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----- OPERANT CONDITIONING -----
"(op ur ent kon dih shun ing): a type of associative learning that directly affects behaviour in a natural context; also called trial and error learning" [Campbell, Biology 4th Editon]


A performing whale at Sea World jumping up
Picture from Second Grade Poetry.
Killer Whales (or Orcas) in captivity are often trained to do tricks based upon the idea of operant conditioning. Trainers encourage the whales to perform a certain trick and through the use of positive reinforcements, such as food, the whale is motivated to repeat the behaviour. As the whale learns to associate food or any other positive reinforcements with the trick, it will continue to do the trick to get what it wants. Eventually, it will be willing to perform the trick on command, knowing that it will get a reward.

A baby whale mimicking its mother
Picture from Killer Whales: Feeding.

Similarly, in the wild, mothers will 'train' their offspring in survival skills. Young whales have the tendency to mimic their parents to learn certain behaviours. For example, a mother may teach its calf to find fish. When the calf mimics its mother's behaviour and finds that it gets food, this acts like the positive reinforcement in training a whale to do tricks. This learning process allows the calfs to become self sufficient as adults. In certain areas, whales have unique behavioural characteristics that are learned by an individual and passed on to their offspring. Operant conditioning may play a large part in such situations.


Bibliography
Animal Training at SeaWorld
Second Grade Poetry
Killer Whales: Feeding


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