Thursday, April 17, 2014
While it’s breeding season for the penguins, not all of them are stuck at home in their nest box. We planned a bright and colorful enrichment session for a few of the penguins, not currently preoccupied with nesting. Behind the scenes, we set up a colored disco ball and set out some toys and bright, shiny confetti, safely sealed away in a penguin-proof container of course. As the party guests arrived, they hopped down the stairs and spotted all of the fun. Old toys were ignored in favor of the new enrichment items. Several penguins eyed the shiny confetti-in-a-bottle and nudged it, but while it was a curiosity, it wasn’t the life of the party. The main attraction was the colored disco ball.
The lights shined on the ground (but not too brightly, to be on the safe side). And it spun in circles… oooooh… The attending penguins were quite intrigued. They gawked at the colors, or maybe it was the motion. A couple penguins walked around and around to get different views, stopping every few waddles to peer and cock their head to the side as though trying to reason out what the thing was. But I guess Penguin parties are short. After a time with the repetitive disco ball, the penguins decided to call it a night and return to their regular activities of swimming and following their caretakers around. And with that, the party was over.
Friday, April 11, 2014
We have had some exciting trips out on the water with the small spring storms and more of the northbound gray whale migration! We have still been seeing many juveniles heading north, which makes sense since many of the whales without calves are the first to pass our coast. The majority of our whales have been small and a little shy, but when they are together, we oftentimes will see some courtship behavior! Rolling and a lot of fluking usually followed by some splashes at the surface have surprised guests on board the last couple of weeks. We hope to see many little gray whale babies in the weeks to come as well, since the last to leave Baja and pass our waters are the mother whales and their babies. The mother whales will wait in Baja until their babies are ready for the journey, so we should see them through May!
We were surprised a few days ago with a cow/calf pair of humpback whales! We don’t see this species every day, and we are lucky to get a few sightings a year. This calf became a little playful and did a few peduncle slaps for the guests aboard. Humpbacks are usually fans of making big splashes when whale watch boats are around. These whales will usually give birth around the same time as the gray whales, but this humpback stock does not do that in Hawaii. These are more local individuals who travel up and down the coast and are often seen in Mexico. We see them feeding in the summertime as well when the blue whales are here gorging on krill. We have also spotted many fin whales lately and a few mom and baby pairs of them as well! Our fin whales have a more complex migration path and have been seen between here and Mexico all year long. It is still unknown whether or not they calve in our local waters, but we appreciate them bringing their babies here! It is always nice to see our visiting, migrating, and local whales rearing their calves.
We have also seen some amazing feeding frenzies lately that involve much food competition between marine birds and marine mammals. Bait balls of small fish are quickly surrounded by winged and finned animals creating a display of live food competition and sights you could easily tune in on nature channels. We have seen elephant seals, dolphins, and sea lions of all maturity levels showing us their hunting skills. Sea lions have been seen playing with their food after they catch it and lately we captured moments of an octopus and a large fish meeting their natural predators. We have also still been seeing hundreds of Pacific white-sided dolphin sightings, which has been a real treat for guests to video and photograph.
Common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins continue to find us out on the water, unless they are preoccupied with feeding, and ride the pressure wave our boats creates. Now that it is April, the weather will be warming up and we will be starting to see more whale babies! So come on out and spend your spring break or a nice weekend with your family on a watery, whale adventure!
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Snapshots: Spring 2014
Milo the sea lion does a high back flip. Lou the sea turtle glides through the water. Ollie the sea otter enjoys a slide. These are descriptions of some snapshots of the Aquarium of the Pacific’s critters from the past few months.
You never know when a photo opportunity will happen at the Aquarium. This is why I always have a camera at the ready on my Saturday volunteer shift. Check out the photo gallery for some of the serendipitous shots captured recently.
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Ian the magpie loves to tap on a panel in his exhibit in an almost musical pattern. He’ll perch near the panel and knock out a beat. I wanted to know if he would put his percussion skills to use to make more melodic music. Ian’s trainer and I gave him a children’s piano to try his hand, or beak, at.
Ian’s trainer brought the small piano into his exhibit and placed it on the floor for him. I waited outside, eager to make my observations and get pictures. As most animals tend to be a little wary of new objects at first, Ian’s trainer put some meal worms on the piano to entice him. She placed them carefully on the keys so that, as he retrieved the worms, he’d notice that the piano made fun “kerplunk” noises.
Highly motivated by meal worms, Ian hopped over to the piano and eyed it. He hopped around it, inspecting both the piano and the snacks on top. He then gingerly plucked a meal worm off the keys without making a peep. Oh well… the best laid plans…
As he was taking the worms, I started taking pictures. He paused to look at my camera and then went back to his snack. After he made quick work of the meal worms, Ian flew up to a branch where he could get a good look at my camera. With Ian so close, I was able to snap lots of photos. With each “click” of the shutter Ian cocked his head to examine the camera.
Ian’s trainer played a few keys on the piano to redirect his attention and he hopped down to re-examine the piano. Great! Ian’s going to play the piano! I started snapping more photos. Ian flew back up to his perch to look at my clicking camera. He was intrigued by something making noise, even if it wasn’t the piano.
I decided to switch to the camera on my phone since it had no shutter click noise. His trainer pressed a few more the keys on the piano, but by then it was too late. Ian was done with the piano, it had no more worms, AND now there was this fun clicky-sounding thing to ogle.
Maybe we’ll stick with percussion. Or we can help Ian branch out into other arts with a children’s toy camera to tap away at.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
You know you’ve been an animal care volunteer at the Aquarium of the Pacific for a long time when:
You can alley-oop a herring to a sea lion better than Chris Paul can alley-oop a basketball to Blake Griffin.
You can pitch a clam to the paw of a sea otter more accurately than Clayton Kershaw can pitch a baseball to the glove of a catcher.
The “useless” skills you acquired from working your way through college in a restaurant as a busboy or waiter actually come in handy when you have to carry several containers of food through a crowd for an animal feed.
You realized that working with a particular seal for over a decade makes you an expert on that seal, not all seals.
You know the differences between a sea lion that likes people and a sea lion that thinks it is people.
You’ve learned to never turn your back on a sea otter because you may get pickpocketed.
You’ve held a newborn blacktip shark in your hands and thought it was a normal thing to do on a weekend.
In your real world job you tend to use positive reinforcement and least reinforcing scenarios (LRS) with people because it just seems to work better than yelling and screaming. No, you don’t throw them a fish at them after they do something right—but you want to.
You’ve borrowed a piece of aquarium air tubing from an aquarist to put on the end of your whistle to make it easier to hold between your lips.
You know the difference between a male and a female capelin.
You know that when preparing restaurant-quality fish for the critters it should smell like fresh cucumbers and not fishy.
You don’t look confused when an aquarist tells you that the male seahorse just gave birth.
You proudly show off your octopus hickeys.
The 250-pound guy walking his 100-pound macho dog doesn’t impress you as much as the 120-pound mammalogist getting her 700-pound sea lion to lay perfectly still for a blood sample.
You’ve described the slime of a hagfish to a group of kids starting with the line, “Think of the worst runny nose you’ve ever had, and you didn’t have a tissue.”
You’ve learned how to “wrangle” sea turtles.
You’ve helped rehabilitate and release a sea turtle back into its natural habitat, which just happened to be an urban river.
You’ve collected field notes and photos on the sea turtles in the river for research before it was called Citizen Science.
You actually think sharks are kind of cute.
You know what a binturong and a pademelon are and have actually worked with them in the past.
You know how to pet a porcupine.
You’ve had a Prevost’s squirrel run up your pant leg.
Snakes, frogs, toads, and lizards are just some of the critters you’ve had to hold in your hands at the Aquarium for various reasons.
You’ve trained an elderly, vision-impaired seal to retrieve floating objects. Why? Because the seal used to enjoy doing that behavior back when she could see well, and you knew that she could still “see” using her whiskers. You just wanted to put some fun back into her day.
You know that the first animal at the Aquarium was a cat.
You tell your friends that you played Frisbee with a critter last weekend, and they assume it was with a sea lion, not a dog.
Just for fun you’ve played Frisbee with a sea lion both above and below the water.
You’ve passed along a Frisbee to a sea lion using your teeth.
You have a year-round “boot tan,” that odd-looking band of tan that runs from the top of your boots to the bottom of your shorts.
You’ve become really good at building snowmen because you build one every winter for the sea otters to enjoy.
You’ve been the object of an amorous penguin’s lust.
You’ve been “bromanced” by a puffin.
You’ve gotten soaked while babysitting a sea otter pup in the water overnight and still had a great time. And so did the otter.
You’ll feed zebra sharks by hand with no worries, but get nervous when a pufferfish shows up because you know that puffers are the alpha fish of the exhibit.
Lorikeets use you as a tour bus when you enter their exhibit.
Having someone tell you that you have a fish scale on your eyelid is a normal thing.
Preserving threatened and endangered species is a normal part of your weekend activities.
You can tell people the names and personalities of every aquarium critter you’ve ever worked with, but you can’t remember the name of the person you met at a party the night before.
You’ve started a diet because a Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo called you a “whale.”
You’ve carpooled with a penguin.
You’ll brush the teeth of seals and sea otters more thoroughly than your own teeth.
You’ll spend only a few seconds haphazardly combing and drying your own wet hair, but will meticulously spend all the time necessary to comb and dry every square inch of a baby sea otter’s fur coat.
You have three different ringtones of three different sea otter pups vocalizing on your cell phone, and you call tell which otter is which just by the sounds of their voices.
You’ve used a target pole to scratch an itch on your back.
You’ve imitated a thermo-regulating sea lion while snorkeling next to one doing just that in the exhibit on a lazy summer day.
You’ve given a GoPro camera to a sea lion just to see what a sea lion sees when it porpoises through the water.
You’ve rubbed noses with a sea lion because that’s what sea lion buddies do.
You’ve sat cross-legged on the deck in the back of the exhibit with two harbor seals next to you just because it’s your “Happy Place.”
You know that the Western Gulls hanging around the pinnipeds are descendants of a pair of wild gulls named Radio Flyer and Trixie who used to nest in the exhibit.
You’ve been pulled out of a conference on marine mammals to go help rescue a beached whale.
You’ve gotten tracks on your arms that looked like a drug addict’s needle marks from all the peck wounds made by angry oiled wild grebes that you were cleaning after they were rescued from an oil spill.
You know you can swim with your boots on because you’ve done it after slipping and falling into the exhibit’s pool.
You can remember having to write your animal records using pen and paper, not on a computer. You also remember how good you use to be at spelling before spell check.
You realized that all those animal shows you watched on television over the years didn’t make you nearly as knowledgeable about those critters as you’ve gotten just by working up close and personal with them on a weekly basis.
You’ve never received a dime for the thousands of hours you’ve worked taking care of all the critters at the Aquarium, and you still feel that it’s the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done. In fact you’re actually amazed that you don’t have to pay the Aquarium for the pleasure of working with these animals.
Have Something to Say? Leave a Comment!
All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.