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CHECKING OUT THE SEA OTTERS

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Volunteering | Mammals

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hugh

One of my newer duties at the Aquarium of the Pacific is to work with the sea otters in their home in the Northern Pacific Gallery. As I build my relationship with the otters and learn more about their personalities, I am beginning to interact with them using some of the more important husbandry behaviors that allows the staff to check over the animals health. Husbandry behaviors are behaviors that are taught to an animal to allow their human caretakers to monitor their health without causing undo stress.

Just like with the seals and sea lions that I’ve been working with the past 11 years at the Aquarium, I have to build up a trusting relationship with the sea otters, getting them used to having me working with them. The otters really have to trust you to allow you to perform a tactile examination on them.

One of the first behaviors that I learned to work with our female otters Brook and Summer was, what looks like to Aquarium guests watching from outside the exhibit, a simple petting of the animal. This is actually a very important tactile behavior that the otters are taught that allow us to run our fingers through their fur feeling for any abnormalities. It looks simple but it is a highly trained behavior. An untrained otter can react like a cat to a person stroking their fur. One minute they’re as calm as can be and the next they’re biting your hand to let you know that they want you to stop. This would not be a good thing with a 40 pound animal that has extremely sharp teeth and powerful jaws that can crack through the hardest mollusk shell. Even though I’ve done a lot of tactile behaviors with the Aquarium’s pinnipeds (including the big guy Miller the sea lion weighing in at over 600 pounds) and trust them and my skills fully, I must admit I was a bit nervous the first time I held Brook’s dainty little paw in my hand.

Tactile training is important because it allows the staff to do thorough sophisticated physical examinations or procedures on the otters such as using a stethoscope to monitor their heart beat or opening their mouths to check out their teeth when asked. The otters will even allow the staff to brush their teeth as needed and give them a vitamin filled smoothie via a syringe daily.

On a more personal note, it is kind of a neat feeling, running your fingers through an otter’s fur, especially when they’re dry. It feels kind of like stroking a fluffy cat’s fur except its just a lot thicker.

CHECKING OUT THE SEA OTTERS
Tactile behavior training of the otters allows the staff at the Aquarium of the Pacific to thoroughly check out the animal's health without causing undo stress. Here Brook allows her paw to be examined.  | Hugh Ryono
CHECKING OUT THE SEA OTTERS
This open mouth husbandry behavior allows a clear examination of the otter's teeth.  | Hugh Ryono
CHECKING OUT THE SEA OTTERS
Brook getting her daily vitamins via a syringe.  | Hugh Ryono

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Stefanie Schmidt

Thursday, August 13, 2009 06:36 AM

Love the blog Hugh and congrats on getting to work with the otter trio!

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Fish Tank Help

Sunday, August 16, 2009 09:24 PM

Poor animals, Look what we are doing to them.  They are lucky to have people to care like them like you do.  I wish I could help, I love animals, specially marine life.

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Hugh

Friday, August 21, 2009 01:03 PM

Thanks for the comments.

All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.

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