MARINELAND OF FLORIDA - THE WAY IT WAS

Patricia Dale Taylor & Duke the dog

(Patricia Dale Taylor & Duke the dog)

TRAINING THE FIRST PORPOISE - THE STORY OF FLIPPY

Douglas Burton, one of the original founders of the park, was of the opinion that if seals and sea lions, pigeons, and rats could be trained, so could porpoises. But they would need larger quarters- presumably an elongated swimming pool with a stadium for the public overlooking it. In 1949 Burden proposed that the trained be hired and if was successful, that the stadium be built. Adolf Frohn, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were animal trainers, was born in a circus wagon in Hamburg, Germany in 1904. He joined Frank Buck's lion and tiger show and was with Barnum and Bailey and Ringling Brothers circus when summoned to the Marine Studios to see what could be done with Flippy, a youthful, two-hundred pound, six-and-a-half foot porpoise. Since a porpoise had never been trained before, Frohn began work with Flippy without any ideas of what the outcome would be. With the animal in the water and the trainer on land, obviously some new techniques would have to be devised. And where were the training waters going to be? The circular oceanarium was too deep and there were too many active porpoises in it. It seemed that a natural salt water lagoon might do and when a suitable one was found Flippy was placed in it. Because there was no precedent and he had no basis for comparison, Frohn did not know whether Flippy was comparatively dumb or smart. With generations of experience to go on, circus trainers can quickly tell a smart seal from a dumb one ( and the public sees only the smart ones ). Frohn's hope that Flippy had at least average intelligence was somewhat shaken by the fact that it took three months just for the animal to become accustomed to him. At the end of that time, however, he had become a devoted friend to whom Flippy could look for food and affection. Reward, not punishment , is the cardinal principle of successful animal training. Flippy soon recognized that if could but understand what Frohn wanted, a fat butterfish awaited him and also a soothing pat on the head. While Frohn knew that porpoises can hear underwater sounds, there was as yet no proof that they could hear a human voice outside the water. For a time it was thus a question of whether he would have to use hand signals instead of voice commands. With his head sticking out of the water Flippy fortunately had no difficulty hearing Frohn's voice and, what was more important, in understanding it. Responding to a combination of voice and hand signals he at length learned to come when called, to wait in one place and to go here and there to be fed. Frohn found it easier to work from a rowboat, which Flippy happily followed around the lagoon. As the weeks passed he became fonder and fonder of his human friend until one morning, when he first saw him in his rowboat, he leaped clear out of the water and landed in Frohn's arms. Under the sudden onslaught of two hundred additional pounds, the boat almost sank. Soaked, shaken and frightened since he could not swim Frohn managed gingerly to return Flippy to the water without capsizing the boat. Flippy was always being diverted by something like a weed or floating stick. Periods of accomplishment would be followed by periods of remission and bad temper. Indeed, Frohn wondered if Flippy had reached the limit of his capacity for learning. He was sure of one thing- if he ever trained another porpoise it was going to be a female. While demanding greater rewards in food and petting, females, in his experience, seem to learn more readily. He also considers that they more quickly forget what they have learned, which he feels is desirable. The male's one-track mind and his persistence often interfere with acquiring new tricks. Until Flippy had learned to obey a command to stop or wait, he would perform a trick over and over until he was mentally exhausted. Then he would completely lose interest. The hardest thing for Frohn to teach Flippy was not to do something. After becoming accustomed to a sling in which he permitted himself to be lifted out of the water, Flippy soon learned to wear a simple canvas harness. The next step was to accustom him to towing a small surfboard, and finally to towing it with a passenger aboard. The passengers were alternately a girl and a small dog named Duke. Flippy seemed to take great interest in the dog, and the dog soon became attached to his strange friend. Training Flippy to Frohn's satisfaction required three years at a cost of $ 1,000 a month but it was well worth it to the Marine Studios to be able to present to the world's first " educated" porpoise. The spectators scarcely believed what they saw when, with Flippy waiting , head out of water, Frohn gave the command : " Ring the bell ! " Joyously Flippy ducked down and swam to the far end of the pool where he turned, paused and then started swimming powerfully and at great speed toward the center of the tank. Directly under a yardarm from whose end the bell was suspended ten feet above the surface, Flippy burst out of the water with just enough momentum to carry himself cleanly and expertly up to the short line attached to the clapper. Seizing it between his jaws he gave the bell a hearty clang, released the line and fell back into the water with a great splash. This was just the beginning. Flippy jumped out of the water and honked a bulb horn, caught a football thrown from the far edge of the tank, raised a flag by seizing the lanyard in his teeth and, as a finale, burst through a paper-covered hoop suspended well above the water.

 

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