Blood in the Water

When killer whales perform a behavior correctly, they are “bridged” (often with a whistle sound, in essence signaling “well done”) and then receive reinforcement in the form of a reward, such as a fish or a playful rubdown. When they don’t perform correctly, the trainer reacts with a three-second neutral response and withholds the reward. This is known as a least-reinforcing scenario, or LRS. Repeated failed attempts—and the corresponding lack of reward—can sometimes lead to a frustrated killer whale. “The question the trainer has to constantly be asking is: Is this animal mildly frustrated but still has the ability to stay with it and work through the problem?” explains Samantha Berg, who worked as a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando’s Shamu Stadium in the early 1990s. “Or have I gone beyond this animal’s limits and it’s time to cut the losses, take a break, and start over?”

Source: Outside
Published: Jul 18, 2011
Length: 29 minutes (7,373 words)
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