Sunday, July 16, 2017

To The Maryland Zoo Team

Oh, Maryland Zoo people....I am so sorry.


For those of you who don't know, Maryland Zoo has had two giraffe births within the past few months.  The latest, a male named Julius, was born on June 15th.  What happened afterwards is a story that so many of us have experienced, but have a lot of trouble not only processing internally, but expressing to people who have no idea what it is like to care for animals in this way.

Our critics often take opportunities where animals are ill, injured, or dying to rake us over the coals.  Most people, even those who do not necessarily support zoos or aquariums, are decent human beings who do NOT leave heartless, cruel Facebook comments about these situations.  However, it is the small minority of thoughtless people who make what is already an incomprehensible loss into a horrendous nightmare.

What a great idea! Everyone is doing it!

In the case of the little giraffe calf, his story played out in a way I think many of this blog’s readers will relate to.  He was born to a loving, doting mother but for whatever reason, Julius did not nurse successfully.  This is not an unusual situation in both captive and wild mammals, especially with mammals whose childhoods are long investments of maternal care. 

When nursing doesn't go as planned in these animals, animal care professionals must weigh their options on how to proceed.  Some facilities choose to let nature take its course, which is of course what happens….in nature.  That is not “good” or “bad”.  Nature is what nature is, it does not care one way or the other how the story ends.  And some well-respected zoological communities feel that it is in the animals’ best interest to experience life as naturally as possible, which might result in a hands-off approach when a baby is failing to thrive. 

Brookfield Zoo staff helping a newborn dolphin

Some facilities choose to intervene if it is a) safe for the humans involved (remember, many of these animals are massive, not to mention mom is not necessarily going to think rationally when someone comes in and messes with her baby who is struggling) and b) in the best interest of the baby him/herself.  Some babies, like bottlenose dolphins, are extremely fragile when they are first born.  They can literally have a heart attack if they get super scared.  Their mom and/or other family members may freak out if something outside of their experience happens after the calf is born, like a pool dropping or attempting to handle their calf (which is why it is so awesome that some marine mammal facilities teach their dolphin moms to do husbandry-related behaviors that entail scenarios commonly encountered in intervening with a neonatal calf).  Big dolphins freaking out around brand new babies can result in fatal injuries to the baby.  

So it isn't an easy decision to make with large mammals, because there are a lot of factors to consider on top of what the baby him/herself is going through medically.  

Once a decision is made to intervene, everyone remotely involved with the department is usually scheduled for some grueling Waffle House shifts.  Waffle House shifts.  You know, because the only place that you can guarantee will be open to feed you no matter what time you get off, no matter what you are wearing, no matter what you smell like, is good ol' Waffle House.

Some places will recruit help from other animal departments, or ask for volunteers depending on how the facility is organized.  This might mean you work 12 hour shifts.  Maybe you work your normal eight or ten hour day, and then come into work in the middle of the night for a few hours, then get up a few hours later to do it again.  Chances are, your weekends and vacation plans are cancelled.   Your life becomes work and sleeping (where and when you can) and little else for the indefinite future.

Your life is one big Waffle House shift

Why is this? Well, in general, most critical cases require consistent medical treatment.  Medication courses may have to be given at certain times through the day and night.  For example, I worked with a dolphin who had an abscess on her lung.  The course of her antibiotics required a 24 hour feeding schedule for many, many weeks that needed to be strictly adhered to, because lung infections are not easy to treat (and she made a fully recovery, so happy ending to that story!).  Other types of medical therapies may require multiple treatments within a 24 hour period, too.  Continuous observation is usually a part of this as well, which means an alert staff member or two is watching the animal for any changes in behavior.  Try staying awake in the middle of the night for 8 to 12 hour shifts never taking your eyes off the animal in your care, unless you have to use the bathroom.  

But when a baby needs critical care, this requires even more effort.  Even if the baby is 100% healthy, her or she needs to eat regularly…more than an adult or juvenile would.  Human moms know what I’m talking about.  Infants and babies in many non-precocial mammal species go through a period I like to call The Red Zone where they basically eat, sleep, and poop in 2 to 4 hour cycles, pausing not a wink for their moms/dads/guardians to catch up.  If a giraffe isn't able to nurse properly from mom, then humans take over mom’s role. 

MD Zoo staff bottle feed Julius

Feeding a baby in this way is not as easy as it seems in the movies, either.  You don't just provide a bottle, snuggle with the baby as he or she feeds lazily in your arms, and then upload all your adorable selfies to your Insta account.  No.  You have to MAKE the formula (oh my GOD and if it’s a dolphin calf, there is usually some amount of fish oil involved which gets everywhere and you will never, ever smell like a human being again, sorry).  You have to account for every calorie; this is not just a simple “dump the powder into the water and shake shake shake and eyeball the amount eaten” situation.  Every. Calorie. Counts.  You make the formula, you pour it into whatever feeding device you’re going to us, and then you triple-check the amount before, during, and after each feeding.

This is an insanely emotionally challenging time for EVERYONE involved, human and animal alike.  Baby animals in critical condition brings its own sort of emotional torment, because it isn't uncommon for them to start to really rely on their human caregivers for all of the other needs he/she would be getting from mom, (or in alloparenting species,o ther members of the herd/pod/pride/whatever).  Social mammals NEED social contact, and not just for touchy-feely reasons.  Loving physical contact paired with creating a sense of security has a direct impact on healthy development.  If baby is surrounded by loving human caregivers, baby will start relying on those caregivers (in full or in part) to provide that contact and security.


So now you have a critically ill baby, who relies on YOU 100% for every need he/she has.  No worthy keeper takes this responsibility lightly.  Most of us fall head over heels in love and toss our life’s plans aside as we work ourselves to death to try to help this little life.  After only a couple of days, the only way we can get through our day is the time we spend with the animals.  But when we get downtime, we fall into tortured sleep filled with nightmares or we pass out into a restless state of unconsciousness until we return back to work, hopeful that the tides have turned in the baby’s favor.

It is an indescribable feeling to see a baby who was previously not doing well suddenly turn the corner and flourish.  Life slowly gets back to “normal”.  Everyone is happy.

But sometimes, the baby is too good for this world.  Such was the case with Julius.  It is especially hard when you know that they are not going to get better, especially when it is a long, slow road to that fate.

<3 <3 <3

So now I'm going to directly address all of you who worked with this little calf….but to anyone reading this who has been through a similar situation, this applies to you, too.

Maryland Zoo team Julius peeps, you are amazing.  I mean, it’s amazing enough that you did literally EVERYTHING remotely possible for that little guy.  Not only did you do everything you could for Julius, you set an example for how this kind of situation should be treated.  Keeping the wellness of Julius as your North Star, you balanced his needs with the possibilities available.  Not only that, you kept the public aware of what you were doing.  They got a look into what it takes to provide that level of care to a wild animal calf.  I mean, people in my forensics lab were talking about it with a tremendous amount of respect and concern.  

I know what it is like to watch a baby move in the wrong direction.  I know how heart-wrenching that is, especially when you start to second-guess decisions you have made, or ones you may have to make.  THEN, no matter how hard you try to cement yourself to the soulless comments about Julius and zoos and what you do for a living, you still somehow read or hear a comment that frays your last nerve and breaks you down, when you've been barely holding on. 

Look at this incredible group of people!

But listen to me.  All that matters is what you did for Julius, no matter what role you played.  Here is what he needed: Love, security, basic physical needs met, and medical treatment.  Here is what you gave him: Love, security, basic physical needs met, and medical treatment. 

The experience that little giraffe calf had is impossible to know for sure, but logically let’s think about this.  Even if he didn’t feel well or physically comfortable as his health declined, all of his needs were met.  He did not have to spend a moment afraid.  He did not have to spend a moment unloved.  We know that is not often the case in animals in the wild in similar situations.  

The emotional torment you guys experienced with him, and are dealing with now in a different way, is NOT what he experienced.  If Julius gets to fill out a survey in the afterlife about his time on earth, his “Additional comment” section would probably say something like, “I got lots of love and I was basically a social media giant.  Would recommend.”

And I agree with this review!

No matter what your internal conversation is with how everyone played out, or how hard it is to read media coverage and see the disgusting comments below the articles….that does not change the fact that Julius lived and died, fully and completely loved.  THAT is why you guys get up each morning.  If you feel unappreciated, know that I bet Julius and his mom appreciated what you did.   Know that the awful comments you're reading are just words typed quickly on a keyboard....which is NOTHING compared to the weight of the work you did to care for an animal in his greatest time of need.

Know that the rest of us in the zoo field appreciated what you did.  We stand in solidarity with you. 

A giraffe, a dolphin, a lemur, a caiman…I don't care what animal you care for, we know that they all deserve to feel secure and loved, in whatever way they perceive those things.  It is never easy to provide that in medically critical situations, and yet time and again we do it.  We know our hearts will be ripped out, that we may have nightmares about it for years to come, but those consequences do not stop us from being there 100% for animals who not only NEED that level of care, but DESERVE IT.

Thinking of you, Maryland Zoo. 

Rest in peace, little guy.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Zookeeper Pregnancy - Morning Sickness

I swear to god this is not your typical pregnancy/morning sickness blog post.
Morpheus always knows

Not that there is anything wrong with so-called Mommy Blogging. In fact, there are some great ones out there, so I am told.  But the people who write that share at least three of the following qualities:

1) They have kids
2) They use coasters religiously and appropriately
3) They grow all of their own food with one hand (the other hand is usually doing something crafty)
4) They take perfectly artistic photos of everyday goings-on (such as pooping) that make it look like a utopian paradise
5) Their clothes match

I meet precisely one criterion in that list (hint, it is not number 5).  Even though I do have a kid, and I am 31 years older than said child, I feel like I am still in seventh grade.  This is a quality about my mindset that has not changed.  The only reason I have any business being a mom is because I am a professional applied behavior analyst.  But for that, my progeny and I would eat donuts three times a day and wear the same rainbow-themed clothes while binge-watching Sci-Fi and/or Pixar movies.
Um. Exhibit A.

I also didn't really have what you would call a magical experience with being knocked up; if I have an inner fertility goddess, she is currently snoring on a proverbial couch with Cheetos covering her Rubenesque body.

BUT.  I found it a really interesting experience as a marine mammal caregiver.  I spent a lot of time in my 11 year career around pregnant dolphins and their calves.  I had never seen labor and delivery of a human being, but I had seen it over 10 times in bottlenose dolphins.  I have been around way more pregnant dolphins than pregnant humans. 
Like this one! Roxy was pregnant with the love of my life in this photo

Here’s a thing I noticed and eventually became really annoyed by: our quickly-made conclusions about how different Animals Have It than humans.  For example, most of the pregnant dolphins I knew got “morning sickness” (aka The Worst Feeling Ever Other Than Scooping Out Your Eyeballs With A Small Spoon), but that was treated like it was some kind of anomaly.  When the dolphins would sit uncomfortably in front of us, barely eat, and refuse behaviors, our Training Brains couldn’t seem to wrap our minds around this.  Yeah, HUMANS got morning sickness, but these dolphins were ANIMALS.  Animals are tough.  They don’t show their emotions in ways humans are used to.  They don’t write Mommy Blogs and talk about Dolphin-Based Morning Sickness Remedies (THANK GOD).
I'm crying

But the majority of trainers I have worked with always talked about how that made no sense….placental mammal pregnancy involves many of the same principles, including sudden and dramatic changes in ratios of certain hormones.  The first trimester of pregnancy is essentially your body going WTF JUST HAPPENED and scrambling to support this small parasite(s).  The placenta, which eventually takes over most of the life support, doesn’t play that role until  later.  That means the mom’s body needs to support the little blobby blob* with chemicals like gonadotropin and progesterone.  It is likely that one or some of these hormones in their pregnancy-level amounts causes some really unfortunate GI side-effects.

When you have a dolphin who loves to eat no matter what is going on, you know something is up when she suddenly looks squinty-eyed, sluggish, inattentive, and like she would rather swallow bits of glass than eat whatever you have in your bucket.  Of course, the standard course of action is to take blood and gastric samples to ensure something is NOT actually wrong, so once you rule out illness, you got yourself a lady friend with morning sickness. 

In my experience, six weeks into carrying Blessed Life (while I was on a solo vaca to Central California to geek out on whale-watching for 10 days), I felt the most nauseous I have ever been.  Ever.  Like, even when I had an intestinal parasite for two weeks and could not eat and wound up in the hospital.  It was seriously terrible.  The only thing I could eat was sushi and fried or grilled squid.

Guys and gals (especially those of you who have never been pregnant), I would not wish the all-consuming, intense nausea I experienced on anyone (some world dictators are exempt from this statement).  Nothing I did could take my mind off of how sick I felt.  The advice I got was the wise but totally ineffective long-view kind, where people tell you how it’ll all be worth it (okay, it was) or how you should just think of this tiny little life growing inside of you (hint: photos of embryos are not great remedies for wanting to puke your guts out), but all you want to do is spend the rest of your life in the fetal position (ha ha, see what I did there).
 I need to re-do this vacation. Better yet, I need to move out there!

I spent most of my vacation in bed, miserable.  When I got back to work, I had to tell my boss that a) I was pregnant and b) there was no way in hell I could go on a sea lion transport because I would basically just vom the entire time.  Then I had to work.  Like normal.  I was on my feet for most of the day, in the heat, around the saltwater, around dead fish, penguin and otter poop, and I had my supervisory duties.  And I had to pretend nothing was going on.  I have no idea how well I pulled this off, I just know that there were many times I walked into our medical lab when no one was in there and flopped over the counters, hoping no one would come in.

It was there, on the cold countertops, that I really felt bad for my previous interactions with newly pregnant dolphins.  We had two dolphins who were preggo at the same time as me, but they were well past their sickness stage.  Even though I figured they experienced some kind of nausea/fatigue early on, and tried to be sensitive, I still fell into trainer-mode, where if they refused a well-established exercise behavior I would ask again after an LRS because….that is what we do.

But as I drooled on my uniform, my stomach turning in knots, I realized what a butthead I had been.  If THIS is what those lady dolphins experienced, I deserved to be kicked in the face.  If someone came into that lab and said, “Hey Cat, go do your normal workout right now” or “Hey Cat, walk five steps”, I would be like OVER MY DEAD BODY. 

Now, luckily, any misguided decisions I made regarding which behaviors I asked pregnant dolphins to do was usually met with refusal or avoidance.  That is, the girls would say OVER MY DEAD BODY in their own dolphin way.  That is how true positive reinforcement training SHOULD work, with the animals feeling perfectly comfortable saying no without any fear of deprivation of what they need to be happy and healthy.
Plus, you wind up with a cute baby

But still, I felt like a butthead.

And, I'm just gonna say it, but dudes don’t get it.  Especially in our field, where a) most of us are chicks but b) most of our bosses are male.  You are expected to work 99.9% of the time (you better be filling out records while you’re pooping on company time) because there is so much to do and the animals depend on you, it is a big deal to suddenly lose a trainer at ANY level (because seriously guys, we are all passionate and therefore very valuable no matter what level we are).  I think women are more empathetic to this thing, even if they haven't been pregnant…because periods**.  Female reproductive systems do really weird and usually uncomfortable things, even when they are perfectly normal.

But dudes? If you think we are just whining about morning sickness, I have a fun and educational activity for you to try.
Drink Dran-O, just enough to prevent massive organ failure.  And just when you think you are going to die, go to work and pretend like nothing is wrong.  (Side note: this also works for our “monthly visitor” experience, except you can just slice a relatively high-pressure, non-vital artery in your pelvic region).

Anyways, my lesson?  Even though I thought I was giving the animals the benefit of the doubt without sacrificing predictable training principles, it took me actually going through the experience to really understand.  That was just MY experience, it is probably different for most of you out there. 

And you know what? If I'm wrong, if dolphins really do NOT experience morning sickness and just have a secret Sisterhood pact to all refuse behaviors and pick at their food in the first four months of their pregnancy, then I would rather bring them extra comfort than try to make their situation more uncomfortable.  After all, our main job is to put the animals and their wellness first.  The show, interaction, or session takes second priority to the well-being of our animals.

Tell me your experience, keepers with human babies!

* Actual developmental term

** Need I say more, ladies?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Middle Flipper Is...(Part 16)

…a dolphin who helps herself to her lunch.  And maybe other people’s lunches.

This has got to be something anyone training animals has experienced with any tangible reinforcer*.  I wrote about this a while back, featuring an amazing lady sea lion named Tina.  It may not surprise many people that animals who can easily move around the land occasionally pull some lightning-fast ninja moves and wind up with their face in a bucket, cooler, pouch, whatever.  

Also can we pause a moment to just acknowledge how STRONG Asian small-clawed otters are when they are using their tiny alien hands to grab their food bowls?  You’d need some kind of industrial-grade lever system and/or a nuclear bomb to loosen their grip before they are good and finished.  ASCOs are undoubtedly the masters of bucket-diving.

But I mean, their hands can be used for good, too.

BUT, perhaps the wild card of the Bucket Diving World Champions are dolphins.  Yeah.  

If you work with dolphins, you get it.  But if you don’t, you are probably sitting there wondering a) how stupid the trainers are for leaving buckets close enough to the edge of the water for a dolphin to nab OR b) you are trying to imagine how it is physically possible for a dolphin to let themselves into a closed container of food but your brain keeps flashing the THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE message.  So let me shed light onto both of these points.

People who work with dolphins tend to keep fish in one of two types of containers: stainless steel buckets, or Igloo-type coolers**.  Because dolphins are ginormous animals and eat a good amount, these containers usually contain around 3 to 10 pounds of fish, depending on the facility, the animal, and the type of session.  Many facilities feed lots of capelin, or smaller fish like mullet or the dreaded silversides (Godspeed to those of you feeding those little MFers).  

This is the feeling of gazing into a bucket full of silversides.  HOW MANY ARE IN THEREEEEE

What that means is there are like 67,000 fish in a bucket (plus or minus), not to mention lots of ice.  That means the buckets are pretty heavy and not easily wielded (although have you seen a dolphin trainer’s arms? STACKED).  Unlike animals whose training food requires something cute and simple like a little belt, or clip-on pouch, dolphin trainers do not typically move their buckets around as often as THEY themselves move.  You leave it somewhere, do your thing, and come back to it.  

And this is where the problems begin.

When I was at Marineland, Roxy was the known bucket-diver (I’m assuming she is still doing this).  Now, Roxy was not really a risk-taker when it came to helping herself to snacks.  That is to say, if you carelessly left your bucket/cooler on the edge of the habitat, she was going to come up a foot or so out of the water, use her rostrum to knock the bucket into a free spin resulting in it crashing into the water. 

Roxy (photo cred to Jess Aditays, an amazing human being with endless talent)

This is usually how dolphins (in my experience) take their buckets.  They see a perfect opportunity, and take it.  Usually, it spills a good amount of fish into the water (67,000ish) and the other dolphins zoom over and chow down, regardless of what else is going on.  This is annoying for a few reasons:

1) You have to figure out how much food each animal got, so you can get everyone’s daily diet back into equilibrium.  This is basically impossible unless you have really slow dolphins (ha ha!), or if there is less than three, because otherwise you basically have a maelstrom of marine mammal eating fish and there aren’t enough eyeballs in your head or neurons in your brain to keep track of that much stimuli.

2) Depending on what kind of session it is, or how long you have left in the session, you may have like zero snacks left over.  This really sucks in interaction programs, because you can’t get people out quickly.  You can barely get them out of the water for an emergency, like HEY THERE IS LIGHTNING AND ALSO THERE IS A SERIAL KILLER STANDING BEHIND YOU WITH A LOADED SHOTGUN SO GET OUT OF THE WATER RIGHT NOW.  And the guests are like “BUT I PAID TO SWIM WITH DOLPHINS”

3) It is yet another reminder of how stupid we are and how smart the dolphins are.

I've been looking for that everywhere!

So what do we do? Well, we have our obligatory Staff Meeting where we declare that Never Again Shall Roxy (or whoever) Steal The Bucket, and we come up with training plans and make a blood oath that we will not leave our buckets within one foot of the pools’ edges.  And Roxy just waits until we screw up, because SHE knows we will (but we humans are still in denial about this).   Sometimes, you get REAL smart, and you close the lid to your Coleman cooler nice and tight after every time you use it, so when Roxy knocks it in, she just gets a floating cube impenetrable to her handless body.  And you celebrate how intelligent and cunning you are as a human being.

….until you meet Delilah.  

The Grand Empress herself

Delilah, she knows how to open coolers.  She removes lids in ways that I still cannot understand.  She eats all the snacks.  And then she brings you back the empty cooler, and the lid (if she completely removed it).  I don't have anything else to add to this, because her methods are a mystery.  All I know is that she figured this out and acts calmly, almost bored, because she is that effing smart.

But there is a dolphin who gets buckets no matter where they are.  And her name is Spirit.

Remember this photo

Spirit lives at National Aquarium (Nani’s daughter) and is one of the sharpest women I have ever met.  She is a keen observer of human behavior, she is always 10 steps ahead of any training plan you can come up with, she figures out your games and exploits you.  GOD I LOVE HER.

I was told Spirit was a bucket diver when I started working at the aquarium.  I figured at that point, with 10+ years of experience, I had seen lots of bucket divers.  I also figured that after watching Delilah dismantle coolers, I couldn’t be surprised anymore.  Now, don't read that as me saying that I somehow thought Spirit would never grab a bucket during one of our sessions.  I had learned that lesson long ago; it was just a matter of time before I experienced that.  But I figured I wouldn’t be surprised by it.  It would just be Another Smart Dolphin Taking What She’s Owed.

HA! My hubris was steamrolled yet again by a slippery critter.

This is now my permanent facial expression

The first time Spirit took her bucket (a stainless steel one), it was 100% my fault.  It was on the edge, I left to get some toys, and I took my eye off of her for a second.  Rookie mistake, and boom, she got it.  She got a couple other trainer’s buckets in other sessions over the next couple of days, becoming bolder and bolder at how far she would come up out of the water to get it.  But again, this wasn’t surprising to any of us.  We just tried to be more vigilant in keeping our buckets away from her.

So this one session, I was standing on a slide out on the side of the main habitat during a presentation.  I was about shin-deep in the water, loving on Spirit and another dolphin named Jade.  It seemed like we were having a jolly time, with both dolphins soliciting rubs and playing wildly with their toys.  I placed their buckets high up on the wall, at the end of a set of stairs leading into the slide out, because Spirit would basically need to re-evolve her legs or defy the laws of gravity in order to reach it.  Therefore, I felt perfectly comfortable moving to the front of the habitat, near their underwater viewing windows.

Everything is fine, I got it

I did this because it was part of our plan to bring the dolphins to the windows so our guests in the amphitheater could see the animals better.  I brought Jade’s bucket with me, after putting some of Spirit’s food in there, so I didn’t have to schlep two big buckets back and forth to the windows, especially because I wasn’t going to be there longer than a few behaviors.  Oh…oh Cat.

We did a few behaviors, having a great time.  Spirit and Jade got a good amount of snacks for it, since we didn’t do it super often.  I also figured it would be a good idea to give Spirit a heavier ratio of reinforcement at the windows because she was away from her bucket and, even though she couldn’t reach it, she was not over at the slideout trying to get it.  THis is something I am sure most of you trainers out there would’ve done, because it is, according to the books, What Works.

Suddenly, Spirit shot away.  Towards the slideout.  Towards the stairs.  

Me. Dolphin (not Spirit).  Stairs are behind me, bucket in the place I am describing.  You get the picture.

Oh god, I thought.  She is going to try in vain to get that bucket.  What a mess, I thought as I watched her make her way to the bucket.

Then, with the grace and agility of a freakin’ killer whale, she somehow CLIMBED UP THE STAIRS WITH HER FLIPPERS, grabbed her bucket, then threw her body, which was now well over 1/2 way out of the water, back onto the slideout.  And a dolphin party ensued, ruining the presentation segment, leaving me standing mouth-agape at what I just witnessed.

She tried to turn back into this thing

The best part? None of the staff who knew Spirit well was surprised.  They calmly informed me that really, the only way to prevent Spirit from getting a bucket was to secure it in a bucket rack on one of the decks of the habitat, or hang it 35 feet from the ground like a freaking camping trip where bears hang out.

In fact, they further informed me of Spirit’s ability and Little Mermaid-esque affinity to Be Where The People Are in ways that do not make sense for a bottlenose dolphin.  My favorite story involve a trainer in The Pit, a small (and AMAZINGLY COOL) observation area located below the main pool’s deck.  The entrance to the pit is like nine feet away from the water’s edge, and is up on a low grade “hill” of sorts. 

The pit is in the middle of this photo; its roof-top door is open.  That is how far back it is.

The trainer was watching animals in another pool, when they felt drops of water falling on them.  This wasn’t unusual, because if the animals splashed a lot, you might feel a couple of droplets as a result.  But for some reason, this trainer looked up.  And there, peering down at her, was Spirit. 

This dolphin had slid up well over a body length UPHILL, and scooted herself so that she could literally crane her head over the edge of the pit to see what was happening down there.  Like NBD. 

Despite the momentary anxiety bucket diving can cause, it ultimately is a really cool thing to witness.  As animal caregivers, we need to be humbled by the animals in our care.  We have to have reminders that no matter what stage in our career we are at, or what kind of day we are having, we ultimately work for the animals.  It cannot be any other way.  If they want to exploit our momentary lapse of judgment regarding food receptacle placement, so be it.  Let them feel free to do so.  Let them always remind us that humans are not the be-all, end-all.  And let them eat their snacks. 

  • If not, you need to start your own workshop and charge like $500 per person and maybe give me 10% of your earnings for you know, a founder’s fee.

** I know some of you guys wear fanny-pack pouches when you are in the water, but no one is impressed with a dolphin who steals fish from a container UNDER water.