Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Even though I probably shouldn’t be surprised anymore, sometimes I’m caught off guard by just how intelligent our animals can be. To engage our bonnethead sharks in some active food enrichment, I filled whiffle balls with their favorite treats and tethered the balls so that they floated around in the shark’s exhibit. Because the whiffle balls floated, the sharks would have to figure out how to pull the food out from a ball that easily drifts away when bumped. I assumed when designing this, it would be great for the agile sharks and would give them a treat that they wouldn’t have to share with their excessively food loving exhibit-mates, the cownose Rays.
After introducing the enrichment to the sharks, things started off as expected. Everyone, sharks and rays alike, could smell food in the water. And the bonnetheads approached their enrichment. They quickly realized this was not normal feeding time, but figured out how to get the snacks fast. The sharks used their superior maneuvering skills to dart in and agilely pluck food from the ball before the ball was pushed out of their reach by their own wake.
The cownose rays, not nearly as graceful as the sharks, bumbled about, bumping the whiffle balls just out of reach each time they tried to get close to the food. They bumped the whiffle balls, they bumped the tether, they bumped each other… wait… bumping the tether makes the ball reachable!
After just one or two failed attempts at getting food from the ball, several of the larger rays intentionally started bumping the tether. Then, they very purposefully, swam into the tethers and along the length until they reached the ball, pushing it to the ground and covering it with their bodies. They sat on the ball, pinning it to the floor, away from the other sharks and rays, and leisurely sucked every last bit of food! Those food loving rays had figured out how to make an enrichment, designed for sharks, work for them. Food is a great motivator.
It’s amazing to see how quickly these animals can reason and think out ways to solve problems, particularly when there’s food involved!
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