A Summer with the Dolphins

By Melissa Thompson (class of '05)


When asked what they did this summer most people will be unable to reply with something like “I taught a dolphin to do a Wilson-in-the-Bucket.” However, that’s just the type of answer you’ll hear from Robert Roozendaal, a summer intern at the National Aquarium in downtown Baltimore, MD.

Roozendaal is spending the summer (2004) working with 10 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the marine mammal pavilion at the aquarium. He is being paid to be a summer aide and also earning psychology credits. This position means that he is filling in for a trainer in an entry-level position while a search for a new permanent trainer is being conducted.

“Basically I’m a back-up for trainers and staff,” Roozendaal said. “I help with things like medical exams and the daily routine.”

Roozendaal assists with everything from the morning feeds to washing up the kitchen to working the shows and training the animals. In fact, there are so many things to do that he would like to work longer hours.

“I’m not allowed to come in early or stay late and that’s really hard,” Roozendaal said.

The National Aquarium puts on five shows a day for those who come to visit. Roozendaal plays various roles at he shows including narrating and working with the animals on the side. “I’m the only person to have ever come in with the script memorized,” Roozendaal said. This freed up his time to allow him to learn more about each position in the show and be a more versatile employee.

Roozendaal has also been offered the very exciting chance to actually teach a dolphin a behavior. This means that he gets a chance to work with Shadow, an Atlantic bottlenose originally from the Minnesota Zoo, and teach him how to balance a basketball on his nose and toss it into a bucket. “It’s very unique that someone in a temporary position is given the opportunity to do this type of training,” Roozendaal said.

A new calf was recently born in the National Aquarium which means right now Roozendaal and the other employees are busy beginning to introduce the calf to the other animals.

Although it might seem odd that a psychology major is spending his time with animals as opposed to people Roozendaal said that his major is a great way to learn the techniques for working with animals.

“Biology is good for working with stuff from the lab,” Roozendaal said. “However, you learn the techniques of training theory from psychology.”

Roozendaal said as long as a major is science-related anyone can make the leap into working with animals if they so desire. For him, being able to learn something new every day and work with animals that never behave quite the same on a day-to-day basis means this is a job he loves.

There’s nothing I really don’t like about this internship,” Roozendaal said. “I’m also getting in really good experience for when I graduate and try to get a job in this field.”