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Restaurant Quality, Sustainable Seafood = Happy, Healthy Animals!

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Conservation | Volunteering | Mammals

Friday, October 26, 2007


We want all of our animals here at the Aquarium to be happy and healthy! A key component in achieving that goal is to make sure each animal is given a high-quality, well-balanced diet. As you might have guessed, a huge part of a marine mammal volunteer’s day is spent preparing the food that the animals will be eating that day. This is actually a little more work than most people think, so I thought it would be fun to share some details about what our animals eat and how we go about preparing it for them.

First, all the food we prepare for our animals is restaurant quality, sustainable seafood. It is the same grade of food that you or I would find when dining out at any restaurant. In other words, we only use food that would be fit for human consumption. This is very important because we must make sure our animals are getting nutritious food that is free of parasites or anything else that may be harmful to them.

All animals are given a predetermined amount of food per day (given out over two, three, or four different feeds) based on their weight. We do not feed our animals live food, but instead food that has been previously frozen that we thaw. To make up for any nutrients lost in the feeding/thawing process, our animals are also given daily vitamin supplements.

Seals & Sea Lions

Our seals and sea lions eat between 5 – 8% of their body weight per day. They get three different types of food: herring, capelin, and squid. The herring and capelin must be sorted, which means each and every fish must be examined for quality. We make sure it looks healthy, with no large cuts, scrapes, missing scales, missing eyes, etc. This is no small task when you consider these animals are consuming a total of roughly a little over 50 kilograms (110 pounds) per day! The squid is also examined and then pens removed. All food is then weighed into buckets for each animal.

The vitamins for the seals and sea lions are quite easy to administer. These animals swallow their food whole, so all we have to do is place the vitamin behind the gills of their fish. We make sure that the vitamin fish are the very first fish the animals receive during the first feed. That way, if they decide they don’t feel like eating their entire diet that day, at least we made sure they took their vitamins!

For enrichment, we also give our seals and sea lions ice treats/cakes with fish frozen inside. Not only is it a nutritious snack, but it also gives the animals something fun to play with!

Sea Otters

Sea otters have very high metabolisms so they require a lot of food! Our three sea otters eat 25% of their body weight every day! Believe it or not, it costs the Aquarium about $50,000 per year to feed our three sea otters. They get a mixture of clam, shrimp, squid, and a white fish called hoki on a daily basis. Just like the food for the pinnipeds, the food for the otters is examined for quality before being cut up and weighed out for each animal.

Getting a vitamin into a sea otter can be a bit tricky! Instead of swallowing their food whole like seals and sea lions, sea otters chew their food. If you’ve ever tried to chew up an adult vitamin, you may have had the same reaction as our otters when they taste a vitamin. YUCK! They will spit that vitamin right out. To avoid this, we throw some shrimp, clam, or squid into a blender. Then we add a little water. After a few seconds of blending we have a delicious seafood smoothie! We then take their vitamin and grind it up into powder with a mortar and pestle. We mix the vitamin powder and the smoothie together, suck it up into a large plastic syringe, and there we have it! A vitamin concoction any otter would be happy to slurp!

For sea otter enrichment, we offer clams, mussels, crab legs, and other yummy treats! We often hide these treats on deck to allow the otters to forage and play for additional mental stimulation and physical exercise.

What is sustainable seafood?

I mentioned earlier in this post that we serve our animals sustainable seafood. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, sustainable seafood is basically making wise seafood choices (whether in the grocery store or at a restaurant) to ensure the healthy survival of fish populations today and for the future, hopefully eliminating overfishing. This is a very general definition, however, and I really encourage everyone to do some research and see what sustainable choices work for you! The Aquarium’s website has a new page up talking about a new sustainable resource. Definitely check it out!! That’s all I’ll say about sustainable seafood for now, as I’m sure you’ll hear more from me on the subject. It’s one of my favorites, and it’s extremely important!

So that’s just a basic overview of how we prepare our animal diets and what we’re feeding our animals. Please feel free to ask any questions at all, and be sure to check out the link above! I hear the Aquarium will be focusing more on sustainable seafood in the near future, as well as many other very important issues so stay tuned!!

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