How are dolphins trained? What happens if the dolphins decide they don’t want to perform?
Dolphins in captivity are not given the option to end interactions or performances when they would like to. They are trained to perform through ‘operant conditioning’. For many animals this means that satisfaction of hunger is dependent on performing tricks; for others, hunger is deliberately induced so the training will be effective. Though a complete food portion is ultimately provided each day, the use of food as a training tool reduces some animals to little more than beggars.
Captive dolphin programs often train dolphins to perform tricks that people equate with human responses and emotions. Movement of the pectoral flippers is taken to mean that the dolphins are waving a greeting. Vocalizing seems to indicate that the animals are “speaking” to the crowd. Or, the dolphins swim directly up to tourists entering the water, apparently signaling their enthusiasm to interact. In reality, these are highly unnatural behaviors.