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Recently, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Dr. Grey Stafford, the new president of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association. He has almost 3 decades of experience in the animal welfare space and is the author of the book, Zoomility.

This is part of one our four part series with Dr. Grey Stafford. We’ll be discussing advancements in the animal training/care space, killer whales at SeaWorld, and what efforts are being done to educate the public on animal conservation.



Kyle: Hi, my name is Kyle Kittleson and I am super excited to be with Dr. Grey Stafford today, who is one of the pioneers of the animal welfare conservation/ education world. I don’t know if you’ll call yourself that.

Stafford: Probably not but I appreciate the compliment.

Kyle: But I can’t because I’m not you. And if you love animals it is very likely that you know about Dr. Grey Stafford and all of his work. He’s been working in this animal welfare space for twenty-seven years and as recently as of last week, actually, he is the new president of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association. Thank you for being here. Well it’s great to be here. So you are now the captain of the machine and the amazing organization of IMATA. What do we got for 2070.

Stafford: Well, it’s great to be here. So you are now the captain of the machine and the amazing organization of IMATA. What do we got for 2070.

Kyle: So you are now the captain of the machine and the amazing organization of IMATA. What do we got for 2017?

Stafford: Well, it’s a great honor to be elected their president and I’m excited for the next year because I think there is an opportunity as well as several challenges that IMATA has to face. You know, it’s a 45 year organization and I want to make sure for the membership that it’s relevant and here for another 45 years. Now I think there are some things that we need to do in order to make sure that happens.

Kyle: Which are what?

Stafford: Well, first of all, I think we have to remind people all the tremendous benefits that IMATA and its members have brought to animal welfare not just for marine mammals but for domestic animals, farm animals elephants and zoos. When you look at all the advancements in animal welfare and positive reinforcement based training over the last 30 years, sooner or later you will find a marine mammal trainer spearheading that effort. And that’s a very important contribution that collectively our profession has made, but one that we can’t rest on those laurels we have to continue to advance welfare initiatives, not only here in the U.S., but around the world. And so to do that IMATA needs to take some time to invest in itself. One of the challenges of being an all volunteer organization of course is the board members and the committee chairs change year after year after year. So we are looking at ways to provide greater consistency in between those those transitions.

Kyle: I think the really important point that you just made that I really just learned or came to a realization a few days ago is that because IMATA only is that positive reinforcement and these members and trainers, like myself like yourself, who grew up working with these amazing animals only using positive reinforcement, when we leave that marine mammal space and move into dog training or horse care, we’re taking that positive reinforcement with us and we’re not using punishment. When I work with a dog, I don’t even use the word “no.” We’re only getting positive reinforcement. Meanwhile an “older school trainer” is going to be really heavy on that dominance and that punishment which is not the best way to train an animal.

For a lot of our viewers – They are aspiring marine animal train marine animal trainers. I tell them all the time, “please join IMATA – just do it. It is in your best interest. What can they do after they become a member to get involved with IMATA?

Stafford: That’s a great question. One of the things we can do is view Facebook and view social media of IMATA because we want to increase those updates to our members to give them ways to easily get involved in issues that are important to them. It’s things like, you know, learn about the vaquita. You know, we’re here in Arizona right now, but just 50 miles south of the Arizona border is the northern Gulf of California where the world’s most endangered marine mammal species happens to live – right here in the Sonoran Desert. It’s called the vaquita and it’s a very small porpoise and there may be 50 or 60 of them left. They could literally be extinct in the next three years, not three decades, but three years. And yet, people don’t know about them right. People don’t care about them. And ironically, one of the reasons why I don’t worry about bottlenose dolphins quite so much is because they have been in our human care for over 50 years and because a lot of trainers have learned to work with them and improve their lives. And we need to tell that story so that we can perhaps take some of those lessons and save species like the vaquita.

Kyle: So, within this video you will find links to the IMATA web site and also other organizations that you can join and be a part of to help the vaquitas but also other animals in need and make sure you subscribe and like to this space right here because over the next three weeks we have more videos with Dr. Grey Stafford coming up including new advancements in animal training. Also, the big topic of killer whales at SeaWorld, and also what we can all do to encourage the public to really look at zoos and aquariums for what they are – which are amazing sanctuaries for animals and really the center for education and conservation of our wildlife.

Dr. Grey Stafford thanks for being here. We’ll see you next week.



International Marine Animal Trainers Association:


Dr. Grey Stafford:


Kyle Kittleson: