Thursday, April 23, 2009
Although during the weekend of the Long Beach Grand Prix the Aquarium of the Pacific is closed, the animals still need to be cared for and necessary facility maintenance can be taken care of. For a husbandry volunteer it may look like a thankless job to be working in an empty aquarium while the roar and excitement of the Grand Prix Celebrity race are just yards away outside the front entrance but in reality its a day that veteran volunteers look forward to. Its one of the few times of the year that the husbandry staff has the Aquarium critters to themselves and, after the necessary chores are done, can have a days worth of playtime with the animals.
Its fortunate for me that race weekend annually falls on my regular Saturday marine mammal shift. Without a presentation schedule to adhere to for visitors, the animal feeding and training sessions can be geared around enrichment activities for both staff and animals.
I spent the time between husbandry chores that day as followed:
I had a ball playing tug-of-war with a sea otter using a piece of artificial kelp during an enrichment session. The otter would wrap herself up in the kelp and pull most of it to the middle of the exhibit. I would then reel her back in with the other end of the kelp, sometimes unwinding her like a top. We did this several times and she seemed to have a lot of fun with this game.
With no audience in front of the pinniped exhibit, I had some quiet time sitting with our big sea lion Miller on a rock in the exhibit. Miller and I have been together at this Aquarium for a long time so it was kind of a male bonding experience as we did some of his old behaviors from his amusement park days but mainly spent the time sitting together listening to the younger sea lions and staff run around us. Its kind of a guy thing.
I also spent some quality time with another long time pinniped partner, Ellie the harbor seal. Ellie, who will turn 20 years old on May 16th this year, also has been at the Aquarium as long as I have. With the exhibit so quiet we were able to have quite a fun time playing fetch. Being blind, she relies on her hearing and her whiskers to find and retrieve a floating ring tossed into the water. I was able to throw it quite far away as the quiet environment allowed her to follow a trail of sound and wavelets of the ice cubes that I was tossing into the water to lead her to the ring. Its one of her favorite activities.
Later I found Lola, the Sulfur-Crested cockatoo, checking out the sea lions in the underwater tunnel beneath the exhibit. Lola drew quite a pinniped crowd as our younger sea lions swam down to check out the bird. Lola at first mistook the sea lions for another type of marine mammal as he kept saying “whale” when one would swim by. Lola, being a smart cockatoo, eventually figured out they weren’t cetaceans and actually did a pretty good imitation of a sea lion’s bark.
I did take a few minutes to take a quick peek at the celebrity race on Saturday but to me the real celebrities that day were back in the Aquarium. Playing with the critters and interacting with the staff of the Aquarium of the Pacific that day was for me much more exciting and enjoyable than any movie or TV star in a race car roaring down the course.
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