Thursday, April 09, 2009
Even though I’ve known Brook the sea otter since the Aquarium of the Pacific opened in 1998, this spring I will have the opportunity to work with her without a piece of Plexiglass between us and get to see parts of her personality that I haven’t experienced before.
One of my new duties on Saturdays at the Aquarium of the Pacific is helping out with the sea otters in the Northern Pacific Gallery. The otter that I am first learning to work with is Brook. Although they are marine mammals, working with the otters is quite different than working with the pinnipeds that I normally spend time with. Whereas with a sea lion or seal you can call their names and they’ll come right to you; with the otters you also have to make eye contact with them to let them know that you’re working a session with them. Another difference is that your container of food is strapped to your waist. Sea otters are quite curious so a container left unattended can soon become an otter’s plaything in the water. With seals and sea lions you can leave your fish bucket anywhere and normally they’ll leave it alone as they are fixated on the trainer, not the food. Sea otters on the other hand love to continually explore everything around them.
Because of this natural curiosity, one of the enrichment activities that the staff does with the otters is to have them retrieve one of their balls from the water during a presentation. These hollow balls have one or more holes in them so that a piece of clam or shrimp can be placed within it. It is then given back to the otter who’ll have a “ball” figuring out how to get the food out of it. Brook in particular loves this activity and can make quite a ruckus as she shakes, twists and bangs the ball in her paws as she works the food out. You can sense her intelligence as she figures out the puzzle. It’s also a fun activity for me as I love watching a side of Brook that I hadn’t known before. The fact that the Aquarium’s otters are all rescued animals that were for one reason or another were not releasable makes it an even more fulfilling endeavor. It “otter” be a fascinating experience as I spend more time with these furry critters.
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