mystic marinelife aquarium internship

That's me with Naku, one of the aquarium's three female beluga whales.
For my intern project, I designed an experiment to look at the choice behavior of a beluga whale, and Naku was my randomly selected subject. During the summer, I introduced two objects to Naku, one associated with one fish and the other associated with five fish. I had hoped that over repeated presentations, she would learn to pick the object associated with the greater reward. However, after about a hundred presentations, she always picked the object in my left hand, regardless of its reward value.
I continued my internship into the fall and decided to try to teach Naku the behavior I was looking for by using some training tools and an object worth no reward, i.e. zero fish. After breaking Naku of her left-hand focus, I began to use the bridge randomly, and I discontinued the use of the recall and the least reinforcing stimulus (LRS). Finally, I returned to the one fish vs. five fish comparison using two new objects, and, after 19 sessions, Naku achieved criterion. She chose the object worth the greater reward ten times out of ten presentations, ending with a cumulative percentage of 67%. Thus, I concluded that a beluga whale could be taught to discriminate between objects associated with different fish rewards. If you would like to know more about my study, please see my abstract.
I am very sad to report that Naku passed away in March of 2014 at the age of 33. My friend, you will be sorely missed.

While I was an intern, Mystic's other beluga whales were Aurora and Kela.
Aurora was "round all over." She had a bulbous head and a white saddlepatch scar on her back. Aurora passed away at the age of 18 in September of 1999.
Kela is the "little" whale. She was the smallest of the three female belugas and loves to listen to music. She now shares the Arctic Coast exhibit with two male beluga whales, Juno and Miki.

During my internship, Mystic also had three female bottlenose dolphins - Nina, Arrow, and Misty.
Nina was the "middle child," but she was also the dominant female. She had a scar running across the left side of her melon. Sadly, Nina passed away in October of 1999.

Arrow was the youngest of the group, however, she was also the largest. She was white in color, putting the belugas to shame, but she passed away in December of 1997.

Misty was the oldest of the three dolphins. She had very prominent stripes on her melon and was the trickster of the group. She passed away in March of 2001.


Since I left Mystic, they moved the belugas out to the Arctic Coast exhibit. Click on the words to link to the aquarium's photo tour, and click on the dolphin to see my pictures.


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