinking it too!

    I must also add that Rick O’Barry is doing more damage than good. He lied so much in the movie. However, when I was in Florida I was told that after he trained dolphins he went and just released them into the ocean. These poor animals couldn’t even fend for themselves. I guess one lived, but the other died.

    My question to him is: Are you feeling guilty for releasing those animals? You haven’t done much to help the dolphins killing in Japan. Therefore, my only thought is that you are using any donations that you receive to fund your trips to Japan for your own entertainment.

    Let’s all work together to stop the bad publicity that he is spreading.


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