Indy Zoo offers rare chance for students to train with dolphins

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 27, 2015) - For the first time, the Indianapolis Zoo is offering a program for students unlike anything it’s done before, and CBS4’s Jessica Hayes got an exclusive look.

Indianapolis Public School students were able to get into the water to take a firsthand look at how to train the dolphins.

The zoo says this is an opportunity most kids never have, and it opens a world of possibilities to them.

“I actually thought, ‘Wow, are we going to actually be in the water with the dolphins?’ So I was very excited,” said eighth grader Ezekiel Robinson from IPS Key Learning Community.

Robinson says he's only seen dolphins from a distance, but this was an experience he'll never forget.

“The sounds and how they make them, they actually move their blow hole a certain way to make different sounds, it’s amazing,” Robinson said.

He’s one of about 400 IPS students who took part in the Indianapolis Zoo’s new program.

About 10 students at a time start the one-day program with a class to learn about dolphins.

“What we do in the class is trying to make sure that kids kind of understand their connection to wildlife.” said Desiree Brandon, a program educator with the Indianapolis Zoo.

Then students change into wetsuits and life jackets and hop into the tank to train with the zoo’s nine dolphins.

Here, kids get hands on experience about what trainers do, from learning commands and dancing with the dolphins to getting hugs and even posing for pictures with the dolphins!

“Being in the water, getting this close and personal with them starts to develop a bond and an understanding of what they can do, how they can help and kind of what we can do for the whole planet, not just for dolphins,” said Alicia McCarthy, senior marine mammal trainer.

The hope is that students see a potential career in something they may not have otherwise known about.

“Actually considered doing exactly what these guys are doing, caring for dolphins,” Robinson said at the end of his day. “I think it’s a great experience, something that anybody could enjoy doing.”

This program started in January for kindergarten through high school aged students and continues into early March.

Right now it's a pilot program with IPS Key Learning Community, and it is free for the kids.

The zoo says it hopes to continue this program in the years ahead.

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