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Reflections of a Seal Pup

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Animal Updates | Mammals | Enrichment

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Reflections of a Seal Pup
One of our seals looks at itself in a mirror presented as an enrichment.  | AnnMarie Riggle

Although intelligent, seals and sea lions can’t recognize themselves in a mirror. As a sensory enrichment, Enrichment Intern AnnMarie decided to see what the seals and sea lions would do when presented with their own reflection. Would they be confused? Intrigued? Territorial or playful? Would they see the reflection as another animal? AnnMarie placed a full-length mirror in several different areas that the seals and sea lions frequent in their exhibit. As the animals swam by she carefully observed and recorded how they reacted to the new addition to their exhibit.

The sea lions—Parker, Milo, and Harpo—played it cool and calm. As they swam by, they’d give the mirror a quick over-the-shoulder glance. Occasionally they’d slow as they looked into the mirror before taking off to resume their whirlwind courses around the exhibit. They all seemed to acknowledge that their reflection was indeed something, but something worth only a furtive glance if it didn’t come into the real world to play.

If the sea lions were calm, the seals were just too cool for school. The older seals, Shelby, Ellie and Troy, hardly seemed to notice anything had changed around them at all. Ellie and Troy didn’t even peek at the mirror as they swam peacefully past. Time and time again they just glided by unfazed and unnoticing. Shelby stopped once to give the mirror a fleeting look, but generally adopted the indifferent attitude of her fellow seals.

But the little seals, Bixby and Toby, where enthralled. Toby came up to his reflection and bobbed his head up and down. He did not like this new baby seal coming into his territory! Bixby even bumped her little brother out of the way to see what was going on in Mirror World that warranted so much attention. Whatever it was, she deemed it not a threat and it didn’t hold her attention for too long. After she left, Toby went right back to bobbing enthusiastically, protecting his seal family from the imaginary invader.

The mirror was taken away to ensure Toby didn’t get frustrated or upset that the “other” little seal wouldn’t leave his home. It’s incredibly important that enrichment occurs in a supervised environment so that it stays a positive and enhancing experience for the animals. As AnnMarie whisked the mirror away, Toby must have felt so proud having warded off the reflection of a seal pup.

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