Discover why whales get stranded

A new study reported in the journal Current Biology on February 24 offers some of the first evidence that grey whales might depend on a magnetic sense to find their way through the ocean. This evidence comes from the discovery that whales are more likely to strand on days when there are more sunspots.

Sunspots are of interest because they are also linked to solar storms — sudden releases of high-energy particles from the sun that have the potential to disrupt magnetic orientation behaviuor when they interact with Earth’s magnetosphere. But what’s unique about the new study, according to the researchers, is that they were able to explore how a solar storm might cause whales to strand themselves.

“Is it that the solar storms are pushing the magnetic field around and giving the whales incorrect information — for example, the whale thinks it is on 4th Street, but it is actually on 8th?” asks Jesse Granger of Duke University. “Or is it that the solar storms are messing up the receptor itself — the whale thinks it is on 4th Street, but has just gone blind?

“We show that the mechanism behind the relationship between solar storms and grey whales, if it is an effect on a magnetic sensor, is likely caused by disruption to the sense itself, not inaccurate information. So, to put this back into the earlier metaphor, the big secondary finding of this paper is that it is possible that the reason the whales are stranding so much more often when there are solar storms is because they have gone blind, rather than that their internal GPS is giving them false information.”

Granger says her interest in long-distance migrations stems in part from her own personal tendency to get lost, even on her way to the grocery store. She wanted to explore how some animals use magnetoreception to navigate by looking at incidents when navigation went terribly wrong.

“I hypothesized that by looking at patterns in the spacing and timing of incidents where an animal was unable to navigate properly, we could better understand the sense as a whole,” Granger says.

She and her colleagues studied 186 live stranding of the grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus). The data showed those stranding occurred significantly more often on days with high sunspot counts than on randomly chosen days. On days with a high sunspot count, the chance of a stranding more than doubled.

Further study showed that stranding happened more often on days with a high solar radio flux index, as measured from Earth, than on randomly chosen days. On days with high RF noise, the likelihood of stranding was more than four times greater than on randomly selected days.

Much to Granger’s surprise, they found no significant increase in stranding on days with large deviations in the magnetic field. Altogether, the findings suggest that the increased incidence of stranding on days with more sunspots is explained by a disruption of whales’ magnetoreceptive sensor, rather than distortion of the geomagnetic field itself.

“I really thought that the cause of the stranding was going to be inaccurate information,” Granger said. “When those results came up negative, I was flummoxed. It wasn’t until one of my co-authors mentioned that solar storms also produce high amounts of radio-frequency noise, and I remembered that radio-frequency noise can disrupt magnetic orientation, that things finally started to click together.”

Granger says it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t the only cause of stranding. There are still many other things that could cause a whale to strand, such as mid-frequency naval sonar.

Granger now plans to conduct a similar analysis for several other species of whales on several other continents to see if this pattern exists on a more global scale. She also hopes to see what sort of information this broader picture of stranding can offer for our understanding of whales’ magnetic sense.




How to avoid misunderstandings during interactive programs

In my extended years as a trainer I had the opportunity to train dolphins from scratch for shows and swimming programs many times. We trainers are very curious and we always enjoy to visit new facilities and see other animals and trainers working.

Over the years, during visits to facilities and observing others on-line, the one thing common to all of them, is the interaction between the trainers, customers and the animals. The experience for all should be pleasurable and if any person or animal is struggling during the experience, their enjoyment will suffer. I believe my experience and advice can help avoid any such struggle and help make the interaction really enjoyable for trainers, customers and animals alike. Hopefully my help will make it easier, especially for young trainers, to develop their skills, perform their tasks easier and create a positive environment for all.

Handling people in the water can be difficult in itself add to this, handling the animals’ behaviour at the same time and it can be very challenging. Furthermore, in seminatural environments, where sea currents are a factor, the weather can also add to the difficulty of that challenge.

Here is my advice to help with the challenge of handling both animals and customers in the water.

How to avoid confusion and accidents during swimming programs

Sometimes the dolphins, being animals, want to swim away and play with other dolphins, they are not totally under your control, swimming in-between the customers and generally not behaving in the best way. In that situation the trainer is struggling to ask the animal for a behaviuor or juggling with two animals and interacting with the people at the same time. The trick is, as a trainer you should be patient and actually take advantage of their playful nature and enjoy it together. If you are open minded, here are some techniques and tips you can use.

If your dolphins are chasing after each other, the best thing is to bring the people in the water, as close as possible to the platform or to an area where the water is shallow. Here the animal has less opportunity to manoeuvre, so stay there until the animals are ready to go on with the interaction.

If you are working with two dolphins and one of them is giving you trouble, ask the animal giving trouble, to go under your station as many times as possible, to create a break in their unwanted behaviour. When that animal least expects it, send them to do an interactive behaviour such as kiss or petting.

If the situation is too difficult, then ask another trainer, or use one of your assistants to help in the water, while you are correcting your animal’s behaviour. Having an assistant in the water during your program is actually more professional, you will get a much more positive outcome from the customers in the water. With staff in the water, people make better connections and interact more confidently, whilst also having much more fun. This will make the peoples experience, more exciting and unforgettable. If you have implemented, amongst the trainers, a set of signals to communicate in case of emergencies, then this will make it even easier. In addition, the trainer is more concentrated on the animal and has much more control.

Avoid problems when moving people around

Trainers are responsible for the program, they must keep their eyes wide open, observing closely at all times, whilst doing program. The area of interaction should be clear and enjoyable, for the animal, the people and the trainer. Trainers must keep their animals focused during an interactive program. Finally, it is important to remark and make clear, that the whole area in front of the platform is only for the animal to manoeuvre within, where they receive their reinforcement.

Avoid accidents by continuously scanning the environment during a program and by keeping the right distance.

Must Dolphinarium comply with international measurement rules, whether they are artificial or seminatural, trainers should be able to perform the programs in comfort. When starting a program, the people should be kept away from the front of platform, put them where you can see everyone’s movement, including the animals when they interact. After the introductions between the animals, the people and the trainer, place the people on the left side of the platform and one by one or two if you prefer send them forward to do the behaviour with the animal. When the behaviour has finished, send them to the right side of the platform. This means those who haven’t performed the behaviour are on the left of the platform and those who has done it are on the right.

For behaviours like petting or kissing, trainers should make sure they take the first people from the left and position the people in front of platform at least 4 metres away from the platform. When they have finished tell the people to go to wait on the right-hand side. For behaviours where the people should come closer to the dolphin, such as a kiss, trainers should keep the people at least one metre away from the animal and the best way of doing this is for the trainer to target or handle the animal very closely. Dolphins measure from six to twelve feet in length and their movements are very quick, so they need enough space to move around. They could hit somebody without even realising. Trainers must constantly monitor the distance between the animal and the people in the water, to avoid accidents, this is very important. Never forget, to keep a clear the space in front of the platform, this space is only for the animals.

Keep the animal engaged

Trainers should be able to know and understand the behaviour of the animal they are working with. Observe the animals body language, when they are about to misbehave, there is always a precursor, they usually give the trainer a look…like saying…watch what I am going to do next… The trainer’s job is to have the vision and to be able to predict their next unwanted behaviour, which is usually avoidable, if a trainer knows their animal and are focused. Their cheeky look to the trainer, will allow the trainer to anticipate their next move. When you see the first sign act on it. Change the scenario, in other words ask the dolphin for a behaviour that requires their concentration or move around with your animal or give the animal secondary reinforcement, anything that distracts them from what you preserved to be their next unwanted behaviour.

All situations have solutions

If your animal is not interested in a particular interaction, work with another animal, if available. If there are other programs around you can distribute your people amongst the other group, so they are distracted from the current situation.


Find out the true about becoming a dolphin trainer

The story nobody mentions…

Are you ready to become a dolphin Trainer?

But, wait!

There are some things you should know before…

You must know all the stages they go through before they reach the end goal!

 1st stage

Most of beginners start by showing off with the animals, but that is just a honey moon process, a period when you just want to play with them and do whatever you like, of course! according to the rules, you feel like having all the fun possible. After six months, it all starts to fade away, at the end of that period new trainers or assistant trainers start to realize that it takes a lot of work to keep it up, they also start understanding that is very strenuous and highly demanding, energy wise.

 2nd stage

When you have been a year in the job and all your enthusiasm had levelled off and you get tired of been smelly, not having pretty nails in the case of the girls, not having pretty hair, not been able to wear high heels, because you have spent ten hours treading in deep water. Then you stop…and think, asking yourself…hmmm…is this really for me?

 3rd stage

The whole process is normal and very common, around 30% of trainers make it and stick with it, those who do make it, fall in love with the animals and don’t care about the rest, it is kind of like a drug, the more they do it, the more you want to do it, the beautiful thing is that its becomes a long live skills and career, it ends up not being a job anymore, it turns into your passion forever.

There is nothing or anybody who can turn you away from it!

Female trainers take it very seriously, their maternal instinct makes them protect the animals as if they were their babies, providing the best care for them. Management knows that and that is why you see must of animal carer staff are Females.

When you are working as a dolphin trainer after fifteen or twenty years, you kind of stop and think again, did I have enough?

Some of the trainers wants to go on doing it, but on another level and not far away from the animals.

Well, guess what!… at this stage, you would only find that 15% of them reach the end goal.

I have the feeling and I think I know what you might be thinking!

Well… if only 15% reach the end goal, why would I even bother to try?

How do you know you are not in the 15%?

I say, why wouldn’t you try?

Happiness is who you become after trying those little things that call your attention and things that you like and enjoy doing the most, that is called passion, that is your blue print… your purpose in live.

What if you really like it?

Believe me, I am in the 15% and it’s very much worth a try, it’s one of the most rewarding, beautiful and important decisions I have ever made in my live.

No regrets whatsoever!

Love it!

Hey, listen… if you really like it, go for it!

At the end of the day, human spirit is the hardest thing to kill on earth, not even you could kill it.

It will bite you back one day…

Wish you good luck!

Via Dolphin Mentoring for Trainers

After so many years training dolphins, some time ago during a training session, I stood up and looked around thought if only I could create a program to make a session easier, for the animals and for the trainers.

I thought that showing people how I used Operant Condition (positive reinforcement) would be a good opportunity to create a program much easier to understand and less complicated for all trainers. This would also ensure fair treatment of the animals by less experienced trainers, who could then use positive training techniques to achieve quicker results.

I realised that the process of learning so many techniques could be daunting for students, but with my help in explaining how they can build, using small steps at time, they will be successful. Many students don’t make it, due lack of patience, frustration, uncertainty, but with my mentoring program they will be more relaxed and be able to glide through my trainer’s training process.

We have created a Facebook Trainers page ” Via Dolphin Mentoring for Trainers” to share training videos as well an Educational group ” Learn to Train Your Dolphin” with valuable information for you to develop your knowledge as a trainer.

And if you just prefer to share time with our Dolphin Comunity, just visit our Facebook group

“Via Dolphin”

Here you can interact with around 2000 trainers.

Visit us and learn some training tips and techniques!!