How Marine Mammal Trainers (Would Like To) See Themselves

Just shared this on my Facebook page, and can’t resist posting it here.

It’s the opening video for the 2012 IMATA (International Marine Animal Trainers Association) conference, which just started up in blood-stained Japan Hong Kong.

Has there ever been an industry that strains so greatly to seem noble and idealistic in its purpose?

Methinks they doth protest too much (I think the psychiatrists call it “overcompensation”)….

One thought on “How Marine Mammal Trainers (Would Like To) See Themselves”

  1. I went to an IMATA conference a few years back. I see that the general content of the videos hasn’t changed much. The interesting thing to me is that these videos aren’t just an attempt by the industry to convince itself of the nobility of its profession; they’re also an accurate portrayal of how some of these people actually see themselves. I spoke with quite a few trainers and they really do get a strong emotional fulfillment from what they do. Also, despite claims to the contrary, some of them do anthropomorphize the animals and really believe that the animals are equally fulfilled by the relationship.

    I can’t condemn them for this mistake. I spent over ten years training a variety of domestic species and got a BS in Animal Behavior. There was a time in my past when I thought much the same way about the animals I worked with. That was in early high school.

    As I matured, both personally and professionally, I realized that I had to retain some level of emotional distance if I was really going to do right by my charges. It’s too easy to assume that good intentions are enough. It’s too easy to become arrogant and assume you know what’s best based on how you feel. It’s too easy to become dependent on the animal and the relationship for emotional satisfaction. In order to truly be a good trainer and behaviorist, I realized that some distance is good. In the end, this decision allowed me to make choices that were best for the animals I worked with even if they made other people unhappy or seemed against my own interests.

    The people in the marine mammal industry that I talked to aren’t there yet. (I suspect there are more than a few who are but are also smart enough not to say anything that would get them fired in this economy. Animal training is a super-saturated field and it has the distinction of being unregulated and easy enough that almost anyone can join it but also specialized enough that it is hard to leave if you’ve taken the time to really develop your skills.) Some of these people, though, love marine mammals so much they are literally loving them to death. Their needs are so tightly bound to what they’re doing that they’ve lost perspective (or they’ve never had a chance to develop it because they fell in with companies with an interest in preserving that mindset early in their careers).

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