If you've ever looked into marine mammal training prior to this website, you may have heard of something called positive reinforcement. This is the training philosophy of nearly all marine mammal training facilities. In this philosophy, trainers reward or reinforce a behaviour that is desired, and don't react at all to an undesireable behaviour. This method is extremely effective, and is what reinforces every behaviour that any animal at SeaWorld knows. The key to training animals, is a variety of interesting and stimulating reinforcers. Food is used in the early traing stages to keep the animals interested, but as the training moves further, other things, such as ice, backrubs, water hoses, and toys. These positive reinforcers influence the animal to do the behaviour again, so they will once again get their reward. Every individual animal responds differently to each reinforcer, and some may be more effective than others. The trainers learn their animals and then get to know which reinforcer they prefer, this makes it easier for them to teach the animals new behaviours. The trainers must study each reaction carefully, then decide which reinforcer they react to best. A lot of the time, the animals will have to perform multiple behaviours before being rewarded. Studies at SeaWorld have shown that this is more effective than getting a treat after every behaviour. Also, switching up reinforcers keeps the animals interested.
If the reinforcer is the same, the animals may get bored, tired, lazy, frusturated, and sometimes even aggressive. In the training stage, reinforcers must immediately follow the desired behaviour. If the trainer waits, the wrong behaviour may be inforced. When an animal is performing, or away from the trainers immediate side, a bridge enforcer is used. This "bridges" the gap of time between the behaviour and when the animal comes back to the trainer. The bridge signal is usually found in the form of a whistle for whales and dolphins. For seals, sea lions, walrus, and otters, it is usually a light touch or the word "okay." For birds, the word "good" is used. A bridge signal is introduced early in training.