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When I Grow Up: Making a Splash

Meet Gina DeJesus and find out what it's like to wear a wet-suit — instead of a business suit — to work every day.
 

Learning Benefits

Why my job is awesome: I love being the one person who gets to introduce a 500-pound dolphin to a guest for the first time. It's also incredible to be able to experience pregnant dolphins giving birth. Seeing the first breath for the first time is an amazing experience.

An average day: Actually, each day can be completely different depending on the animals. Typically though, when you first arrive at work you check each animal over to make sure they have not acquired any bumps or bruises from the night before. Afterwards, you are in and out of the water all day long doing 30-minute dolphin interactions with guests. But the day is not over when the interactions are done. If any animal becomes ill or we have any new calves, we are here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to take care of them. It's like caring for a child!

What I love about being a trainer: I love the close relationships I have with so many of the animals and the intimate environment of Discovery Cove — a smaller park with 35 dolphins. I also especially love the close contact all of our guests are able to experience when they get their turn in the water with the dolphins. It's great to be able to provide groups of people who have never felt a dolphin before with this kind of experience — they are so excited to meet one and learn all about them. It is really touching when a guest is so overwhelmed with emotion from that first touch. It makes the job worthwhile and very rewarding for me.    

My first interest: I knew that I wanted to work with animals, and in particular dolphins, when I was just 5 years old. I lived in Maine as a child and went on frequent trips to the New England Aquarium in Boston. I was the little kid sitting in the back of the dolphin stadium waving my hands franticly as they were choosing volunteers. From then on, I always wanted to be around those animals and that environment.

What my childhood self would think of my job now: As a kid, I would have loved knowing that I actually did follow my dream. My childhood self would definitely have loved working at Discovery Cove — or working with dolphins anywhere in general — and especially being on a stage in front of a crowd with these animals at a place like SeaWorld.

How I got where I am today: I have always loved marine mammals and ocean life in general, so I spent a lot of learning about these areas my whole life. During my senior year in high school, I spent my spring break at SeaWorld of San Antonio and participated in the Careers Camp. It was an amazing experience that helped me really decide what I wanted to do. I majored in marine biology and minored in psychology in college, even though a college degree is not actually required to work at SeaWorld and Discovery Cove. I got SCUBA certified also, which is definitely a requirement to work for these parks. While still in college, I went home to the St. Louis Zoo and worked at the Sea Lion Show for two summers and then spent my last summer in Cancun, Mexico working with dolphins. My last year of college, I began preparing myself for the SeaWorld swim test. Once I passed it, I was interviewed and then hired.

What stinks about my job: The biggest drawback is that you never fully get rid of smelling like fish everyday. Luckily my husband works in the same environment so we don't notice the smell anymore! The other hard part is being in the water year-round. Florida winters are not very cold, especially coming from New England, but there is still something to be said about being in 75-degree water when the air temperature is only 40-50 degrees. You just don't want to get out of the water!  

Some dolphin tidbits: After working at Discovery Cove for 5 and a half years now, it still amazes me how dolphins react to different things. They are such large animals, but they still act like children at times. They are always testing you like a 2 year old would, and it's amazing to see that even with a small change in the environment, they can go cower in the corner. I love just sitting back and watching the dolphins interact with each other. When they think no one's watching, they might start swimming around with their tongues hanging out or start blowing bubble rings and play with them. They are truly amazing animals and I'm glad to be a part of their lives.

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