TGIF – especially when in the field for research!

Friday was less windy but still a very full day! We were able to complete three sessions with each dolphin (hurray!) following our revised research protocol. We shifted our focus to assessing what preference the dolphins might have for each symbol (circle vs. star) and also identified a roster of ‘rewards’ for each symbol that the trainers currently consider “a little” or “a lot” for each specific dolphin. To rewind a bit – we we receiving results that were perplexing when coordinating training to assess whether the dolphins would consistently select the star (a lot). We saw a side bias and selection of the circle more than the star. So, either the dolphins were playing us or something else might be going on. So, we decided to take a step back and really investigate when the dolphins have a preference and what that preference might be, even considering the context of the training session. Context would include pool location, other dolphins nearby, other behavior requests and more. We also identified 3 specific “little” rewards and 4-5 specific “a lot” rewards. But, these rewards are also dolphin specific. So, for example, Zig is not a fan of ice cubes but Finn loves them. The pool noodle is Zig’s favorite toy whereas Ludwig lots tactile rubdowns! So, what we researchers initially assumed would be a simple and easy choice for the dolphins turned out to be more complex and complicated. We also shifted the sessions such that we are always presenting the symbols in pairs for a choice to be made and the trainer (Te-Shalla) does not know in advance which symbol will be on left and which on right. We added that she also does not know which reward will be offered given the circle/star selection by a dolphin. We did three sessions each with the dolphins today and will do more next week and in December that the team here at DE will video record. Thus, we researchers will review the video data over the winter to see if there are any confounding factors with the choices we see made by these dolphins. Then, maybe, we can begin to ask some of the more complicated questions!
I’m very pleased with the data collection this week and send our a hearty and huge (aka “a lot”) thank you to the folks at DE for their support and help with our research data collection. Thank you Te-Shalla, Annette, Nicole, Debra, Zandria, Randy, D’Vano, and the rest of the team!
See you in the spring.
P.S. Thank you Te-Shalla! We are both pleased with a productive research day!