Wonder Contributors

Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by the Acosta family and their visit to the Miami Seaquarium.

Have you ever been to an aquarium or amusement park that had dolphins that could do incredible tricks? If so, you’ve probably WONDERed how the trainers were able to train dolphins to perform these magnificent feats.

After all, it’s not like humans can speak dolphin, right? Plus, we live on land and dolphins live in the water. We’re very different creatures. So how do they do it?

Professional marine trainers can teach dolphins and other aquatic creatures, such as sea lions, seals, whales and walruses, to do many different specific types of behaviors. They do this through a system called positive reinforcement through operant conditioning.

What does that mean? It means they break down the behavior they want to see into many different steps and then teach the animals one step at a time.

For example, a dolphin might be taught to jump through a hoop by breaking down the desired behavior into simpler steps. Each step is then taught by having the dolphin follow an object called a target. For example, the dolphin may first be rewarded for swimming through a hoop. Then the hoop is raised so it’s at the top of the water. Once the new goal is achieved, the dolphin is then only rewarded for the more advanced task.

Various tools are used throughout the process. One such tool is the hand signal. Trainers come up with unique hand signals for each behavior they want the dolphin to perform. When a certain hand signal is given, the dolphin will learn which behavior the trainer wants it to do.

The target — it can be any object, such as a float on the end of a pole — tells the dolphin how and where to do the behavior. By following the target, the dolphin learns to perform the desired behavior.

Trainers also use whistles. A whistle tells the dolphin that it performed the desired behavior correctly. Performing the desired behavior correctly also earns the dolphin a reward. The reward can be food, a toy or special attention from the trainer.

Rewarding an animal for performing a desired behavior is known as positive reinforcement. The reward is a positive (good) event and receiving the reward reinforces the behavior desired. In other words, the dolphin learns that performing the desired behavior correctly earns a reward. This makes the dolphin want to perform the behavior correctly on command.

You may WONDER what happens when a dolphin performs a desired behavior incorrectly. When that happens, the trainer gives no response and gives the dolphin time to think about what went wrong. Animals are not punished for incorrect behavior. Instead, they just don’t receive positive reinforcement. In this way, the positive reinforcement becomes an even more powerful tool to shape desired behavior.

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    • Great question, Jade! We are working on getting our video up and running today… but in the meantime we hope you enjoy WONDERing about training dolphins! We bet if you use your imagination , you can picture training a dolphin of your own! How cool would that be?!

      Thanks for sharing your super guess for tomorrow… we can’t wait to find out what Monday will bring! :)

  1. I liked today’s wonder! Though my family believes that dolphins should be left in the ocean where they came from, I think it’s cool how they train them. Thanks!

    • Hello, Wonder Friend Bryleigh! We are so glad that you’re WONDERing with us today– we really appreciate your comment! We respect your family’s thoughts about dolphins roaming freely in the ocean, too. We think it’s important to think of all the different lifestyles and habitats for mammals and animals– thanks to you we have! We are glad you enjoyed our Wonder today… we hope you have a SUPER day! :)

  2. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Todays wonder was AWESOME!

    My favorite animal is a dolphin! I never knew that dolphins don’t get punished for bad behavior. I might, just might be a trainer.

    I think tomorrow’s wonder is about a ball or something dressy.

    • WOW, we LOVE your enthusiasm, Alexis! We think dolphins are excellent mammals to Wonder about– and we’re glad you think so too! Thanks for commenting today and sharing your guess for tomorrow… we can’t wait to Wonder with you again! :)

  3. Hi! I’m in Mrs. Caplin’s class. Recently I watched a show about a toxic alge bloom in CA. The fish the dolphins ate were poisoned from the alge, so the dolphins had seizures and died. It was sad.

    • We’re glad you’re back today, MookieTheCat! We are glad you shared what you learned from the show about toxic algae in California. It’s very sad to hear that sealife are affected by that algae, but we now understand why the food chain matters so much. We are upset to hear that dolphins are suffering from this algae, but we hope that marine biologists are studying these microorganisms and finding a way to put a stop to them! Thanks for sharing your comment today! :)

  4. What was intresting about it was that it was only in a single bay on the coast, and was caused by a chemical that humans poured down sewage pipes and storm drains.

    • WOW, that’s unfortunate to hear, MookieTheCat! We need to find a better solution for disposing waste in order to keep the sealife safe! :)

    • Great question, Fredstar! We think dolphins are very intelligent mammals, but trainers, like the ones at water shows, can train dolphins to do cool tricks on demand! We hope you have a SUPER day, Fredstar! :)

    • Hi there, Faith, what a great idea! We think dolphin training would be a very cool and interesting job! We love your enthusiasm and excitement for dolphin training– we think you’re a Wonder rockstar! :)

  5. I LOVE getting wonderopolis for homework I get to learn new things, but one thing I know is it sometimes bad to have animals out of thier natural habitats and it’s called captivity. When they are kept in captivity they don’t get the same feel as thier natural environment and could die. I learned from a article called Zoochosis I hope you make a wonder about that.

    • That’s SUPER news, Ruby! We are so happy that Wonderopolis is a part of your homework assignment– how cool! :)

      We are also very proud of all the WONDERing you’ve been doing on your own, like reading different articles that inform you of different things that are happening around the world. We think it’s important to explore an animal’s natural habitat, too! We are very happy that you suggested such a great Wonder– we’re very proud of you! :)

    • We’re glad you liked our aquatic Wonder, Heidinet! You’re right– it’s very fun to see how different animals can perform and learn from their trainers! We Wonder if you’ve ever seen an animal show like the one we Wondered about today?! :)

    • WOHOO, that’s a great idea, Heidinet! We love your enthusiasm and vision for providing a safe environment for dolphins! Way to go, Wonder Friend! :)

    • Hi there, Missy, we think becoming an animal trainer would be a very rewarding job! We agree, dolphins are quite cute and loving animals– we hope that you continue to Wonder about all the hard work and fun that goes into becoming a trainer! :)

  6. I love dolphins!!!!!!!!!!! Hey Wonderopolis I think a great wonder would be ” How tall is the tallest person in the world?”

    • WOHOO, we’re glad you enjoyed WONDERing about dolphins, Woshiyu!! We think it’s fun to watch the video and read about dolphin training– it sounds like a LOT of fun!

      Thank you for sharing your GREAT idea for a Wonder, too! We will certainly do some research… and perhaps you will see a Wonder about height in the future! Speaking of height, you might enjoy this Wonder from the past:

      Wonder #179– How Tall is the Eiffel Tower? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/how-tall-is-the-eiffel-tower/ :)

  7. I love dolphins, so that was a great video for me. It was so cool how the dolphins jumped out of the water and did a flip in the air!


    • WOOHOO, we LOVE your enthusiasm, Olivia D.! Dolphins are SUPER fun to Wonder about, especially when we can see them in action! We’re glad you shared your comment today– hope to see you soon! :)

  8. Hi that information is cool I think the wonder of day tomorrow is “How can you train the monkeys” I hope you see I am the monkey, ape geek I really love them so much!! I really hope you will research about the apes or monkeys! And I did see them very close and guess what? I went to the aquarium place in Vancouver B.C and I saw the AMAZING dolphins! They did the flipping and splashed the water and guess what I got soaked!

    From, Monkey geek :)

  9. Hi again thanks for that website and I learned in class about “Biodiversity”. And we are learning about animals I was soo excited to learn about animals you know that I love animals and we had to do the project. There are different biodiversity my teacher knew that I want to have animals and she did I was soo happy! And guess what? I got A- because my project was too complex because I explained deep and I was supposed to do the adaptation and what do they eat but A- is good! I really like this website you guys are so nice to me and give me the websites what I love animals. And did you know that apes are humans because long long time ago there were apes and they changed to caveman then they turned to humans is that cool?! And my name is Kezia, call me “Monkey geek” Because you know that I love monkeys, apes.

    From, Kezia

    • Kezia/Monkey Geek, we really appreciate your enthusiasm! We’re so excited that you love animals– they are very fun to Wonder about! We also think you did a SUPER job on your project… you should be very proud of your A-! Have a terrific day, Wonder Friend! See you soon! :)

  10. Hi you can call me Kezia anyways thanks and what is enthusiasm can you explain to me I am in grade 6 so I don’t remember that words so can you explain to me? Please. And I told the project to my mom she was soooooooooooooo proud of me I thought that I will get B and down I wanted to have A- and up so I was hoping all night that I will pass and yay I passed and good night or good morning depends on time you will see this message and I live in Canada ON do you live in Canada or U.S.A? Just “WONDERING” hahahaha. See you soon and I can’t imagine how you reply every day and all new replies and I will always reply in animals area and hope talk you again

    From, Kezia

    • Hey there Kezia! We are so excited that you are WONDERing on your own– you have a SUPER imagination! :)

      We like the word enthusiasm (which means excited, spirited, full of energy) because so many of our Wonder Friends are so great at WONDERing! They are nearly jumping for joy to Wonder about cool new topics and ideas– it’s very exciting!

      We live in the Wonderopolis world, which is full of friends who just love to Wonder! It’s a very fun place– everyone is curious here! We love hanging out with you, Wonder Friend Kezia! Great job on your project– we’re very proud of you! :)

  11. Thanks and I do have my own imagination. And what’s your favourite singer mine is Willow Smith – Whip My Hair, 21st Cenutry Girl! See you soon :)

    • You have a SUPER imagination, Monkey Geek! We have lots of favorite singers, including Louis Armstrong. He sings a song called “It’s a Wonderful World”! :)

  12. Here’s something to wonder about. What if dolphins had hands? We have the ability to build all sorts of stuff and move things around all because we have hands. But dolphins have to learn to live within their environment just the way it is. To put in a fancy way, we have the ability to manipulate our environment, and they don’t. But what if they had hands?

    • WOW, what a fabulous Wonder, Saltwater Cowgirl! We think that’s a really cool way to think about lots of things… what if humans had flippers?! :)

    • What a great question, Kenzie! Dolphins are intelligent, but that doesn’t mean that know everything. Just like you may train your dog to sit, stand, or go outside to use the bathroom, trainers work with dolphins to teach them signals to flip, turn and splash! :)

  13. Hi I’m from Mrs. Caplin’s class. I’ve done some research on dolphins. But I did not know so much until today. For instance, I never knew dolphins earn toys. But using my backround knowledge, I knew they earn food (like fish.) I think watching dolphins do tricks is magnificent. Where do dolphins live? I think tomorrow’s wonder is about going to school. I think that because you get dressed up before you go to school.

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Hanad! We’re glad you’ve been WONDERing about dolphins with us today! Some dolphins live in the wild, while others, like those in the video, live in captivity. That means they live in special tanks built for them, and perform at shows for others to enjoy! :)

  14. WOW! Are dolphins smarter than penguins, or penguins smarter than dolphins?
    :) :3 :D :P About how long does it take to teach a dolphin 1 trick?

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend from Team Wilch! We are very impressed with your awesome WONDERing– we hope you’ll do some research of your own to find out how quickly a dolphin can learn a trick! We bet they learn quickly when they have lots of treats (like fish)! :)

  15. Hey wonderopolis I wish I could train a Dolphin =D. I always knew that dolphins were smarter then A LOT of animals. I hope to be a dolphin trainer when I get older.

    • We bet training a dolphin would be very cool, Haley! Perhaps you can do some more research of your own about different trainers– they may work at zoos, water parks, and other places, too! Keep up the great WONDERing, Haley! :)

  16. I didn’t know that the people trained dolphins using a whistle to tell the dolphin to do something and by the way did you ever go to a dolphin show?
    P.S. I went to a dolphin show before once.

    • Dolphins are amazing creatures, Tran! We’re glad you learned something new about how dolphins are trained to perform, too! Some of our Wonder Friends have seen dolphins perform cool, exciting tricks, and all of us enjoyed watching the Wonder video! We felt like we were there! We bet your show was a very fun experience! :)

  17. Hi I was wondering about why do dolphins have something like a crease on their head? And I also really loved the video of the dolphin doing its tricks!!!!!

    • Great question, Kathy! We Wonder if you can do some more WONDERing and research on your own to find out about the characteristics of dolphins?! We are so glad you enjoyed this Wonder– we flipped for it! :)

    • Then this Wonder is just perfect for you, Nydesha! We’re so glad you enjoyed WONDERing with us– dolphins are very cool, just like you! :)

    • Great question, Wonder Friend Teddybear! You put a colon : next to a closed parenthesis ) and you get this: : + ) = :)

    • WOHOO, way to to Teddybear! We also like the nose on the first one… it reminds us of a clown, or even a teddybear! :)

    • HOORAY for WONDERing about our favorite animals together, Adrianna! We are so glad you’ve visited more than one Wonder today! Great work! :)

  18. We are WONDERing if the trainers pay attention to how much fish they are giving each dolphin as positive reinforcement. If they get too chubby, they might not be able to jump.

    • That’s an interesting point, Avelyn, Max and Carson! We imagine the trainers probably have a set amount of fish that they give dolphins each day. Part of the job of zookeepers and other animal caretakers is to pay special attention to the diets of animals in their care! That makes us WONDER, how much food does a dolphin eat in a day? :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How do you train a dolphin?
  • What is positive reinforcement?
  • What does your family WONDER about?

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Try It Out

Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by the Acosta family and their visit to the Miami Seaquarium. Does today’s Wonder of the Day inspire you? We hope so! Find a friend or family member to help you explore one or more of the following activities:

  • How does your family like to WONDER? Take some time today to sit down with your family and plan a WONDER trip of your own. You could visit a museum. Perhaps you’d rather get out and enjoy nature by taking a trip to a local park or going for a hike? Maybe you can find WONDER at your local grocery store! Wherever you go, WONDER is sure to be around you. You just have to look for it. What questions does your family WONDER trip inspire? If you think they’d make good Wonder of the Day questions, feel free to submit them online. Just click on the “nominate” link on the Wonderopolis home page at any time to Nominate a Wonder of the Day!
  • Want to watch a video about dolphin training? Visit the Animal Planet website to view their Dolphin Training video. Do you think you could train a dolphin? Why or why not? What would your biggest challenge be? What trick would you teach a dolphin if you could choose any trick?
  • Up for a challenge? Visit the Dolphin Research Center to learn more about how dolphins communicate. Do you think learning some of these methods of dolphin communication would help you if you were trying to train a dolphin? Why or why not? Which forms of communication do you think would be the toughest to learn? Pair up with a friend or family member to see if the two of you can communicate using one of the dolphin’s preferred methods!

Still Wondering

In Science NetLinks’ Dolphin Brains Science Update, you’ll hear about one scientist who’s trying to find out how dolphins got so brainy.

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