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Dolphin Trainer Salary: The Facts

How much is a dolphin trainer salary?

A dolphin trainer salary can start as low as $8.00 an hour (minimum wage) increasing upwards of $35 an hour after building years of experience.

This is obviously a large range, but new trainers should focus on the lower end of the spectrum. For an inexperienced trainer working at a smaller facility, $8 to $10 dollars would be a realistic hourly rate. If a dolphin trainer lands his/her first job at a slightly larger facility, like SeaWorld, $12 dollars could be a more attainable starting wage.

The $35 dollar per hour figure will translate to an annual salary of $72,000 per year. However, we should emphasize that an income like that will not be attainable until a trainer accumulates enough experience to work in management at a large, well-established facility. Even with decades of experience a dolphin trainer salary that large is rare.

According to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, animal trainers (not just dolphin trainers) are averaging $14.67 an hour or an annual salary of $30,510 a year. There are more than 10,000 animal trainers working in America, only 10% of which make over $24/hour. Looking for roles in such a specific field can be difficult, but keep an eye on jobs around me as you never know what could come up.

The majority of animal trainers work in California, Illinois, Texas, Florida, and New York. However, Delaware and Minnesota have the highest average annual salary, $40,240 and $40,130, respectively. California is ranked third with an average annual salary of $38,440.

Making smart financial decisions means you should consider factors outside of just salary. Cost of living plays a large role in the lifestyle of a dolphin trainer. For example, let’s assume that you work in California where your annual dolphin trainer salary is $38,440. The US Census Bureau reports the cost of living in San Diego, California is 32% higher than the US average! Now compare that with Reno-Sparks, Nevada where the average annual dolphin trainer salary is lower at $32,300. However, the cost of living in Nevada is substantially lower than California, only 3% higher than the national average. So, even though your dolphin trainer salary in Nevada is lower than your salary in California, it may be a better financial decision to accept the Nevada job.

You should also investigate the benefits and healthcare a prospective facility offers. For the most part, larger and more established facilities offer more comprehensive and affordable benefits. They also tend to be more generous with their vacation and sick time. There are exceptions, but smaller facilities (with lower guest attendance and revenue) seem to be less generous. Although, smaller facilities sometimes offset sub-par healthcare benefits with other employee perks (free park tickets, local attraction discounts, etc).

While researching a dolphin trainer salary, keep in mind most dolphin trainers work with other animals as well. Salaries for sea lion trainers, killer whale trainers, and even smaller marine animals (such as penguins) should also expect salaries within this range. However, some facilities put a premium pay on working with larger animals, such as killer whales. Similarly, other facilities pay less for working with animals who may be considered “safer” to work with or require “less work” in training and care.

Historically, killer whale trainers have been the highest paid trainers in the industry due to the intense physical nature of the job and the inherent risk of working with such powerful and potentially dangerous animals. This higher pay may also be due to the fact that killer whales are usually housed by larger facilities. Larger facilities often have the funding to attract high-quality trainers with higher pay. An article from the Orlando Sentinel from February 2011, discusses SeaWorld’s decision to remove a $5 per hour premium, formerly given to those working in close contact with killer whales.

[Should animal trainers unionize? Yes, but not for the reasons you are likely thinking.]

As inflation and the cost of living continues to increase, we can expect to see an equal rise in a dolphin trainer’s salary. However, as this job continues to generate a high number of applicants, while offering few dolphin trainer positions, we can expect wages to stay relatively low compared to other industries and jobs. In short, don’t expect to get rich. As long as marine facilities have people lining up at the door for a chance to become a dolphin trainer, companies will set a dolphin trainer’s salary only as high as needed to stay competitive with other companies and maximize their bottom line. If lower wages concern you, the lack of a larger income must be offset by your enthusiasm to work in this area of marine mammal training, or a career as a dolphin trainer may not be for you. The culture of working with marine mammals is one where trainers embrace every aspect of the lifestyle. Dolphin trainers are not paid just in dollars and cents, they are paid with the privilege of working with these animals. When you are fortunate enough to have one of the most desirable jobs in the world, money needs to become secondary to your passion.