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Martha Hiatt, Animal Trainer for the Wildlife Conservation Society

Official Title: Supervisor of Behavioral Husbandry, NY Aquarium;
WCS Husbandry Training Coordinator, Animal Enrichment Program

Martha Hiatt, Animal Trainer for the Wildlife Conservation Society“If you are fascinated by the behavior of wild animals and inspired to protect them, few careers could give you greater satisfaction than one in the field of animal training.  But be prepared... this is a competitive field.”

When she was 11 years old, Martha visited a marine park that had a dolphin show, and knew she wanted to work with dolphins in some way. Years later, she began volunteering for the New York Aquarium's training department, because the trainers took care of the dolphins.  The first time she saw a training session, and saw how stimulating it was for the dolphin, she knew she wanted to be a trainer.

In high school, she concentrated on science classes, took speech and theater, and was certified in SCUBA diving – all of which are important for a trainer.  She also read everything she could about marine mammals.  In college, she studied biology and psychology, continued to volunteer at the aquarium, and was eventually hired as a trainer.

Every day, Martha gets the opportunity to enrich the lives of fascinating animals by interacting with them.  She works directly with all of the animals at the New York Aquarium, including California sea lions, bottlenose dolphins, Pacific walruses, and beluga whales.  Martha plans their meals and activities, trains them to do specific actions, introduces new toys that keep the animals stimulated, and works to create marine mammal demonstrations with a strong conservation message.  A very important role of a trainer is to impart a conservation message to visitors while they watch wonderful animals perform.

Martha loves almost every aspect of her job . . . except maybe the cold winter days!  Martha and the other trainers whom she supervises spend a lot of time outside all year round.  Training animals is very physical work. Until a few years ago, women were not all that welcome, because they were perceived to be incapable of the physical demands.  But women have proven themselves very capable.  In fact, women currently dominate the field.

Trainers work with other professionals to care for and study animals.  For example, Martha has trained beluga whales to allow veterinary staff to take blood samples for studies on reproduction.  She also trained the belugas to wear bands on their flippers and allow her to routinely examine the flippers. This led to the development of a band that could be used to tag wild belugas, which allows researchers to have a better idea of where and how the species travels and how many individuals exist.


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