Learning From Dolphins

Sophia at a dolphin sanctuary in Mexico with marine mammal specialist Eliott Carrillo, education coordinator Mitzi Campos, and Tatich. 

Have you ever wanted to be a dolphin trainer? During a recent visit to Cancún, Mexico, I visited Delphinus, a conservation sanctuary. There, I spoke with Eliott Carrillo, a marine mammal specialist, about his job as a trainer.

“Each dolphin has its own personality,” Carillo said, “and every day is different. It’s not like we go to the office, and everything is the same. Each day, the dolphins learn with us, and we learn with them.” 

When training dolphins, it is important to change their exercises regularly, so that they don’t get bored. Dolphins need entertainment, Carrillo explained, and training is like a game. When trainers use a certain move, they make sure not to repeat it too many times. That way, the dolphin exercises different parts of its body and has fun.


Sophia and Carrillo train Tatich to follow a signal. 


Trainers use a whistle during training. Each time a dolphin executes the correct move, the trainer blows a whistle. In order to get food, the dolphin has to look at the trainer’s hand. Using a sound, signal, or sign to get an animal to do something, and then rewarding it, is called conditioning.

Young people who live nearby are invited to learn more about the dolphins and their way of life. “We host students from local schools,” said Mitzi Campos, the coordinator of environmental and ecology programs. “Kids have the opportunity to touch a dolphin, learn about pollution, and study ecology [the science of living things and how they interact]. That way, when the students grow up, they’ll know that it’s important to preserve animal habitats and take care of our planet.” 


Sophia and Carrillo teach Tatich how to use a tool. 


Photos courtesy of the author