Alongside hunger, a form of conditioning known as "clicker
training" is used to teach the dolphins new tricks. This
method is directly inspired by Pavlov's conditioning of dogs.
Dog trainers who use this method often quote its effectiveness
in the training of dolphins.
Fish and whistle
The dolphin trainer uses two stimuli: a dead fish and a whistle.
When the dolphin performs correctly it must be immediately rewarded.
This way it learns to associate the fish with the last position
If the trainer wants the dolphin to jump through a hoop, he or
she mustn't wait until the dolphin has dived back underwater to
throw it the fish: this would suggest to the dolphin that it will
be rewarded each time it dives beneath the water's surface, which
would not make for an "exciting" show.
On an empty stomach
The moment the dolphin begins its jump through the hoop, the trainer
blows a whistle. For the dolphin, this means "that's right"
and so the animal expects to be rewarded with a fish, which it
is given. If however the dolphin doesn't perform as expected,
there is no fish and the dolphin goes hungry.
Some French dolphinariums endorse this method, known as positive
reinforcement. Without actually admitting "we starve our
dolphins to make them perform", which would hardly draw the
crowds, they describe how food is used to reward each correct
action, or on the contrary withheld.
Naturally, marine parks don't want their audiences to feel they're
watching hungry animals who are willing to do anything for a piece
of fish. Hence they use "tricks of the trade" to create
the illusion that trainer and dolphin work in harmony. When the
dolphin adopts anthropomorphic poses such as "kissing"
its trainer, applauding or nodding its head in answer to questions,
the spectators are lulled into believing the dolphin enjoys what
The navy too
Marine parks are not alone in training dolphins. The U.S. Navy
has a long history of using dolphins: in the Viet Nam war, for
example, dolphins were used in a combat role, and there are about
100 which are still employed today.
A CITES document on Black Sea bottlenose dolphins states that
"Ukraine, as part of the former Soviet Union, captured and
trained 70 Black Sea bottlenose dolphins for "special forces".
When the Cold War ended, the trained animals were no longer needed
and the military tried to persuade oil companies that the dolphins
would be useful to them following retraining. In 1994, a large
number of ex-military Black Sea bottlenose dolphins were reported
to be kept in very poor conditions in the Ukraine (Anon. 1994).
The destination of these animals is not known, although three
years later about 20 Black Sea bottlenose dolphins are reported
to be in use in Ukraine in 'human therapy' programmes." (Specter,