Sunday, August 4, 2013

Funny Things Guests Say: What Dolphins Feel Like

One of the best parts of my job is the people I meet on a daily basis.  For most of my career, I've worked in an interactive facility, or I've been assigned to a department that does animal interactions.  I love it.  Not only is it fun to meet interesting people, but I get a shot at giving them some information that hopefully will benefit animals, the ocean, the world someday.  I know that a handful of marine mammal trainers, zookeepers, and ethologists are responsible for my passion for animals and the environment.  Their passion for their job (life's work, really) inspired me, so I try to pay to forward to the guests I talk to.  Talk to any of my human coworkers, and they'll tell you the same thing.

You know you're having fun when dolphin toys go flying.

Not every interaction with guests is the same, thankfully.  Most of the time, the exchanges are pleasant. They ask questions, we answer.  If they're doing an interaction program, they follow directions well and enjoy their time with the animals.  They are polite and friendly.  Occasionally, we get people who are not in a great mood for a variety of reasons.  And then, every so often, we get Guests Who Say The Funniest Things.

If I wrote here all of the hilarious stuff I've heard guests say since I started in this field in 2005, this blog entry would reach lengths rivaling a Proust novel.  So I'm going to divide it up into categories, and today's category is:


Dolphins feel like……...

I ask this question all the time.  I don't remember why I started asking it, though.  Maybe a mentor suggested it as a good conversation starter when I first started learning how to do dolphin interactions.  Sometimes it's hard to engage guests in conversation when you're first learning, so it helps to have little key phrases to get people talking.  One of the more awkward periods of time in a trainer's new career is when you're setting up for your encounter guests to touch the dolphins.   You'd think this would be the easiest scenario in which to have a chat about dolphin conservation, or physiology, or behavior.  But it's not usually like that.  Why?

Well, I want to let you all in on a little secret about dolphin interactions: most guests don't want to touch the dolphins that much.

"What???" you ask.  "You're crazy, that's crazy, you are dumb."

Okay, I'm not saying all people get bored of touching dolphins.  The people who are nuts about dolphins (and let's face it, most of you reading this blog are of that ilk) want to interact with the dolphins as much as possible.  They love the animals, and our idea of showing affection towards animals in our culture is to give them a good rubdown.  When us animal nuts meet someone's pet for the first time, we're going to want to pet them and play with them for a long time (unless, of course, they are venomous and/or are fire ants*).  

But here's the thing, while many people who come to do interactions like dolphins, I'd say at least 50% of them are not animal lovers (but most of them leave with a greater appreciation for animals that they wouldn't have had without the animal encounter). In addition to that, many of our interaction guests are kids.  Here is a short list of what kids would rather do than pet a dolphin:

1) Play in the water, as though there is no dolphin there
2) Give a couple of hand signals to see if the dolphin responds
3) Toss a toy around for a dolphin to play with
4) Tell you about their weird uncle who eats wood chips

That's not to say people aren't curious about how dolphin skin feels.  But once they've had a couple of seconds of touching the dolphin, they usually stop themselves.  Since our interactions are mostly with the animal needs in mind first, and then the guests', it can be tricky to figure out how to tailor a program to an individual person's interests.  For example, if I have a dolphin who is gaga for tactile, and a guest who would really rather just see what the dolphin can do, I have some mitigating to do to keep that dolphin's interest.  The same goes for the reverse scenario.

So anyways, because not everyone a) wants to touch a dolphin for 15 minutes and b) has an interest in animals, I began to get some interesting reactions to how the dolphins felt.  There were so many interesting reactions, that I make it a point to ask every guest I have what they think the dolphins feel like.  

And so, on this day the 4th of August, two thousand and thirteen, I present to you the Top Ten Answers To The Question "What Do Dolphins Feel Like"?

10) A wet hot dog


9) An eggplant 

The grossest vegetable around

8) A giant olive

Now THAT'S a giant olive!

7) "Exactly like a shark"
Ah yes, the rubber shark.  Its primary prey is the money of Florida tourists.

6) A liver (three guests who were doctors have said this)

Sure, clean it up, maybe dry it off a little.

5) "My wife's legs"

The product that can turn your skin into dolphin skin

4) A dinner plate


3) Ice cubes covered in vaseline

No google search could handle these keywords.  Nor do I think you want to see Ice Cube in vaseline.

2) A sink that has been drained for one hour

Try it!

1) ….. The reproductive erm, area, of the guest's girlfriend

Not even Mr. Cage could deal with this answer

Now it's your time to share, animal trainers!  What are some of the best responses you've gotten to this question (with any animal)?

* If you know someone who has pet fire ants, please contact your nearest Psychiatric Hospital for immediate action


  1. LOL. Wish I would have kept track of the dumb things lawyers said over my court reporting's almost as good as what kids say;)

    1. Ohhhh….I'd love to hear about that! If you recall any of those stories, please share!

  2. Just stumbled across your blog! I used to work for Sea World Parks & Ent. (Marketing for Sea World/BG, Scare actor at HOS and Driver at Rhino Rally) and your blog makes me nostalgic for my days working at the parks! I miss it :'(

    1. Thanks for your comment, Shannon! I'm sure you've got a lot of hilarious stories from those jobs...

  3. The wet hot dog is my favorite one, and IMO the most accurate! I have guests ask me all the time what dolphins feel like and that is what I tell them bahaha!
    I have no idea who WOULDN'T want to give a new cetacean friend a huge rub down. If I ever in my life get to interact with a dolphin in their habitat I would like one who is as gaga for tactiles (an pec-pulls and foot pushes) as I am for Reese cups (my life would then be complete). I've only ever touched a dolphin, but gasp! have never been in the water chillin with one, yet I still want to be a trainer??? go figure that one out!

  4. The best answer I received was from a five year old- she said the dolphins feels like "happy". You can't really argue with that....

  5. Hi,
    i hope i can express my feelings correctly. i need one answer, which is making my mind busy since morning. i couldnt find any answer satisfy me yet. i hope you can help me. yesterday i saw a dream, i was talking with dolphins and touching them near the pool. the intresting thing is, i never touch to dolphins before even i didnt see dolphins in real life. and i dont think that i find a chance to touch dolphins in my life. im wondering physically how does it feel to touch dolphins' head, back (top side of the dolphin) and belly (down side of the dolphin). because when i touch in my dream, i figured out that the head is the hardest part of the fish. back side was more harder than the belly side but sure softer than the head. i dont know how to explain but i feel something in my dream that i have never been experienced in my life. can you please just tell me, is it the same feeling as i felt in my dream ? thank you so much.