Dolphins train her well

AT WORK

Beth Manning's tasks include thawing 300 pounds of fish for her charges at aquarium

At Work

Working

July 05, 2006|By PAT MCGLONE | PAT MCGLONE,SUN REPORTER

Beth Manning

Senior marine mammal trainer

National Aquarium in Baltimore

Age --32

Salary --$37,000

Years on the job --Almost 9 1/2

How she got started --As a high school student in 1990, Manning served as a volunteer exhibit guide at the aquarium. She also interned there while going to Towson University, continued as a volunteer before becoming a seasonal aide and finally a full-time trainer. She has a bachelor's degree in science from Towson with a major in psychology and a major in animal behavior as well as a minor in biology.

It's not all a dolphin show --Trainers dealing with the dolphins work either the 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift; the 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift; or the 12:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. shift. The 6:30 a.m. shift begins with the dolphins' diets - trainers thaw about 300 pounds of fish for the mammals to eat throughout the day. Each dolphin has a prescribed calorie intake. The trainers also develop and reinforce various behaviors, such as getting the dolphins to roll onto their sides for ultrasound tests.

Scrubbing --In the fish prep room, the walls, ceiling, sinks, inside the refrigerator and floor are all cleaned and disinfected twice a day. "It's just a lot of cleaning time. I think we calculated it once and about 50 percent of our time is spent scrubbing something. That's the non-glamorous part of the job." Typically the trainers also scuba dive at least three times a week to clean the pools where the dolphins live, play, and perform.

Typical day --She spends much of her time participating in every show and maintaining or training new behaviors. In addition, she writes the daily schedules to determine which dolphins do which shows. She is also involved in teaching the animals to provide urine samples in hopes that one day they can be used as a medical diagnostic tool. While most of her day is spent around or knee-deep in water, time swimming with the dolphins boils down to about 10 minutes a day.

The good --"Honestly it's the relationship you get to develop with the animals."

The bad --"The worst part of the job is being cold. You spend all day in a wetsuit, in a building air-conditioned for the comfort of the visitors."

On her relationship with the dolphins --"I don't have a favorite dolphin, they're like kids or members of your family. You have an individual relationship with each one." Manning works with Spirit most frequently, so she is a little partial to her.

Favorite behavior --"The dolphins don't do tricks. They're all extensions of their natural behavior. My favorites are the ones I helped train. The foot push is my favorite to do." A foot push is the dolphin propelling a trainer across the surface of the water with its nose on the trainer's feet. "You may be having a bad day and jump in and do a few laps back and forth and it's like, `OK, I'm ready to go.'"

Pat McGlone

Sun reporter

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