Home > Aquarium Blog > GETTING “THIGGY” WITH MILO THE SEA LION

GETTING “THIGGY” WITH MILO THE SEA LION

Hugh's avatar

Volunteering | Mammals

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Hugh

Milo our young California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) is a character. A very intelligent pinniped, he has a playful personality that can be quite endearing to be around. However he can also get quite needy. When he feels a bit nervous Milo finds comfort being close around his trainers. A people oriented animal, sometimes he just needs to make contact with one of his human buddies to feel secure.

Normally California sea lions feel more secure when they can make contact with other sea lions. Milo on the other hand extends this behavioral need to people. He might extend his flipper just far enough to come into contact with your foot and then feel totally relaxed.

Scientists call this need to be in physical contact with others thigmotaxis. There is positive thigmotaxis where an animal has a need for physical contact and negative thigmotaxis where the animals don’t particularly need physical contact. Milo definitely has positive thigmotaxis. The word is kind of mouthful to say so the mammalogists just call it “Getting Thiggy” as in “Milo is getting thiggy with one of the trainers”.

The need to “Get Thiggy” is high on the list of California sea lion needs. You can see this in the wild when sea lions haul out onto buoys in the harbor. They pile onto each other with hardly any space between them. There can be a dozen or more sea lions lying on top of each other on the same buoy. And if there are not any other sea lions around, sea lions have been known to get together with other species. I’ve seen sea lions sleeping next to Northern elephant seals on the rookery beaches of Central California.

This need for physical contact shows up early in a sea lion’s life. Back when I used to rescue and rehabilitate stranded marine mammals, I actually had baby sea lions only a few weeks old saunter up and fall asleep next to me.

Afternoon visitors to the Aquarium of the Pacific can see our sea lions “Getting Thiggy” when they haul out onto the deck to take a nap next to one another after the afternoon training session. You can see them use each other as pillows, comforters, and foot rests.

GETTING “THIGGY” WITH MILO THE SEA LION
Milo gets "Thiggy" with senior mammalogist Debbie.  | Hugh Ryono
GETTING “THIGGY” WITH MILO THE SEA LION
Milo, Harpo, and Parker demostrating positive thigmotactic behavior; the need to be in physical contact with another animal.  | Hugh Ryono
GETTING “THIGGY” WITH MILO THE SEA LION
Milo being a people oriented animal extends his positive thigmotactic behavior to his trainers. Here Milo interacts with mammalogist Caitlin during an enrichment session (sea lion playtime).  | Hugh Ryono
GETTING “THIGGY” WITH MILO THE SEA LION
Positive thigmotactic behavior starts early in California sea lions. Here in a picture from ten years ago during my marine mammal rescue days, neonate (baby) sea lions surround me seeking a warm body to sleep by.  | Pam Ryono

<< Back

Your Comments

Have Something to Say? Leave a Comment!

MarineDepot's avatar

MarineDepot

Thursday, October 09, 2008 10:02 AM

Hey Hugh, I really enjoyed this post. Brief (good, because I"m at work!) and made me “feel.” :-) Is Milo a permanent resident of the Aquarium of the Pacific? Would this “thiggy” behavior have adverse affects if he were returned to the wild?

default avatar

Rick Quarton/HomeAquariumBlog

Thursday, October 09, 2008 03:33 PM

Thigmotaxis.  I love it.  My new vocabulary word for the day.  We have owned great danes for over twenty years now.  And they definitely get thiggy.  We just never knew what to call it.
We’ve got a small seal rookery about a mile or so down the beach from our house.  Very thiggy. Do you know if any fish are thigmotaxic?  I have a diver friend who used to do underwater welding.  He says that giant groupers would often swim up and watch while he was working underneath oil platforms.  And sometimes they would just start leaning against him.  While harmless, it was unnerving!
I’m enjoying your posts, Hugh.  Keep up the good work.  Rick

Hugh's avatar

Hugh

Thursday, October 09, 2008 08:20 PM

Hi Rick,

I’m not sure if any fish are positive Thigmotaxis but I guess its possible. As for your diver friend, I know a big fish like a grouper leaning against me would get me a bit nervous too.

Hugh

Hugh's avatar

Hugh

Thursday, October 09, 2008 08:28 PM

Milo is a permament member of the Aquarium family.

Positive Thigmotaxis is normal in California sea lion when it comes to being in contact with other pinnipeds. Milo on the other hand was born in a zoological facility so he’s really wouldn’t do well in the wild since he’s bonded to people. It wouldn’t be too healthy for a potential 800 pound sea lion to be walking down the street looking for a lap to lean his head on.

Hugh

default avatar

isaac

Monday, December 08, 2008 02:43 PM

where do fish come from

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

<< Back