I was 13 when I knew what I wanted to do for a living. It was my love for marine mammals that created a desire to become an animal trainer/care taker. Marine mammals will always hold a special place in my heart and the beluga is no different.
The most striking feature of the beluga whale, is its beautiful white color, giving it also the name, “white whale”. Another distinctive feature is its large melon which helps create the many sounds this animal makes, making it also the “canary of the sea”. Baby belugas are born grey though and slowly change into their striking white color as they grow and shed their skin. You can see many beluga whales in aquariums, but they are naturally found in the arctic regions of our oceans. Their natural predators are polar bears and orcas. One final distinctive feature is that these whales lack a dorsal fin, and instead have a dorsal ridge. The lack of dorsal fin, makes it easier for them to navigate below the ice. The Beluga is one of two whales found in the Monodontidae family. They share this family with the narwhal.
I don’t want to go on about the beluga, but instead share something special. I frequent a lot of training and behavioral conferences and in one of these conferences (years ago), I came to learn about the beluga whales in an aquarium in Japan that learned how to blow bubble rings on cue. One of the females, would do this behavior naturally and she was really good at it, but it was never something they had on cue. Somebody at the head of the aquarium requested that these individuals be taught to do these behaviors and on cue so that when visitors came, they could be asked to perform this awesome bubble ring. It’s the training that went into it that fascinates me the most. You see, one of the key factors to training animal behavior, is being able to reinforce them at precisely the right moment so that the movement will be saved in their memory in order to replicate it again for more rewards. It’s a slow process that requires a lot of patience on the trainer and the ability to observe body movement on the animal. You see, the trainer simply couldn’t watch the bubble as it came out of the belugas mouth and then reinforce the animal. By then, the beluga was essentially done with the behavior, the bubble was left on its own. Instead, the trainer had to observe the movement of the belugas head, melon and mouth. By doing so, they could notice what shape and movement the beluga made in order to create the bubble rings and only by doing that, were they truly able to capture and recreate the behaviors consistently and on cue. They even managed to teach the other two belugas how to create the bubble rings. Today, many belugas in different aquariums have learned to perform this behavior and yes, dolphins also naturally blow and play with bubble rings too. For me, this is amazing communication between beluga and trainers. What I like about the beginning of this short clip is that you really get to see how the beluga moves its mouth and melon in order to create those bubble rings.
© Semi Charmed Life
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