Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Kevin the Aracari loves enrichment, but usually only when it involves something for him to snack on. So, we made him a food enrichment toy—made to look mildly like a flower—using a green, recycled and sterilized soda bottle with holes cut in it and re-purposed red beads. In the bottom of the bottle we placed meal worms, a tasty treat and great motivator for Kevin.
Since the bottle was clear, Kevin could see the worms straight away and tried to nibble at them through the bottom of the bottle. He quickly realized he there was something between him and his snack, but tried again a several more times just to be sure.
Next, he tried putting his head through a hole, but it wasn’t at the right angle for his long beak to reach down to the worms. He hopped from perch to perch around the bottle eyeing it from every angle. He tried another hole, but that was the wrong angle too. He stared at the bottle and turned his head, thinking hard. He turned his head so far in deep though I thought he might fall off his perch. Frustrated, he flew away.
We took pity on Kevin, since enrichment is supposed to be fun, and moved the bottle so that the right hole was the easiest one for him to reach, right next to his perch. However, we might have made it too easy because he came back over and immediately put his beak in the hole and quickly gobbled down all the worms as though he’d knew what to do the whole time…. almost as though he’d outsmarted us into doing all the work for him.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
For a fun food enrichment for our behind-the-scenes bamboo sharks I used a dog toy in the shape of a hollowed out soccer ball. I stuffed the soccer ball shell with restaurant quality shrimp, squid, clam and sardines (the sharks’ favorites) and dropped it in their exhibit. And they were off! Bumping the ball with their noses, batting it with their tails! As the sharks hit the ball, bits of food popped out offering up a reward. The sharks swam about batting the “soccer ball” around, jostling tasty morsels loose, to make it to the goal of eating all the food!
Thursday, July 24, 2014
On January 18, 2011, I was in the middle of a pod of fin whales and I remember seeing a whale that just seemed off to me. That’s the only way I could describe it. At this time I’d been whale watching for about 3 years and felt I knew fin whale behavior pretty well. This one particular whale would surface differently than the other whales, and at one point it even came up and rolled right at the boat. I was shocked. I’d never seen fin whales do that before. It wasn’t until I got home and was going through my pictures that I realized something very important was missing from that one “weird” whale…the lower right jaw wasn’t white. This is a for sure physical characteristic that would identify this whale as something as other than a fin. I knew it! But if that wasn’t a fin, then what was it?
Initially I sent the pictures off to some researchers and they thought it was just a fin and the white was just hidden in a shadow. Some other local researchers agreed that they didn’t think it was a fin, so that left two other potential whales; a sei whale or a Bryde’s whale. Both were pretty rare sightings. Finally, after two and half years, we have gotten final word. Local whale researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger, the director of the ASC-LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project, who initially agreed with me that this wasn’t a fin whale, followed up with two researchers from NOAA. Their conclusion? Sei whale! Finally this mystery has been solved. Alisa and I both have talked about this whale over the years, and now we can officially refer to it by its proper name.
As it turns out we recently had a sighting of another mystery whale that we think is a sei whale. However, we’ve also had some sightings of Bryde’s whales the last few weeks, including another sighing just last week! It’s actually very difficult to tell these whales apart, so I thought I’d touch a little on that.
We got a lot of great information about Bryde’s whales from Julien two weeks ago. Here is a brief summary of all of the whales
- Up to 85 feet long and 160,000 lbs
- Larger, falcate (curved) dorsal fin
- Bottom right jaw is white where the bottom left is black
- Up to 60 feet and about 100,000 lbs
- Very erect, falcate dorsal fin
- Single ridge on the rostrum and very curved rostrum
- Up to 55 ft and 90,000 lbs
- They have three distinctive ridges on their rostrum
- Erect, falcate dorsal fin
Just by looking at these brief descriptions you can see it’s not easy to tell them apart! I’ve put some pictures of all of the whales for you to see and compare as well as some animals from our recent sightings including blues, Risso’s and a rare booby bird. With the waters being a little warmer than normal, we’re not sure what this summer will hold. So far it’s been full of surprises and I can’t wait to see what else will come. If you’d like to try your hand at telling these whales, apart, head down to the Aquarium and come on one of our whale watches. Who knows, maybe you’ll take a picture and find us another mystery whale!
Friday, July 18, 2014
For our Summer of Wonder, several of our young penguins have been (exploring the Aquarium) meeting lots of other curious residents. It’s been great enrichment (and great fun) for the penguins as well as for the animals they get to meet. The penguins and otters have gawked at each other. The sea lions and penguins have bumped noses and mimicked each other through their acrylic barrier. But there is one particularly inquisitive animal the penguins have met that may be even more curious than the penguins: us! Although the penguins see their caretakers every day, sometimes new people can be quite intriguing. During their walks in June the penguins got up close and personal with many people, providing a great deal of enrichment as well as stimulating curiosity and wonder, both for themselves and for us.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Up close and personal with a sea lion or seal.
Although Parker, the Aquarium’s 700 pound sea lion, is the star of the popular pinniped encounters he is not the only animal ambassador from the seal and sea lion exhibit. His understudies, Harpo the sea lion and Shelby the harbor seal are also ready to meet and greet aquarium guests.
The pinniped encounter at the Aquarium of the Pacific brings guests up close and personal to these impressive animals. And each animal involved in a pinniped encounter brings their own unique style and personality to the session.
The big guy Parker is quite impressive to be near. Having your picture taken next to this large, regal critter makes quite a keepsake for your social media page or living room picture frame.
On the other hand many guests enjoy meeting Parker’s smaller sea lion exhibit mate Harpo. With Harpo it’s all about the personality. Harpo loves to solicit kisses and stick his tongue out to give people random “raspberries”. He is also the most touchable of the sea lions. Harpo really seems to channel the spirit of his namesake. You can’t help but smile after an encounter with him.
A rare and unique animal encounter is with one of the Aquarium’s original pinnipeds. Shelby the harbor seal has been at the Aquarium of the Pacific since the day it opened in 1998. I had the pleasure of training her original animal encounter behaviors several years ago. My favorite is the hug-a-seal behavior which not only allows guests to put their arms around her but also allows our staff to do a thorough tactile inspection of her body. This came in handy during her pregnancies. The bad part of hugging a seal though is that you do have to kneel down. She is also wet so you’ll get wet during a hug. And she does drool like a hound dog.
No matter which animal you meet, the pinniped encounters are a fun way to learn more about seals and sea lions.
There are some restrictions such as age and foot wear requirement for the pinniped encounters. Check with the aquarium for more information.
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