Dolphins, sea lions and seals are fun, but training them is hard work. And how does one become a trainer?
Contrary to general perceptions, an animal trainer's job is neither easy, nor fun but dedicated hard work, according to Eric Lau, Senior Supervisor with Ocean Park, responsible for marine mammal training.
"You must be physically strong as it's all about outdoor work. You have to swim with the marine mammals even in winter, no matter how cold it is," said Mr. Lau, but he added: "On the other hand, it is more interesting and has a greater variety of activities than traditional office work."
A marine mammal trainer's job includes a lot more than simply "playing" around with animals. Taking care of them requires as much love and patience as caring for children.
"You have to be interested and committed to your career. Willing to learn and work hard and be responsible even for small things from which you can always gain valuable, practical knowledge."
Currently there are forty mammals including 18 dolphins, 14 sea lions and 8 harbor seals in Ocean Park, cared for by a team of 40 trainers.
In addition to performances, demonstrations and educational programs for visitors, animal trainers are also responsible for cleaning and feeding, maintenance of related facilities and other tasks.
One must be prepared to work hard and long hours. "We're involved in every small task," said Mr. Lau. According to him, there were apprentices who resigned after working for a few months. One can only gain satisfaction and realize the fun part of the job after overcoming the hardship of the early stages, he said.
Continuous on-the-job training for advancement
Form five and university graduates can start their career
in marine mammal training at Ocean Park as apprentices. First,
they will be taught about the facilities, safety rules and
basic skills such as skin-diving, before taking part in animal
caring and training.
Trainers have continuous on-the-job training and exchange
programs with overseas theme parks. Supervisors also attend
management courses to learn about training of human beings,
their fellow workers.
During his ten-year career at Ocean Park, Mr. Lau realized
there had been a shift of focus from entertainment to education.
In addition to attracting tourists, Ocean Park has been active
in education and conservation programs. Around 50,000 school
children in Hong Kong visit the park each year to learn about
Ocean Park is the first theme park in East Asia to have undertaken the assessment of the American Zoo & Aquarium Association; and the marine mammal trainers are also required to take related training courses.
Since there is only one theme park in Hong Kong, marine mammal trainers may look for opportunities outside the SAR, said Mr Lau. Though there is no direct impact of China's entrance to the World Trade Organization on their industry, he believes the resulting economic boom on the Mainland may bring about new openings or upgrades of theme parks in the country, creating greater demand for related talents.
|Figures for reference only