Thursday, December 20, 2007
There are only a few days out of the year that the Aquarium of the Pacific is closed to the public, Grand Prix weekend and Christmas day. During Grand Prix weekend, most of the husbandry staff work their normal shift and use the time to do maintenance on their exhibits, along with the normal care of their animals.
On Christmas Day however, it is a skeleton crew that reports to work.
Like working on a Kansas farm, people who take care of the aquarium’s animals can’t all take the whole day off because their critters still need to be tended to and their areas cleaned. The last time I was in Wellington Kansas visiting the in-laws for the holidays, I spent a part of Christmas morning at the family farm breaking up and removing the ice that formed overnight on the water trough so that the cattle could drink. I don’t think that the cows really appreciated having me messing with their water though, giving me kind of a wary look when they approached the trough. This Christmas however, instead of cows, I’ll be spending part of the day with seals and sea lions that do appreciate having me around. I will be at the Aquarium of the Pacific on Christmas day tending to the critters there. Now you may think that it would be quite depressing to work on Christmas Day but at least for the bird and mammal staff it is an opportunity to spend some quality time with the critters. With no formal presentations, the crew has ample time to indulge in what we like to call enrichment sessions. This is when critters and crew spend some quality time together doing fun activities, essentially playing with the animals.
On past Christmases that I’ve worked I’ve spent time in the exhibit with the seals and sea lions just hanging out, tossing some ice cubes to the seals or shooting a stream of water from a hose to play with a sea lion. With no rigid schedule to keep, the husbandry folks can come up with fun activities for the animals and the staff to enjoy such as placing a Santa hat on a harbor seal just to make her look a bit more festive, taking Paddington the Pademelon on a tour in his cart through the Great Hall under the blue whale, or posing for a picture with a flock of a dozen colorful lorikeets hanging on you like decorations so that you look like a human Christmas tree.
The seals and sea lions received their “official” holiday gifts during the annual Aquarium of the Pacific’s Holiday Treats for the Animals weekend. This year it was held on December 1st and 2nd. Not only did we winterize the exhibit with snow and ice, we also added some seasonal decorations. The animals were given their presents of new toys and special fish treats. Ellie the harbor seal especially enjoyed her treats, gulping down no less than three big mackerels that were presented to her in a Christmas gift box. The mackerels were nearly three times larger than the herring she is normally fed so it was quite a feast for her. (Just a thought—if they were Christmas gifts, does that make them “Holy Mackerels”?) She also enjoyed her new toy, a brand new blue ball that she and I played fetch with. I’d toss the ball into the water and Ellie would go out and bring it back to me. I’m not sure if I could train a Hereford to retrieve or that the cow would actually enjoy it if I could. I do know that Ellie the harbor seal really got a kick out of her new retrieval toy, enthusiastically putting up a wake as she swam the ball back to me. It’s an activity that she didn’t get to experience last year at this time because we didn’t realize that she could retrieve items despite being blind. This holiday season is definitely a lot more fun for the elderly seal.
So on Christmas Day raise a cup of eggnog and give a toast to the animals and their caretakers at the Aquarium of the Pacific. We’ll have the lorikeets lift a cup of nectar in toast to all of you wonderful folks who visited the aquarium this past year.
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