Comments: 146 • Responses: 45  • Date: 

bumfire199393 karma

When are we gonna have sharks with freakin laser beams attached to their heads?

itrainanimalsandshit3 karma

Sshhhhh that's classified

Broketographer24 karma

Do you folks utilize any rescued creatures from any of the water parks of the world *cough seaworld cough*?

Also, any... squids? :)

itrainanimalsandshit41 karma

Most of our animals today are wild rescues, for example who have stranded multiple times or been orphaned. But we do work with parks like SeaWorld and sometimes trade animals and things like that. They all have very distinct personalities and some just don't get along well in certain environments. SeaWorld may get a dolphin who's very intelligent, but maybe can be temperamental and slightly more aggressive than they need for shows or interactions, and we have more leniency to work through those issues. And we get some animals that just want to play and get attention and look cute and don't feel like working a lot that would be way better off as a show or interaction dolphin.

No squid today (though I'm sure the Navy experimented with them in the past) except as food for the mammals.

daGonz21 karma

What’s the most hilarious thing a dolphin has brought back during training?

itrainanimalsandshit57 karma

A lot of the dolphins know the behavior "bring me a present" where they go get something random from the bottom and bring it to you, which can be really useful if we drop something like sunglasses or some of their equipment and it's just fun. Usually they just bring back like a reed or clump of seaweed or sometimes a sponge or something. But once one of them came back with a massive blue crab (like 8 inch carapace) and handed it to trainer.

thebly21 karma

How on earth did you end up going this for your job?! I wish I’d been given a much more exhaustive list of career options when I was younger haha

itrainanimalsandshit3 karma

A degree in biology (or similar) and basic scuba diving certification is really all that's required. I had a couple years of experience at zoos first for the animal training background. Marine mammals is a really competitive field to break into.

cruyff819 karma

Would you say that the animals' use is a testament to our (human) holding our lives as more important than theirs or is there some advantage whales, sharks, rays, sea turtles, pelicans, dolphins, and sea lions have over a human in the realms of mine hunting, deep sea object recovery, and swimmer/diver interdiction?

itrainanimalsandshit42 karma

The animals provide a tremendous advantage since they've spent millions of years evolving and adapting to become masters of underwater world. Human technology is nowhere close to replicating their natural abilities (echolocation for dolphins, and ability to see in very low vis + fantastic directional hearing for sea lions).
We use sonar heads and stuff around the Naval ports and bases, and the animals work in conjunction with those systems, but they're nowhere near as reliable as the animals, which are near 100% successful within their program specs.

They've been trying to phase out the mammal program for probably close to 20 years, but technology just can't compete. And the animals' jobs present very little (if any) actual danger.

ancientflowers11 karma

Why have you deleted or hidden all of your posts and comments?

itrainanimalsandshit25 karma

Because I'm kinda paranoid and want to stay as anonymous as possible

hailtothekingbb9 karma

Do you have any individual animals you've worked with which you feel connected to, or is there kind of a professional distance with all of them?

itrainanimalsandshit14 karma

There's a mix of both. Each trainer is assigned animals as a primary or secondary trainer, so those are the ones we focus on and teach new behaviors, and we have a closer relationship with so they trust us for medical procedures and stuff like that. But every trainer works every animal since the behaviors are standardized, and we want to keep that variety up so they don't break down if their trainer leaves or gets reassigned.

GavinStaleyAMA9 karma

Have you ever got an animal to salute?

itrainanimalsandshit27 karma

The sea lions can all salute! It's in one of the video links I posted. Dolphins can't physically make that motion

Shits_Kittens8 karma

Hi! I train marine mammals as well, and I was wondering how difficult it is to break into working with the navy after you’ve worked at marine parks. Is there a relatively low or high turnover rate for trainers? Also, what is it like working for the navy versus a marine park (if you can make that comparison). Thanks!

itrainanimalsandshit2 karma

We actually have a pretty high turnover since we work weird schedules (we're a security force so we have 24/7/365 coverage) and most people in this field want more public interaction and to be able to take pics with their animals and stuff. We're pretty much always hiring at at least one location. PM me if you're serious and want more specific info

The_Doct0r_7 karma

What kind of living quarters do the animals live in while not on the job? Are they released at any point in their life?

itrainanimalsandshit6 karma

The dolphins live in a series of pens that are all connected. Each pen is ~10x10 meters and we have one pen per dolphin, but they stay mixed most of the time until we need to separate one for work or for medical purposes.
The sea lions have a large pen and live in groups of 4. There's a big pool in the middle and land space all around it.

All of their work is in open water off a boat.

The_Doct0r_2 karma

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. If you don't mind me adding, do the animals happen to hit a retirement age? And if so, are they released? Or moved to an appropriate aquarium?

itrainanimalsandshit3 karma

They do retire, but usually stay with the Navy in the breeding program to help raise calves/pups or just a companion animal to other working animals

efycounselor7 karma

What’s your favorite animal to work with any why?

What you do is so sick, I am a huge fan of animals.

itrainanimalsandshit38 karma

If we're just having fun, I'm partial to the dolphins, but for the actual job it depends because they have different functions and they're worked differently so it kind of depends on what I'm in the mood for for the day.

I also love animals, which is why I'm in this field. The Navy takes excellent care of all their animals. And we work with them in open water with no tethers or anything or anything so they can literally swim away anytime they choose. So all of our animals voluntarily come back and stay with us everyday.
We provide them with a safe place to live away from predators, all the food they need, medical care if they get sick, and lots of love and attention and mental stimulation.

We even have a couple dolphins who did run away for a few months several years ago, but then randomly returned on their own and have stayed with us since. We've only permantly lost 5 or 6 animals (out of I'd guess a few hundred) over the last 50+ years that decided to leave and never return.

Bfreak7 karma

Are these animals deployed around the World in any way and if so how are they transported?

itrainanimalsandshit1 karma

They can be transported by boat, truck, or plane. I can't go into the specifics of how the transport setup works, but it's quite a process. The end result looks something like this.

Profane_tendencies7 karma

Do you ever want to train it to go find treasure for you?

itrainanimalsandshit13 karma

Kind of actually lol. Idk if it's ever been done, but I think dolphins could be trained for locating shipwrecks. I love scuba diving, so that's always been kind of a secret fantasy.

lildeucecoup6 karma

How do I apply for this job???

itrainanimalsandshit3 karma

I literally just found it through Indeed looking for marine mammal jobs. If you're serious PM me for more info

Anonymous_Anomali5 karma

What is your background? How did you end up up in this position? Thanks for the AMA!

itrainanimalsandshit1 karma

I'm a civilian contractor. I have a degree in marine biology and I'm a divemaster. I worked for a couple years in zoos for the animal training background

box_o_foxes5 karma

I noticed in the videos the dolphins appear to be kept in smaller enclosures, but they are obviously used out in open waters. How much do the dolphins get out every day? Is their open water time exclusively work? or do they have some "free time" too? Have you ever had any problems with one not wanting to return to the boat/enclosure?

itrainanimalsandshit21 karma

They are typically kept in pens that are ~10x10 meters (there's one pen per dolphin but they all connect too so they can socialize unless we separate them to work or for medical purposes), but all their work is in open water. They all work pretty much every day to some degree, it can be just a couple hours or more like 8-10 depending on what's going on. When they're working, they're not necessarily 100% focused 100% of the time, just like people. They'll occasionally slip away for a few minutes to go fishing or frolick with the wild animals nearby or just explore, then return to the boat to work again, just like you might browse reddit for a few min at work here and there for a break. Sometimes they will run for hours at a time, but they almost always come back. As I said in another comment, we have lost a handful of animals that ran away and never returned, so they have that choice. But they (eventually) pretty much always come back voluntarily.

box_o_foxes3 karma

That's super interesting. I know a lot of people have concerns for the welfare of the marine mammals in captivity. This seems like a very symbiotic relationship that allows them the freedom to still be animals, while still having a "job" they obviously enjoy (or at the very least, they think is worth doing in exchange for food/care).

itrainanimalsandshit3 karma

I absolutely agree. I think most of the animal "activists" who protest zoos and stuff just have a very naive view on what it's like for animals to live wild and free. Thinking that animals have some desire to be "free" and roam around aimlessly is a personification. They really just want to have their needs met. By choosing to stay with us, they have a safe home away from predators, all the fish they need, and all their medical needs taken care of. In the wild you're on your own and any little injury or illness will can likely kill you. The open sea is a dangerous place.

CiD77075 karma

What was the prerequisite training you had to have before you joined?

itrainanimalsandshit2 karma

I'm a civilian contractor. I have a degree in marine biology and worked a couple years at zoos for the animal training background. And I'm a divemaster

Generic_Reddit-Guy5 karma

Have any of the animals saved any soldiers or vice versa?

itrainanimalsandshit12 karma

Directly, not that I know of since that's not really their purpose. But if you consider locating a mine that a ship could've hit enroute, then they've potentially saved thousands

MrPaineUTI3 karma

What was your career path to this role and have you had to gain any specialised qualifications to get there?

itrainanimalsandshit2 karma

I'm a civilian contractor. I have a degree in marine biology and I'm a divemaster. I worked for a couple years in zoos for the animal training background

MrPaineUTI1 karma

How far into your career did you turn towards working alongside animals (as in not just to study them), or was that always your aim?

itrainanimalsandshit2 karma

Working with animals was always my goal, although I'd like to get more involved in research too

somaRM3 karma

Is this it's own rate (MOS,AFSC) or is it like K-9 where you have to start out as an MA (Master at Arms) and then shred out to it after you meet rank requirements?

itrainanimalsandshit3 karma

I'm a civilian contractor, so I couldn't give you details in the military side. But we do work with some Navy handlers, I think they're mostly EOD

Amithrius3 karma

Do your animals interact with their wild counterparts? If so, what's that like for them?

itrainanimalsandshit4 karma

They do like to go frolic with their wild friends sometimes. And I'd bet money that our guys have fathered some offspring out in the bay. Occasionally some wilds will even come swim with a boat that has a dolphin patrolling. Probably just trying to snag some of the free fish

navyptsdvet3 karma

I actually work at a place in the Southeast where dolphins and sea lions are employed. I've always wondered what exactly would happen to me if I accidentally fell in the water? Can the animals tell the difference between someone that's a threat or someone that had an accident?

itrainanimalsandshit2 karma

All they do is detect people in the water and let us know if they found someone. The dolphins can mark their location and the sea lions can hook up to them with a special device (see the end of the first video link).

So if someone fell overboard or something and couldn't be located the animals could certainly be used to find them, and we could even reel you into the boat using the practice equipment that we train with.

If no one knew you fell in (and you were somehow staying underwater for a long enough period), the animal would report you and it's up to our shift lead how to handle it. We'd most likely treat it as a threat initially and send markers to see if you're moving towards an asset, but we have to report it to the Navy waterfront security leads and get authorization from them to use operational equipment. You don't want to be on the other end of the operational.

There has actually been one fatality in the program from a civilian trainer years ago who had a seizure in the water and drowned. The dolphins were used to locate his body.

navyptsdvet2 karma

That's actually good news to hear lol. I was told that the dolphins would ram a swimmer and push the swimmer to the bottom. Sounds like realistically if an accident were to happen and someone did fall in they are probably not going to be killed by a dolphin.

itrainanimalsandshit3 karma

Lol, yea that seems to be a common rumor. We're not training attack dolphins

Murler3 karma

When are navy seals gonna become literal seals?

itrainanimalsandshit7 karma

They're sea lions, and they take offense to being mistaken for seals

Milleroski3 karma

Are the sea mammals life expectancy shortened from the workload or do they live the same amount of time as in the wild?

itrainanimalsandshit5 karma

Dolphins typically live way longer in captivity than in the wild! In the wild the average lifespan is around 20 years but in captivity they can easily live for 40+ years. I think our oldest ever was pushing 60 before he passed.

decantre3 karma

How do you train the animals to follow your commands?

itrainanimalsandshit1 karma

We use the same principles as you'd train your dog. It's based primarily in positive reinforcement

MaxFart3 karma

Why did the recruiter laugh at me when I told him I wanted to work with dolphins?

itrainanimalsandshit8 karma

Most of us are actually civilian contractors, so I couldn't tell you much about the Navy side of things. We do work with EOD and some other Navy (and even Army) personnel sometimes, but idk about their rates and stuff.

grumpy_gardner2 karma

How does the mine clearing work? Do the dolphins just go up and explode ?

itrainanimalsandshit2 karma

The animals are not in any danger. All they do is locate and mark the position of the mines with a marker that deploys to the surface. Then EOD personnel will dive to disarm it.

iamjacksliver662 karma

Have you had a oh wow mind blown moment during any of your research. If so can you share?

itrainanimalsandshit4 karma

The coolest thing I've ever seen is 2 coordinating their own unique behavior on command.

They can be trained to "innovate" which basically just means "do something new that you haven't done yet" (at least not in that particular session). They can also be taught to do behaviors in tandem. So if you combine those two, they can innovate in tandem. It seems like they go underwater and chat for a second to coordinate, then come up and do the same behavior together. And it's always different! They'll do things like whistle and fluke slap the water then spin around 3 times, or whatever series theyve decided on.

We're not sure if they're literally talking about a plan, or if one takes the lead and the other just senses and follows it so closely that it looks coordinated to us. But it's totally fascinating to me.

musicislife222 karma

How do you deploy a marine mammal worldwide? Tank on a cargo aircraft?

PS I'm pretty sure I've been to the facility in San Diego; my mom is a retired Marine and I remember getting to go and visit a facility and pet the dolphins and learn about them when I was around 5 or so :) still sticks out to me all these years later!

itrainanimalsandshit1 karma

They can be transported by boat, truck, or plane. I can't go into the specifics of how the transport setup works, but it's quite a process. The end result looks something like this.

It is a pretty amazing thing to see in action, even if you see it every day!

Nappstar2 karma

How do like King’s Bay, GA?

itrainanimalsandshit2 karma

I'm at another satellite facility ;)

Our water is way colder, but the vis is better, so it's a tradeoff.

ISAMU132 karma

Given enough time do you think that you could train an octopus to disarm a torpedo?

itrainanimalsandshit2 karma

Me personally no, since idk how to disarm a torpedo. I've never worked with octpods so idk a lot about their capabilities, but it really wouldn't surprise me if that was a possibility.

Riddlrr2 karma

I'm a sound effects recordist, and have been looking to record dolphins for quite some time now! They make such wonderful vocals. Do you know of any rescue facilities or organizations that would be good to look int?

itrainanimalsandshit3 karma

Sorry, can't really help you with that one. All our areas are pretty highly restricted and hard to get access to. We do do a lot of acoustic research in San Diego, but idk any specifics to help you out. I'd imagine if you contact some aquariums, some of them might be able to work with you

ancientflowers2 karma

Do you like cantaloupe?

itrainanimalsandshit11 karma

I do, it's one of my favorites

I_am_BrokenCog2 karma

As a marine biologist, and a DoD civilian, how involved are you in the Navy's use of underwater noise devices (such as sonar) and it's harmful affects on marine life?

Is there any "activism" from within to change these practices, or is the presumption that "it is safe" and not a problem?

itrainanimalsandshit1 karma

That's a big area of research that the Navy is involved in. I don't work in that area so I don't know a ton about it, but it is definitely a concern that we're working on learning more about

chelidonium_majus2 karma

What kind of training methods do you use?

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve heard with dolphins it has to be all positive reinforcement because unlike with dogs you can’t just throw on a shock collar or choke chain and “make” them behave. In my mind they would just swim away if you tried to discipline them in any way, even if it is like a horse with it’s bridle where the horse learns to turns so that the “negative” tugging on the rope stops.

Thank you in advance, those videos were awesome!

itrainanimalsandshit2 karma

We do use primarily positive reinforcement, and most modern research shows that that is the best method for training pretty much any animal. If they're not coorporating or behaving we use time outs and LRS as "punishment" and try again later. We do have aversives available for safety reasons (like for sea lions there's always someone on the crowding board which is basically a big piece of plywood we can get behind and use to corral the animal if they become aggressive. We also have ways to restrain them for some medical procedures which can't really trained by any method or if they're sick or hurt and become aggressive and non cooperative

The_Tame2 karma

Do the Navy Sea Lions and the Navy SEALs have a rivalry?

itrainanimalsandshit4 karma

Nah, it's no contest that the sea lions are superior ;)

crcliff1 karma

Why is the description removed?

itrainanimalsandshit1 karma

I did an AMA a few a months ago, but didn't resubmit my proof because I'm lazy so I guess it wasn't sufficient enough

BanAllPineapples1 karma

What are your thoughts on r/DolphinConspiracy? Do you think dolphins have/will really take over the world?

itrainanimalsandshit1 karma

Lol, didn't know that was a thing. But no I don't really see it. I have heard some interesting ideas that if dolphins and humans really share similar intelligence levels (which is still debated) then we may only have our thumbs to thank for our place in the world. By evolutionary chance, dolphins don't have a lot of dexterity for precise movement so regardless of their intelligence they don't really have the physical ability to use tools and develop technology

gunuk1 karma

Did you like the film The Cove? I seem the remember in that film some of the better Dolphins are sold the organisations around he world.

itrainanimalsandshit1 karma

Not familiar with that one, but I may have to check it out

clickclackcat0 karma

Is it just dolphins, or does the navy train other types of marine mammals as well? Like seals? I'd like to know if there are real navy seals.

itrainanimalsandshit1 karma

No seals, just dolphins and sea lions

crappy_ninja-2 karma

Sort of seems unfair and cruel to train animals to be utilised in our wars. How do you morally justify it?

itrainanimalsandshit3 karma

They're used for protection and security purposes, just like a K9 unit would be. They're never placed in any significant danger and we take excellent care of them. As I've mentioned elsewhere in this thread, since we work them in open water with no tethers, can they literally run away anytime they choose and never come back. They voluntarily stay with us, so we must be doing something right.