So many of you who are getting to know me know me as Alexis Kline Photography, but very few of you might not know that photography was not my original career path! When I was a kid my parents always took me to different zoos and aquariums. I was always surrounded by different types of animals. Being from the state of PA we weren’t too far the SeaWorld in Ohio at the time. Sadly that park is no longer there. As we visited more often I grew to love the idea of being a marine mammal trainer. I wanted to be the person that got to love all over the animals and get into the water and play with them. At the time I had absolutely no idea what was all involved in being a trainer, I just knew that is what I wanted to be when I grew up. Back in the day when SeaWorld asked for volunteers to sit on the whale’s back , I actually got chosen. As my mom always jokes and likes to remind me…I cried my eyes out and threw a big tantrum and REFUSED. My adult self would like to go back in time and yell at myself as a kid LOL. As I got older I continued to do my research on being a trainer and what was needed for schooling and doing that I found out that the income was not very high at all. So when I went into college I chose a different career path of being an Athletic Trainer. You probably just raised an eyebrow lol. At the time it was something I really enjoyed and the field was growing and reliable. Naturally became super appealing to my parents as it should.
Going through college I was extremely frustrated and just felt like I was not in the right field. I was barely getting by in some of my classes and it honestly was just because I was bored and not interested. So the end of my sophomore year I switched my major to Psychology. It is the preferred background in the training field because it teaches you behavioral conditioning. I was terrified to tell my family because honestly they knew that this career path did not pay well. I did not get the courage to tell my mom till the END of my junior year, and I told her in the middle of an argument we were having. Don’t ask me why that’s how I told my parents lol. So as I came to my senior year it was time for my internship. Everyone else in my field was doing things that a normal psychology major would do, but not me. I was applying to marine facilities for marine mammal internships. I got accepted into my first internship down in the Florida Keys! I had never been so excited and terrified for something at the same time.
I have been so incredibly blessed to have been able to work at four different marine facilities in my career. Each one of them came with so many blessings and lessons. Being a marine mammal trainer is HARD, mentally and physically. No one really tells you what comes with being a trainer. Not to mention that getting a job in this field is incredibly difficult. It’s one of those jobs that wants you to have experience but you can’t get experience unless someone will hire you. YEA it is one of those lol. I also had to be scuba certified, OH and pass a vigorous swim test. Most people don’t realize that most of a trainer’s day is spent cleaning something, probably a good 75% of it. Being in this field you will perfect your cleaning skills. If you ever watch me clean my dishes at home, really watch me lol. I clean them as if I am looking for fish scales and making sure there is not one spec of food on them. Working with fish that have scales can be very tricky. When cleaning you have to be sure not to leave any scales behind as bacteria can get under them and then make the animals sick. By far one of my most glorious moments of being a trainer is being shoulder deep in fish. That’s right we get to be the ones who thaw out all the fish every single day. Depending on the facility and how many animals were in our care would depend when we started fish house. Bright and early at 2:30 am I was getting up to start fish prep for the day. Most of the time I was going into work with 4-5 hrs of sleep if that. Some days I was running on 3 hours of sleep. At the end, everything we did was for the animals. I mean come on! Look at Charlie’s face. Don’t let those otters fool you. They were ready at any time to nibble off some of your fingers lol.
I was super blessed in my career to work with such a wide variety of marine mammals. I worked with dolphins, sea lions, seals, walruses, polar bears, belugas, commerson dolphins, small clawed otters, northern sea otters, brown bears, tigers, and red pandas. Oh, and reeves muntjacs! Not to mention sea turtles and penguins. I’m sure I am missing some but you get the gist lol. Each one of these species have
taught me something about their species and about being a trainer. They teach you patience and keep you on your toes. They also teach you to love and to be resilient. Working with large carnivores taught me how to become creative in training techniques and how important safety rules are. Nothing will shake you like a 350 lb tiger jumping at you and fear that a lock was left unlocked.
By far the most important part of being a trainer to me was building relationships with the animals that I worked with. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have the strongest relationship with all the animals I have ever worked with. It is normal as humans to have better relationship with some people better than others. You aren’t going to get along with everyone, that is natural. It is similar when it come to trainers and the animals. You are going to have stronger bond with some than others. That is what makes your relationship with those animals so amazing! The strong relationships are important to instill trust in one another. Being in human care the animals get the best health care possible. We do our absolute best to train the animals to participate in their own health care and trust is a main role in that. They trust us that we have their best interest and if we prepare them for their physicals when it comes time they are more relaxed and comfortable with the vet, and vise versa. Let’s be honest, even though we build relationships with these animals they are still large and can be dangerous. I love when people ask me if dolphins bite lol. ANYTHING with teeth can bite. So building that trust is important
for us as well because obviously we do not want to get injured by them. But sometimes being thrown by an animal just happens especially when you are working with animals that are rescues. I have def been thrown around by some manatees before LOL. I have been very blessed to have created some very strong relationships with a few of the animals I have worked with. They are extremely close to my heart and have forever changed my life. It is truly hard to know what animals are feeling or thinking. We love to think we can figure it out by their behavior but we do not really know. BUT I will say that animals I have a close relationship with seem much more excited to see me than the other animals. It is one of the best feelings in the entire world. It is something that I really can not put into words. Only way I can compare it to is like having a dog wag its tail in excitement and jumping up and down after you have been away all day.
With all the good of being a trainer came the lows. As hard as we try to do everything we can to keep the animals healthy and do everything right by the books sometimes you just can’t prevent them from getting sick or injured. Animals are extremely good at hiding things when they don’t feel good. So sometimes when you start noticing that an animal is “off” they may have already been sick for a little while. Other times you catch it early and you get them back to feeling themselves and sometimes you are holding an animal as they take their last breath. Someone could be saying goodbye to their best friend. Losing an animal that is in your care is one of the worst possible feelings to us as trainers. Feeling like you are hopeless even though you tried as hard as you could to help the animal that may have been suffering. My heart has been so full throughout my career but also has been broken many times.
Some days are really hard. Some days are really great. At the end of the day we are all here for these animals in some hopes of inspiring the people that come to see them to help their counterparts out in the wild, because they are the ones that are suffering. If I could inspire just one person to fall in love with these animals like I do, I have done my job. Because after my generation is gone we need other people to step up and take care and love these animals like we do. Deciding to leave the field that I have worked so incredibly hard at to reach was one of the hardest decisions of my life. Till this day I still battle with the decision, but mostly because I just miss the animals that I was so close with. I am super blessed to be able to frequently go and visit them and get some wet kisses from my best friends. People ask why I left……my first answer is for financial reasons. I was tired of having to work three jobs just to be getting by. Yes I knew that it would be hard going into this field but when you are young following your dream is all you care about and it doesn’t matter how many jobs you have to work to get there. I decided that as I got older I wanted to be more stable in my life when it came to my finances, and I was tired of constantly being tired and exhausted. My other answer is that I was scared deep down about losing an animal that I was really close with. The idea of that literally shook me to my core.
I am SO thankful for all the people and animals I met through my career and it was one of the happiest parts of my life and it for sure has shaped me into the person that I am today. This career led me to being a business owner of my own photography business! Thank you so much for reading as this probably will be one of the most important blogs to me th
at I ever write……Now on to the next chapter of my life and I can not wait to share it with you all! Disclaimer: These are my views and are no way associated with any of the zoos or aquariums.