Loving dolphins is easy. Getting a job taking care of dolphins is hard. That’s why Dolphin Research Center set out to create a program, which recently received accreditation from the Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), specifically to teach students what to feed dolphins, how to work with them, and how to care for them.
“It’s a very competitive field to get into,” said Jamie Stevens, assistant director of the DRC Training Institute. “Even an entry-level position requires almost a year’s experience to get hired. We created this school to give people that experience and a degree.”
The degree is an occupational associate’s degree in marine mammal behavior, care and training. It’s a nine-month program and DRCTI accepts up to eight students at a time. They do classroom work, and “labs” outside with the animals. The course requires pre-requisites such as biology, a statistics class and a public speaking class.
“It comes in handy when you’re working in the fish house at 7 a.m. to prepare the animals’ food that has to have a certain percentage of this, and a certain percentage of that,” said Stevens.
Mallory Martin graduated from DRCTI in May 2017 and she and a fellow student are employed at DRC. (Other classmates dispersed to Discovery Cove in Orlando and the New England Aquarium, among other facilities.)
The most helpful part, Martin said, was the feedback from the experienced dolphin trainers at DRC.
“Getting the feedback was really important. They were watching me in the field and telling me what was great and what needed to be improved on,” she said. “You don’t get that everywhere. The trainers really care about you and watch your progress.”
Since its inception in 2014, DRC has graduated about 20 students. They come from all walks of life, Stevens said, some with bachelor’s degrees and some without.
“Most of our students usually have degrees in zoology, biology or animal behavior,” she said. “And some are in the process of getting their bachelor’s degree. They take a break from traditional schooling and come do this program.”
The next DRCTI class begins in September. Applications are being accepted through April 30 and in-person interviews will be scheduled for June. The nine-month course costs about $20,000 and the facility does offer a financial scholarship to one student per session based on need. For more information, visit www.dolphins.org/drcti or call 305-289-1121 x 215.