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My face hurts from smiling so much! :)

August 15, 2011

We are only half way through, and I can already say this has been one of the most amazing weeks of my life.  There have been so many amazing experiences in the past few days, but I am going to share two that have really touched my heart.  First, we had the opportunity to meet Harbor Seals and their trainers at the Virginia Aquarium.  I got to know Norton, one of the Aquarium’s male Harbor Seals.  It was so neat to watch the interactions between him and his trainer.  It was especially touching to watch after finding out that Norton was partially (if not fully) blind.  It is normal for these marine mammals to develop cataracts in their eyes as they age.  However, Norton’s cataracts did not interfere with his ability to listen attentively to and take directions from his trainer.  I also found it interesting that the trainers never force the seals to work; at any point in the training session, the seals are able to leave if they don’t feel like participating.  I think I asked the trainers about 100 questions because I was absolutely fascinated by our first marine mammal encounter of the trip.

Our next stop was at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.  So far, this day has been the highlight of my trip, as we were able to meet their entire fleet of dolphins.  I was paired with trainer Carrie and her primary dolphin, the eldest female, Nani.  Nani weighs in at a little over 500 lbs (of pure love).  She was absolutely breath-taking.  Carrie had us touch Nani’s melon, flippers and back.  We also got to give Nani some commands.  We asked her to slap the water with her flippers, spin and even do her famous cart-wheel.  Carrie told to us what a typical day in the life of a marine mammal trainer is like, and explained how much hard work goes into caring for these animals.  After the dolphin encounter, I literally could not stop smiling. My face and cheek muscles hurt!  I feel as though this experience re-lit a flame in my heart for pursuing a career in marine mammal training.  It’s simply amazing what 15 minutes with a stranger with flippers can do to you. 🙂

I feel is though I am learning so much wonderful information! I can’t wait to bring it back to Charleston and share what I have learned!

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