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Hugh’s Aquarium Animal Cast Of Characters: Part One

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Animal Updates | Mammals | Volunteering

Thursday, January 19, 2012


A list of the critters I spend my Saturdays with

This week I’d like to share with everyone a list of the wonderful cast of animal characters that I’ll be working around on Saturdays during my volunteer shift at the Aquarium of the Pacific in 2012. We’ll start with the marine mammals.

The sea lions. Milo, Parker and Harpo. | Hugh Ryono

The Sea Lion Boys

PARKER: The big man on campus. Parker is our oldest and largest sea lion. He’s also the sea lion that I’ve known the longest. He may seem big and intimidating but in reality he’s a lovable goof ball who just wants to please. That’s why Parker is the sea lion that guests meet during an animal encounter.

HARPO: Like his Marx Brothers namesake, Harpo is a fun loving and serendipitous critter who can be naughty yet lovable at the same time. He’s known for soaking his trainer by bringing back a frisbee thrown to him in the water upside down in his mouth. He’ll flip the frisbee out towards the trainer along with all the water that’s accumulated in the cup of the disk. This sends the frisbee and a torrent of water all headed at the trainer at the same time!

MILO: Milo reminds me of Sheldon from the television show “The Big Bang Theory”. Extremely intelligent but perhaps a bit lacking in the social graces of sea lion-hood. He’s quick to catch onto things but prefers to hang around people rather than other sea lions. Milo is the sea lion that I currently work with the most. I’ve turned Milo into the techno-geek of the pinniped exhibit. He’s the sea lion that you’ll see carrying around a video camera in a rig I made for him as he swims through the exhibit. He actually seems to have fun hauling around all that technology…like any true geek!

The Harbor Girls

Ellie the harbor seal and her retrieval ball. Despite being mostly blind Ellie has learned how to retrieve objects in the water using her sensitive whiskers. | Hugh Ryono

ELLIE: The Socialite from Brooklyn. Well mannered but independently minded, Ellie is known to subtlety train newbie marine mammal volunteers to do things her way. Ellie is the only Atlantic harbor seal in the exhibit. The others are of the Pacific species. She came to us from an East Coast facility back before the Aquarium opened. She is also one of the most inspirational critters I’ve ever met. In one of the first blogs that I ever wrote for the Aquarium of the Pacific I told the story of how despite being mostly blind she’s learned how to retrieve objects tossed into the water by using her sensitive whiskers. A seal with abilities beyond her disabilities!

SHELBY: The California Girl. Shelby was a youngster when she came to Long Beach back in 1998. Shelby is the harbor seal that you’ll see sitting next to me on a rock getting a hug. I trained this “hug-a-seal” behavior a few years ago to help her get use to tactile husbandry procedures. For the guests that have met Shelby during an animal encounter it gives them the rare opportunity to sit next to and hug a seal.

Harbor seals Troy and Shelby working with marine mammal intern Katie during a training session. | Hugh Ryono

The Alpha Seal

TROY: Believe it or not, the Alpha animal of the seal and sea lion exhibit is not a big sea lion but is in reality Troy the harbor seal. Although he’s great working with the staff he is the one critter that the other male pinnipeds don’t mess with. Ironically despite his status in the exhibit the seal that he has a crush on, Shelby, plays hard to get with him. It’s like watching a teenager wooing his first girlfriend. He tends to show his awkward side when near her.

The Sea Otter Girls

BROOK: The Queen of the otters. Brook has been with the Aquarium since the day it opened to the public. To me she is the most beautiful sea otter I’ve ever seen, especially when she’s dry and fuzzy. She has a stunning regal looking coat of whitish fur on her head and a gorgeous face. That’s why she is the otter that you will often see on marketing ads by the Aquarium.

GIDGET: The “Furball” While Brook is the most beautiful otter, Gidget is the cutest otter I ever seen. She’s also my favorite. I nicknamed her the “Furball” back when I was one of her first overnight babysitters when she first arrived at the Aquarium as an orphan. She is the otter that I have the best relationship with and you’ll often see me working with her during a Saturday otter presentation. After a good session with her you’ll likely hear me exclaim my catch phrase for her, “Love that Furball!” The story of her and Ollie growing up as orphan otter babies at the Aquarium of the Pacific will hopefully be available one day as a children’s book that I and a writer are working on called “Adventures in Otter Space”.

OLLIE: The second orphan otter that I’ve ever helped raise. Ollie is the youngest otter in the exhibit. She’s also probably the most famous. Videos of her growing up have gone viral on YouTube and pictures of her have been seen nationwide via news outlets and blog sites. The most independently minded otter I’ve ever met, Ollie tends to do things “Ollie’s Way”.

MAGGIE: Ollie’s surrogate “Auntie”. Maggie came to Long Beach from a facility in Northern California. When Maggie met Ollie, Maggie took the little orphan under her wing and mothered her. She is the otter you always seen close to Ollie. She’ll sometime grab the youngster to pull her away from a perceived dangerous situation like any good mother or aunt would.

The “Os”-Ollie and Odin. You can clearly see in this image how large Odin the male sea otter is. | Hugh Ryono

The Visiting Sea Otter

ODIN: While Charlie, the Aquarium’s long time resident sea otter, is away up North helping with a research project Odin will be his stand-in as the male of the exhibit until his return. Odin has a unique personality for an otter. Being a little hard of hearing he tends to rely on his sense of sight more so than other otters. While the female otters are constantly moving around when working with their trainers Odin will be mostly still and closely watching his trainer’s every movement. It’s quite impressive how focussed he can be during a session. You can easily tell which otter in the exhibit is Odin. He is by far the largest animal in there.

Stay tuned for more critters in future blogs.

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