Category Archives: Kylene Beshore '03

Kylene Beshore ‘03: Splashing around Part 2

Kylene Beshore '03, photo 4Why do we train dolphins? There are actually quite a few reasons why dolphins in human care are trained. First of all, there are safety reasons. Throughout the year, thousands of people pass through The Dolphin Connection getting the opportunity to meet our dolphins. Dolphins, amongst themselves, play quite roughly with one another. In short, it is okay to bite your friends and family members if you are a dolphin. Training the dolphins allows us to provide our guests with safe interactions where the dolphins remain gentle around them.

Second of all, we train for educational purposes. As a trainer, I am viewed as an expert in my field. How would I know anything about my “craft” if it weren’t for research? Research with dolphins in human care not only allows us to learn about our dolphins, but also their counterparts in the wild. The more we know the better care we can provide for them.

Lastly, we train dolphins in order to provide them with the best care possible. In order to do this, we need the dolphins to participate in their own medical care, much like us opening our mouth after the doctor has asked us to. Our dolphins are trained for certain medical behaviors which allow us to give them daily checkups as well as routine physicals throughout the year.

Kylene Beshore '03, photo 5How do you train a dolphin? Positive reinforcement is a very powerful tool that we utilize. Think of it this way, you do something good and you receive your favorite treat, which then increases the chance that you are going to do what you just did again in order to receive that treat again! Obviously, the best treat for a dolphin would be their fish. When our dolphins are young, 3 to 6 months of age, they are fed after hearing a crisp blast that comes from our trainer’s whistle. By pairing the whistle with their fish, we are teaching the dolphin that the whistle is a positive thing. After all, once they hear the whistle they get fish.

After this association is accomplished, we introduce a tool called target training. For this, we use our hand in a fist position and touch the dolphin on a part of their body we wish to target. One spot may be the dolphin’s mouth. As our fist touches the dolphin’s mouth, we blow the whistle and feed them a fish. Eventually, we are able to pull our fist back and the dolphin figures out that it needs to lean and touch our fist in order to hear the whistle and receive fish. Once that is established, there are lots of behaviors that can be trained.

For example, if I continue with the dolphin using their mouth to target my fist, I could move my hand from right to left in order to train the dolphin to shake its head “no”. Keep in mind that each dolphin is different. Some learn very fast and some learn slowly. Some behaviors are easy and some are hard. A headshake “no” may only take a couple weeks to learn, but a flip could take 2 to 3 years to learn.
Kylene Beshore '03, photo 6

Kylene Beshore ’03: Splashing around

Kylene Beshore '03, photo 1While growing up, I always had a very strong determination that I was going to become a Dolphin Trainer. Little did I know just how hard getting my “dream job” would be. Entering Elon, I thought I had it all figured out, however, there was not a major set up just for my career that laid out an exact path to reaching my dream, like going through the Education program to become a teacher. Using my opportunities in the past to find out the best educational path to take to become a trainer, I decided to major in Psychology.

I am sure you are going “HUH?” like every other person I have encountered when I tell them I studied Psychology only to become a dolphin trainer. In training we use the behaviorist theory of Operant Conditioning (think Positive Reinforcement), which I studied during my years at Elon.

Kylene Beshore '03, photo 2Like any other college student I participated in an internship to get a feel for the career. Unlike any other college student, my internship experience required me to work with cold, dead, slimy, fish! I quickly learned that the dream job I had always viewed as such a glamorous position, was not as glamorous as it appeared. I would say the glamor is only 25% of the job! The other 75% is cleaning, prepping fish, and maintaining the environment around where the animals live. However, I stuck with it, and a couple months after my internship ended, I got the break of my life.

In September of 2004, I started my career as an Assistant Dolphin Trainer at The Dolphin Connection in the Florida Keys. This career has been a complete journey. I can’t say that any 2 days were exactly the same in the 5 years I have been here. At The Dolphin Connection, we conduct dolphin interaction programs for guests that stay at Hawks Cay Resort. We have a number of interactions that guests can choose from, and as a trainer we are responsible for educating the guests all about the dolphins, but at the same time having fun.
Kylene Beshore '03, photo 3
In our programs, guests get the opportunity to listen to a trainer teach them all about the dolphins in our lagoon. Then, they get the opportunity to meet the dolphins, whether it is from a wooden platform that is waist deep in the water or from the docks. I thrive on teaching our guests about the animals that I am passionate about. Within our programs, we allow the guests to pet and feed the dolphins. Through this experience, our guests take home a love for these animals and a drive to help protect them. I love seeing the reactions people have when they touch the dolphins for the first time! It brings a smile to my face. Often a guest will tell me that I have the “best job in the world.” And you know what? I have to agree!