How To Become a Dolphin Trainer (With FAQs)

Updated January 26, 2023

If you enjoy working with marine life, consider a career as a dolphin trainer. Not only do dolphin trainers work with dolphins, but they also provide entertainment and educational information to visitors at their place of employment. Knowing what this role entails can help you determine if you're well-suited for a career as a dolphin trainer. In this article, we define the role of a dolphin trainer, list the steps for pursuing this career, explain the skills you need as a dolphin trainer and answer some frequently asked questions about the role.

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What is a dolphin trainer?

A dolphin trainer is an individual who teaches tricks and behaviors to a variety of dolphins. They often work for zoos, resorts, aquariums or research facilities that hold animal performances. Dolphin trainers also care for dolphins and ensure their well-being.

Though dolphin trainers at an aquarium or zoo aim to entertain the public, they also try to include a message about dolphin conservation awareness. For example, they may talk about dolphins or their habitats during a show.

Related: 18 Marine Animal Jobs Working in and Around the Water

What does a dolphin trainer do?

Dolphin trainers use their marine mammal skills to perform a wide variety of duties. While they often entertain or educate the public, they also provide care to various dolphins. Here are a dolphin trainer's common duties:

  • Teach dolphins new tricks and behaviors

  • Train and mentor new staff members

  • Ensure a dolphin's mental and physical health

  • Entertain dolphins

  • Educate guests on dolphins and their behavior

  • Prepare the dolphins' fish allotments each day

  • Interact with guests

  • Monitor dolphin behavior

  • Work alongside other trainers and the veterinary staff

  • Ensure proper water quality through observation and testing

How to become a dolphin trainer

To become a dolphin trainer, you need to meet certain job requirements. Meeting these requirements makes it easier to secure employment in this field. While each employer's requirements may vary, here are the general steps to take to pursue a career as a dolphin trainer:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

Most zoos and aquariums want entry-level applicants with a bachelor's degree in a life science. Consider pursuing a degree in marine biology or zoology. These degrees involve animal, science and advanced mathematics courses. You may also take animal-related courses such as marine mammalogy and animal behavior. If you pursue a marine biology degree, you typically take courses in oceanography, conservation and marine ecology.

Consider taking drama or public speaking courses to help you improve your communication skills as a dolphin trainer. These skills can help you interact with zoo or aquarium visitors, or help you provide commentary about dolphins to spectators over a microphone.

Related: 10 Jobs You Can Get With a Marine Science Degree

2. Pursue an internship

While pursuing your degree, consider completing an internship to gain animal-handling experience. Some internships may offer college credit or a wage in compensation for your work. You can intern at a zoo, aquarium, humane society and wildlife rehabilitation center. An internship can teach you about animal care and husbandry, however, you may not have hands-on contact with dolphins.

3. Earn your scuba certification

Since most zoos and aquariums require scuba-certified dolphin trainers, consider pursuing this certification. You can earn a basic scuba diver certification or get certified as a master scuba diver or rescue diver. If you pursue a certification, you can expect both classroom and online courses. The final part of the basic scuba courses involve applied training where you learn skills such as how to use different scuba equipment in the water.

Some scuba certification programs also involve CPR and first aid training. Completing your training and earning certification in both CPR and first aid can help you learn these skills in an environment related to your career.

4. Get work experience

If required by the job you're interested in, shadow an experienced dolphin trainer or complete a training program. You may need to do one or the other before you perform advanced behavior training with dolphins. You can advance to senior-level roles once you get to know the dolphins under your care and improve your training techniques.

5. Join a professional organization

Consider joining a professional organization like the American Association of Zoo Keepers or the International Marine Animal Trainers' Association. Both give you the opportunity to attend workshops and connect with other professionals in your field. Having these connections may lead to more job opportunities in the future.

Related: How To Become a Marine Biologist

Skills for a dolphin trainer

Dolphin trainers need both hard and soft skills to complete their tasks. Here are a few skills and characteristics you need as a dolphin trainer:

  • Public speaking: Dolphin trainers use their strong communication and public speaking skills to interact with visitors, host dolphin shows and speak during educational activities.

  • Strong physical stamina: Dolphin trainers need to stay in shape in order to meet the physical demands of the job. It's important to maintain your swimming skills and strong physical stamina to interact with dolphins and, in some cases, perform acrobatics.

  • Swimming skills: As a dolphin trainer, you need to know how to swim well in order to interact and care for dolphins in the water.

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Frequently asked questions about dolphin trainers

Here are some common questions about dolphin trainers:

What are the work hours like for a dolphin trainer?

Dolphin trainers typically work long, irregular hours since dolphins need constant care. Their specific work hours may also depend on their employer.

What is the salary for a dolphin trainer?

Animal trainers, including dolphin trainers, earn a national average salary of $32,559 per year. Your salary as a dolphin trainer may differ based on your employer, geographic location, experience level and specialty in training dolphins.

Related: 15 Highest-Paying Jobs for Animal Lovers

What are some jobs similar to that of a dolphin trainer?

Here are some careers similar to that of a dolphin trainer:

  • Marine biologist

  • Marine mammal trainer

  • Fish and game warden

  • Aquarist

  • Ichthyologist

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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