Kimberly Cummings

Beluga Whale Trainer
Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration


General Career and Research Information…


What is your educational background?
I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science. I majored in Natural Science Biology and minored in Environmental Studies.

How did you end up in the field you are in today?
I always knew I wanted to work with animals in some capacity. When I was younger I wanted to be a veterinarian, but as I got older I realized I wanted to care for animals at a zoo or aquarium and enrich their lives through training. During and after college I had a few seasonal jobs and internships in the animal field to figure out exactly what I wanted to do and what type of facility I wanted to work at.

What advice would you give to kids who are interested in studying science?
Study what you like and are excited about whether it is science, math, or history. School should be challenging and fun no matter what you are learning about. I always found science really interesting and followed my interest by studying it in school. There are so many different applications for science in the world. Just work hard and you can accomplish anything when you put your mind and heart to it.

On Belugas…

How and where do you conduct your work with belugas?
I am a beluga whale trainer at the Arctic Coast Habitat at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration.

What tools and/or technologies do you use in your work with belugas?
Trainers use many things to train belugas including tools, a means to communicate, and a reward. We break down complex behaviors into small pieces and take small steps to train the belugas a new behavior. We always want training to be positive and fun for the whales.

What projects related to belugas are you currently involved in?
I am currently learning how to do public presentations with the whales to educate guests about the species.

What have you learned so far from your work with belugas?
I have learned a lot about belugas' habitats, diets, natural history, and conservation while working with the whales, but there is always more to learn!

What is the most interesting or exciting thing that has happened during your work with belugas?
My favorite thing about working with beluga whales is building my strong and trusting relationship with each individual whale. I look forward to every session to continue to foster this relationship and learn about each beluga's unique personality through interacting with them. The trusting relationship that trainers build with the belugas is very important to the everyday care we provide.

On Being a Kid...

What kinds of books did you like to read when you were a kid? Why?
I enjoyed reading mysteries and books about animals when I was younger. I liked mysteries because reading them is like solving a problem, and the good guy always wins. I was always a fan of books with animals in them--especially stories with horses (they were my favorite!).

What was your favorite subject when you were in middle school?
In middle school my favorite classes were biology, social studies, and history.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I thought I would be a farmer, a veterinarian, or an animal trainer.

What advice do you wish that someone had given you when you were a kid?
Luckily I was always surrounded by very supportive people who encouraged me to be anything I wanted to be and helped me achieve my goals. But I wish more people had told me that it is okay if you don’t know what you what to be when you grow up. There is plenty of time to try out different things that you are interested in and then make up your mind.

On the Rest of Life…

Who are some of the people you look up to or admire?
I admire my family and friends who always supported me and let me follow my heart to a profession that some people think is silly. I admire my fellow animal trainers because of the passion they have for the animals they work with. It is not always a glamorous job and can be exhausting at times, but we are so lucky to love what we do. My co-workers and the animals are what make me love my job so much!

What do you like to do for fun?
For fun I like to spend time outside with my dog or time with friends and family. I also really like to read books, play games, and go out to eat.

Do you have any final thoughts or words of advice that you would like to share?
Keep learning about subjects that interest you and have fun learning!

JASON Learning: A Partnership of Sea Research Foundation and National Geographic