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It’s so nice to be appreciated!

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Education | Volunteering | Fish | Mammals

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Josie

It’s really nice to be appreciated, and I must say that I always feel that way around the Aquarium of the Pacific. Extra-special appreciation is even nicer, and that’s just what we got recently during National Volunteer Appreciation Week.

Those of us fortunate enough to be working a shift during that week had a great time with extra treats thrown in throughout the day, courtesy of the Aquarium.

My shift started with Tracy, volunteer manager for our education department, bearing sweet treats and gifts of Aquarium water bottles at the morning volunteer update (she did the same thing for the afternoon update). She let us choose from three Aquarium water bottles, which we sell in our gift shop, Pacific Collections.

I chose a small water bottle with a depiction of penguins frolicking about. (What, we don’t have penguins at the Aquarium? No, we don’t, but that’s an entirely different story that I don’t really know.)

Also as a treat, Tracy arranged for a massage therapist to give us 15-minute massages as we sat in her massage chair in a nice, quiet office. How luxurious is that! I sure loved the massage, I can tell you!!!

The highlight of the day, though, was meeting our animals up close. We were able to choose from a few animal encounters, and Karen, my co-day captain, who was on duty that day, assigned me to take photos of three of these: pinnipeds, primarily Miller, one of our California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), Charlie, a sea otter (Enhydra lutris), or our sharks from atop the Blue Cavern exhibit.

Hank, a former day captain on our shift, was scheduled to feed the sharks and we kept joking that we were going to feed him to the sharks. Instead, up at the top of Blue Cavern, he, along with Agi, Joe, Kris, and Carol, fed small krill, large squid, and clams to the voracious critters. I’d never been up to the top of this exhibit before, and it was very interesting.

With Miller, Michelle, who has worked with our pinnipeds for nearly 10 years, explained training methods and had the big guy go through his various behaviors, with us calling out the commands. She then had us give him his treat, which I think was a whole, luscious sardine.

Michelle explained how sometimes, when one of the pinipeds responds to a command that involves, say, a jump, when you can’t give the reward immediately, she uses a “bridge,” meaning she blows a whistle at the precise time the animal completes the behavior, when the reward normally would be provided. Instead, the whistle tells the animal that the reward will be coming soon. It is very interesting!

The last encounter I experienced was with Charlie, our otter. We were allowed into a small area with a Plexiglas wall that has a small circle cut out of it toward the bottom. This is the hole through which we fed this playful critter, with gnarly looking teeth that are fused together and which can pack quite a bite, if allowed; the small hole enables Charlie to stick out his snout, but he is unable to open his mouth and must back up to get his treats.

We fed Charlie some mixture of seafood, and he ate ravenously even though he is fed so well that he never goes hungry.

It was a really fun day that included thank yous from most of the staff members I encountered. As I said, it’s nice to be appreciated.

It’s so nice to be appreciated!
Kris reaches for more food to feed the sharks up above our Blue Cavern exhibit while Hank pauses to give the photographer a smile, obviously enjoying himself in this animal encounter.  | Josie Cabiglio
It’s so nice to be appreciated!
Judy leans in to give Charlie, one of our playful otters, a treat. Even though he is extremely well fed with restaurant-quality, sustainable seafood, he is always ready for more. Sea otters eat more than 25 percent of their body weight every day, which is the equivalent of a 100-pound person eating 100 quarter-pound hamburgers every day!  | Josie Cabiglio

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