So many children dream of growing up to be animal trainers at a place like SeaWorld Orlando, and some do indeed get to realize that ambition. While most people think of the orcas when they imagine working with animals at the park, there are other critters working in the shows, like dolphins, birds, and even domestic pets that were rescued from shelters.
Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island showcases several different types of animals, including sea lions, walruses, and otters. The show is closing on August 10, but there will be a replacement in 2015. I had a chance to see it one last time and also to get a fascinating look at how the trainers teach the sea lions all those cute and amazing behaviors you see in the show.
Click the video accompanying this article to see the training session for yourself, as well as an informative question and answer session. You'll learn how the park uses targeting and positive reinforcement, in a process that takes years, to transform the animals into seasoned actors that delight guests each day with their antics. You can also see a slideshow of the animals here and some still photos from the sea lion training session here.
You might think that bribery is a big part of the training process, and treats are indeed used to reward the sea lions. However, they get a full meal every day regardless of their performance, so the trainers actually rely on a variety of reinforcers that include attention and affection in addition to the tasty fish snacks. As you'll see in the video, they use target poles to communication with the sea lions and show them where to go, which eventually translates into slides, jumps, and other show behaviors. The dolphins and orcas learn through similar methods.
Sea lions are very smart and love to learn, so they perform complex behaviors in the show. Each of the animals can do both the Clyde and Seamore roles. However, not all of the critters have that sort of attention span. Jump to this article for a video of Opie the Otter, whose role and training is a bit different. If you'd like to see Winston the Walrus show off some skills, go here for a video.