Monday, July 09, 2012
Three Summer tidbits for your next visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific.
1: Penguin Pre-Molt
You may notice that some of the penguins may look like they forgot to comb their feathers before they started to waddle around the June Keyes Penguin Exhibit. These Magellanics are going through a pre-molt where their feathers are nearing the end of their life cycle and are getting ready to fall out. It can look like a bad hair day for the penguins during this period. For a penguin like Avery, he may go from looking like James Bond in a tuxedo to looking more like Homer Simpson on a couch. But don’t worry. The new feathers will grow back and Avery will again look debonair.
2: Sea Lion Rut
Our big 750 pound sea lion Parker is usually the best behaved of all the Zalopus californianus in the pinniped exhibit. However at this time of year male sea lions go through a rutting period where, because of chemical changes in their bodies they lose their appetite. This lack of appetite in the wild allows a sea lion to defend a stretch of beach with females from other males without the need to go out to sea to forage. Parker not being very hungry does makes it tough for a staff person working with him to get the big sea lion to do his behaviors as fish is one of the main motivators used in training. Training sessions can be a bit sloppy at times during rut. Fortunately I’ve known Parker since he was a pup and one of the reinforcements I can give him during this period is a tactile reward. A friendly pat on the chest like you would give your pet dog is sometimes all the reward he needs. Parker is one of those rare sea lions that does not always need a food motivator to work with his trainers. Just the fun of working with one of his favorite staffers can be motivation enough. Look for some trainers using tactile reinforcement with Parker during the summer. Also look for trainers keeping a distance from Parker’s mouth. Not because of his teeth but because one of the side effects of rut is bad breath!
3: Wild Western Gull Chicks in the Sea Lion Exhibit.
Every year since the first summer that the Aquarium of the Pacific was opened back in 1998 a pair of Wild Western Gulls has used the rock facade of the pinniped exhibit to nest and raise their young. For the first 9 summers a male gull nicknamed “Radio Flyer” and his mate Trixie would dutifully build their nest and raise their brood of chicks as staff and volunteers like myself worked our seals and sea lions below them. Radio Flyer got his name because of a radio antenna that stuck out his feathers from a tracking device that was placed on him after he was rescued from an oil spill. (For the background story on Radio Flyer please read my blog from September 13, 2007 RADIO FLYER THE WILD WESTERN GULL.) After Radio Flyer disappeared in 2007 another pair of gulls took up residence on the rock and continued the tradition of nesting in the Aquarium. This year three baby gull chicks have again been hatched and will soon be roaming around the exhibit. Look for them when you visit this summer.
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