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Interns have the opportunity to work with marine mammals and learn from activities such as the Shedd Aquarium's sea otter enrichment program.


Many students and other marine mammal-loving individuals contact the Alliance about internships at Alliance facilities or seeking career information. We are always excited to know about your enthusiasm. The animals are wonderful, and the people who work with them at accredited sites are terrific.

If you are interested in an internship with an Alliance member facility, see the list below, which includes all member marine life parks, aquariums and zoos offering internships and a link to the information.

Alaska SeaLife Center (Alaska) Dolphin Connection (Florida)
Moorea Dolphin Center (French Polynesia) Dolphin Encounters (The Bahamas)
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (Washington) Dolphin Quest (Hawaii and Bermuda)
Sea Life Park Hawaii (Hawaii) Dolphin Research Center (Florida)
Sea World Orlando (Florida) Gulf World Marine Park (Florida)

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park (Florida)

Sea World San Antonio (Texas)
Marineland's Dolphin Conservation Center (Florida) Miami Seaquarium (Florida)
Theater of the Sea (Florida) Oceans of Fun (Wisconsin)
Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center (Virginia) The Mirage Dolphin Habitat (Nevada)
Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre (Vancouver)  

In addition, there are three excellent web sites that offer information about career opportunities with marine mammals.

  1. The International Marine Animal Trainers Associationwww.IMATA.org. It contains a career information section that outlines numerous career options and other helpful pointers. Click on “Be a Dolphin Trainer!”

  2. The Society for Marine Mammalogy www.marinemammalogy.org. Click on the tab "For Students" and locate the section on "Career Advice" at the top left of the screen. The organization addresses questions commonly asked by students seeking a career in marine mammal science, as well as provides suggestions for planning education and work experience.

  3. Zookeeping Education Programs…So You Want to be a Zookeeper - http://www.wonderferret.com/zooed/. This informal web site is aimed at zookeepers, but college curricula discussed are relevant to anyone interested in working with animals.

Both IMATA and SMM have student chapters.

Good luck!

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Dolphins and other marine mammals in zoos, aquariums, and marine life parks are well loved and well cared for. They enjoy extensive social enrichment programs and high quality food. The animals also receive the finest veterinary care and benefit from state-of-the-art medical technologies developed for human health care. They breed successfully and form complex social groups. Because the animals are content and in excellent physical health, the animals reproduce well and live long, happy lives.

The comparative average life spans of wild dolphins and dolphins in marine life parks have been thoroughly studied, documented, peer reviewed, and published by a number of America’s leading marine mammal field biologists and wildlife experts.

  1. Current scientific data show that bottlenose dolphins in Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums member facilities live longer than their counterparts in the wild.

  2. The median life expectancy of a one-year-old bottlenose dolphin in Alliance member facilities is 24.3 years.

  3. On average, a one-year old bottlenose dolphin in Alliance member facilities is expected to live for more than 25 years.

  4. Beluga and killer whales in our facilities live as long as or longer than those in the wild.

  5. Sea lions, seals and other marine mammals commonly live much longer in marine life parks, aquariums, and zoos.

  6. Studies also indicate that survival rates continue to improve as the marine mammal community’s knowledge of the species’ biology and husbandry advances.

  7. Currently, there are dolphins in Alliance member facilities that are in their 40s and 50s.

  8. The mortality rate of dolphins in marine parks is well below the mortality rate of dolphins in the wild. Marine mammals, like all animals in the wild, suffer more mortalities during the first two years of their lives, a time when they are particularly susceptible to disease, predators, and adverse climate. For example, studies of beached, dead dolphins in the Indian/Banana River system of Florida indicate that 38 percent died before they reached two years of age; 64 percent of the dolphins studied died before they were 10 years old.

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Wild animals live daily with many challenges to their survival. Predators, hunger, noise, parasites, and environmental pollution are just a few of the challenges animals in the wild must contend with every day. Animals in Alliance member facilities live without the stress of these considerable daily challenges.

The U.S. government reports that it "is unaware of any valid scientific research or other information that documents or supports that [shows or] performances...cause additional unnecessary stress for the animals."

Additionally, a recent scientific study of steroid hormones produced by the adrenal cortex, a common measure of stress in animals, demonstrates that stress is not an issue in marine mammals in in-water interactive programs. This Dolphin Quest/Sea World study was submitted to the U.S. government in September of 2000 and provides clear evidence that the animals are in a healthy environment.

The results of behavioral and medical evaluations of animals in public display facilities indicate the animals breed very successfully, form social groupings, eat well and exhibit the same behaviors they do in the wild. In addition, symptoms commonly referred to as stress indicators, such as ulcers, are more common in wild animals that have been found stranded than in animals in responsible public display facilities.

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Absolutely! The dedicated educators, trainers, veterinarians, and other professional staff at Alliance member parks and aquariums care deeply about the dolphins, whales, sea lions and other marine mammals they interact with each and every day. Their goal is to inspire guests to share their commitment to the animals and conservation of their ocean habitats.

Polls and studies confirm that they are successful. Seeing living, breathing animals up close or interacting with them at Alliance member facilities promotes a strong personal connection between the public and the animals. One of two independent research studies published in 2010 concludes that guests viewing dolphin shows demonstrated an increase in conservation-related knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intentions immediately following their experience. In a follow-up interview three months later, guests reported that they were engaging in more conservation-related behavior than they did before their dolphin show experience.  Guests also retained what they learned.

The second 2010 study established that participants in dolphin interactive programs learned about the animals and conservation, shifted their attitudes, and acquired a sense of personal responsibility for environmental stewardship. And, with some study subjects, the positive lessons they learned in marine park dolphin encounters had stayed fresh and meaningful more than 15 years later.

These studies confirm the results of a Harris Interactive® poll the Alliance commissioned in 2005. It found that the public is nearly unanimous (95%) in its acclaim for the educational impact of marine life parks, zoos and aquariums. In addition, 96 percent of respondents agree that these facilities provide people with valuable information about the importance of oceans, waters, and the animals that live there.

The Alliance’s earliest poll, conducted by Roper Starch, in 1998, surveyed guests visiting Alliance member facilities. It found that almost everyone (97%) interviewed said their experience had an impact on their appreciation and knowledge of the animals. The impact was even greater for those visiting parks and aquariums where guests had an opportunity to interact with marine mammals.  Ninety-four percent (94%) of the parks’ visitors interviewed for the poll said, “I learned a great deal about marine mammals today.”

That same year, the National Science Teachers Association formally recognized the educational value of zoos and aquariums in its 1998 statement on informal science education. The NSTA referenced a growing body of research documenting the power of informal learning experiences to spark curiosity and engage interest in the sciences during the school years and throughout a lifetime.

The value of “informal” education, as distinguished from classrooms, is increasingly recognized as an essential and effective component of learning.

  • The 2004 report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, titled “Charting the Course for Ocean Science for the United States for the Next Decade: An Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy,” emphasizes that aquariums, museums, marine laboratories, science centers, zoos, and other informal-education centers play a major role in educating the public about our oceans.
  • The April 2010 issue of the journal Nature includes an article titled “Learning in the Wild: Much of What People Know about Science Is Learned Informally. Education Policy-Makers Should Take Note,” which cites evidence suggesting that most of what the general public knows about science is learned outside school through visits to zoos and museums, Web sites, and magazine articles.
  • Richard Louv, author of seven books and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network, has stimulated international conversation about the crucial connections between nature and healthy childhood development. With play limited in urban environments and controlled residential communities, and even on the school playground, Louv believes that zoological parks and aquariums offer children an important opportunity to both learn about animals and get back to nature. His latest book is Last Child in the Woods. In 2008, the National Audubon Society awarded Louv the Audubon Medal.

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Marine mammal experts have learned that successful training is always done in a positive manner. Excellent relationships develop when the animal and trainer have a good rapport, based on mutual respect and trust. Anything but positive interaction would hurt that bond.

Desired behaviors are rewarded or reinforced to increase the probability that the animal will repeat them when asked to do so in the future. If an animal does not respond or offers the incorrect response, the behavior is ignored. Every animal is fed a highly nutritious diet specific to its daily needs. Food rewards during training are simply a portion of that balanced diet.

Food is, by definition, a primary reinforcer for marine mammals; however, it is not the only reinforcer used in marine mammal training. Tactile stimulation, toys, or the opportunity to perform favorite behaviors are just a few of the other possible reinforcers available to trainers. Dolphins, for example, often continue to offer behaviors long after they have eaten all of their food, seeming to do so simply for the positive interaction with their trainers.

An important aspect of training marine mammals is conditioning the animals to voluntarily participate in routine physical examinations and sampling procedures that are essential to maintaining the animals' health. These learned behaviors involve procedures that are conducted on a regular basis, and may include mouth and eye examinations, the collection of blood, blowhole, urine, and fecal samples, as well as ultrasound examinations necessary for monitoring pregnancies in females.

Although training may serve a variety of purposes, it is also a form of exercise for the animals, stimulating them mentally and physically. Participation by an animal in any training program, project, or show is voluntary.

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Numerous studies conducted over 40 years prove that dolphins and whales know exactly how to compensate for their environment, using their sonar only when they choose to do so. Dolphins' sonar abilities or echolocation was first discovered at Marineland of Florida (Dolphin Societies edited by Pryor and Norris). Simply put, dolphins use their sonar to produce sound and bounce it off objects, which the animals then interpret. This echolocation is used to search for food, escape predators, navigate, stay with their pod, acoustically communicate with each other, and define the forms that make up their environment.

Research has demonstrated that dolphins have voluntary control over the frequency and amplitude of their signals. They can echolocate loudly, quietly, or not at all -- as they choose. Dolphins in the wild echolocate often while fishing and moving, but they periodically go silent, especially while resting. In the face of these studies and others, it is inaccurate to suggest that the sophisticated sonar of a dolphin or whale is like a horn that cannot be turned off and that the resulting "noise" and echoes annoy or injure the animals.

Scientific studies on echolocation and other acoustic behaviors have been fundamental and vital in understanding the nature of acoustic behavior at sea. For 30 years, the Navy has been training dolphins and whales to use their sonar for tasks related to underwater surveillance for object detection, location, and recovery purposes. These natural behaviors are beyond the capabilities of human divers. Dolphins and whales trained in these tasks save millions of dollars in retrieving expensive equipment used in military exercises.

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In-water-interactive programs have a remarkable, well-established record of dolphin and human safety. The health and safety records of these innovative programs have been studied, analyzed, and restudied for over 20 years, each time reaffirming their exemplary safety.

Since these programs originated in the United States, most of these studies have involved U.S. government agencies. The very first, experimental in-water interactive programs were the subject of numerous federal or federally directed studies. (Final Environmental Impact Statement on the use of Marine Mammals in Swim-with-the-Dolphin Programs, NMFS, NOAA, 1990) A conclusive study funded in 1994 by the government demonstrated that interactive programs using well-trained dolphins do not pose any risks to either the dolphin or human participants. (A. Samuels, et. al., Quantitative Behavioral Study of Bottlenose Dolphins in Swim-With-the-Dolphin Programs in the United States, 1994)

Additionally, the U.S. government agency responsible for inspecting marine mammal facilities has stated that these programs are safe.

The continued safety of animal and human participants is important to Alliance member facilities that conduct in-water marine mammal interactive programs. An informal survey of Alliance members featuring these programs shows an excellent safety record. Since 1985, over 2,000,000 guests have participated in Alliance programs with a 99.99% safety record. No animals have been injured.

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Since the initiation of in-water marine mammal interactive programs in 1985, there has not been one instance of disease transmission between humans and dolphins reported at any of the facilities that offer "swim with the dolphin" programs, as the programs are popularly known.

To affirm these observations, a member of the Alliance undertook a study to demonstrate that dolphins participating in these programs are not vulnerable to respiratory health risks. The study included a retrospective review of medical records and shows without question that transmission of respiratory disease from humans to the animals in these programs does not occur. The in-depth, three-year review, "A Retrospective Study of Bottlenose Dolphins Participating in In-Water Interactive Programs Showing an Overall Absence of Clinical and Subclinical Respiratory Disease," has been provided to government regulators.

Alliance members are dedicated to maintaining the health of the animals in their care. All Alliance members have attending veterinarians who conduct regular examinations of the animals, ensuring their best possible care.

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It's well documented that animals enrich the lives of people in many ways. For many years, a variety of animal species have participated in special programs with people with physical disabilities and mental health concerns.

Some Alliance members, for example, work with organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation to provide memorable experiences for children with life-threatening afflictions whose "wish" is to interact with marine mammals. Alliance members also adjust their interactive programs so that children and adults with disabilities may enjoy them as fully as possible. In-water interactive programs with marine mammals offer a welcome respite from the daily concerns of those living with a serious illness and provide participants motivation to try to reach beyond the limitations of their disabilities.

No Alliance member institution featuring in-water interactive programs offers a dolphin sonar or energy therapy program for people with behavioral or physical disabilities. There is no peer-reviewed scientific documentation substantiating relief or improvement for individuals who participate in programs that purport to use dolphin echolocation to diagnose or cure the disability. The Alliance does not advocate these so-called "dolphin therapy" programs.

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The issue of releasing to the wild whales and dolphins that are currently cared for in marine life parks, aquariums, and zoos can be challenging both emotionally and scientifically. However, to experts concerned about the risks to which release exposes both the individual animal and the wild population, the issue is a simple one. Without a compelling conservation need such as sustaining a vulnerable species, release may be neither a reasoned approach nor a caring decision.

The survival of marine mammals in the wild requires an elaborate series of skills including the ability to detect and avoid predators and forage for food. Many animal care experts believe marine mammals that have spent a substantial portion of their lives in zoological parks and aquariums most likely have lost their ability to find food. Additionally, the animals may have diseases that are transmittable to wild populations and may not be immune to diseases for which wild animals have immunities.

A November 1992 report of the Canadian Advisory Committee on Marine Mammals concludes that the release of whales and dolphins that have been in marine life parks for extended periods is "inappropriate." The committee reviewed a number of exploratory projects to learn something of the problems and potential of the concept. The advisory group noted that retraining to kill prey is essential, though not a "sufficient capability." Survival, the Committee pointed out, "requires a series of complex skills plus physical and physiological competence."

The Alliance supports proper, scientifically based reintroduction programs that are anchored in principles of conservation biology and have the ultimate goal of sustaining marine mammal species. Such programs utilize recognized methods of conservation biology in efforts to re-establish or reinforce an endangered native wild population. Also, the Alliance understands the value of using surrogate non-endangered species to conduct an experimental return to the wild for the purpose of generating data and developing technology applicable to future projects aimed at conserving endangered species.

The Alliance knows of no responsible conservation organization that supports releases of non-endangered species, except under specific protocols used to develop reintroduction techniques for closely related species. For example, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature emphasizes in guidelines that "it must be determined that returning [animals] to the wild will make a significant contribution to the conservation of the species, or populations of other interacting species."

Alliance member knowledge of marine mammals suggests that any decisions about an animal's release or return to the wild should be made with caution and compassion. The safety of the individual animal as well as the continued well-being of the wild host population should be given paramount consideration.

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Many people are understandably concerned about the inhumane killing of dolphins that occurs during the Japanese drive fisheries. The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums shares that concern. We are an organization that advocates for marine mammals and whose members inspire their guests to learn about and respect these animals, protect them in the wild, and conserve their ocean environments.

The Alliance and its members strongly condemn the Japanese drive fisheries. It is a centuries-old practice, but it is time for it to come to an end. Alliance members do not support, fund, or acquire animals from the Japanese drive fisheries. Alliance policy strictly prohibits any zoological park and aquarium from joining the organization if the facility acquires animals from the Japanese drive fisheries.

The majority of dolphins cared for by Alliance members─more than 65 percent─ were born in accredited facilities, thanks to tremendously successful breeding programs and the high quality of animal care provided by accredited members.

The Alliance has urged U.S. government and representative agencies to proactively work with the government of Japan to bring an end to this practice. If you share our concerns and want to help stop the slaughter of dolphins and whales in Japan, please write to the Prime Minister of Japan at www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/forms/comment.html and the Japanese Ambassador in Washington, D.C., at jicc@ws.mofa.go.jp.

The Alliance and its members share your love and respect for these amazing animals. We dedicate our lives to caring for dolphins, whales, walrus, manatees, otters, seals, and sea lions every day. The Alliance encourages the public to partner with our members to increase public awareness on the many issues that threaten marine mammals and their ocean habitats.

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Researchers know that marine mammals use sound to communicate, locate predators and prey, and navigate our dark ocean waters. Yet we have just begun to understand how human-made sounds in our oceans affect marine mammals, fish, and even some invertebrates living in the oceans. Studies show that some sounds can be harmful under unique conditions and only for some species, and that other species may experience both short- and long-term effects from sound exposure.

Much work remains. However, studies are underway, including several supported by Alliance members, to help unravel the complex mysteries of how marine mammals use, and are affected by, sound. Researchers, governments, military services, conservation groups, industries, and public display facilities are collaborating to find the best strategies to protect the animals’ ocean environments and help them thrive.

Natural sounds that cause noise in the oceans are made by waves, earthquakes, rain, lightening, and even marine life. Man-made noises can be created by ships, research, oil and gas exploration, and military activities. To learn more the importance of our oceans to all living things, and about sound in our oceans, download the Alliance’s Ocean Literacy Reference Guide at http://www.ammpa.org/doc_literacy.html

To safeguard marine mammals, the U.S. Navy employs protective measures during its major training exercises at sea. Navy personnel have been trained to use visual and acoustic surveillance to locate marine mammals throughout exercises. When the animals are detected within certain distances, safety zones are established to reduce or shut down sonar levels that could have a negative impact on the animals. The Navy also works to avoid areas where underwater conditions have the potential to make strandings more likely. For more information about Navy’s use of sonar and marine mammal protective measures, go to www.navy.mil/oceans.

The Alliance is an active partner with researchers working to protect the well-being of marine mammals everywhere.

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At the close of 2008, more than 64 percent of dolphins in Alliance member facilities were born in a park or aquarium. This remarkable breeding success is a result of the dedication, expertise and experience of the professionals who care for the animals every day.

Alliance member facilities have invested millions of dollars and professional resources in important research, contributing substantially to what is known about marine mammal marine health care, physiology, intelligence and reproductive biology. Studies have also produced specialized vitamin regimens and nursing formulas so important to healthy pregnancies and healthy calves.

Members even use state of the art medical technologies developed for human health care, such as sonograms. As with pregnant human moms, the test is used to confirm a normal pregnancy, assess the calf’s age and identify any developmental problems. There is always more to learn and the commitment to do so. Shedd Aquarium’s veterinarian is a clinical assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical school. SeaWorld continues to pioneer breakthroughs using artificial insemination and gender selection (sperm sexing) technologies.

Alliance marine life parks, aquariums and zoos make every effort to maintain their collections of dolphins through responsible breeding programs. The medical advances, exceptional care for the animals and creative use of human techniques result in a bevy of new dolphin babies every year and the gift of a long, happy life.

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Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums supports the humane and lawful collection of marine mammals from sustainable wild populations, in accordance with Alliance Standards and Guidelines and U.S. and international laws.

Responsible collection from the wild is one alternative for acquiring animals, which are the foundation of the education and conservation missions, programs and activities of member marine parks, aquariums and zoos so essential to promoting environmental stewardship.

While collection of marine mammals from sustainable wild populations is one approach, other ways of acquiring animals are more often used. Alliance Standards and Guidelines require that members minimize the need for collecting marine mammals from the wild by, first and foremost, working together with other marine parks, aquariums and zoos around the world on cooperative breeding programs and animal exchanges, and with programs providing non-releasable orphaned or injured and rehabilitated individuals from wild populations with a good quality of life at marine parks.

The well-loved marine mammals in Alliance member facilities live healthy lives enhanced by quality veterinary care and close, enriching relationships with their trainers. To maintain robust, genetically diverse populations in human care and to establish social environments that are important to the wellbeing of the animals, an Alliance member may occasionally need to conduct a humane and lawful collection from the wild.

Alliance members must be able to demonstrate that bringing an animal into human care will not compromise the sustainability of the wild population.

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