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SEA OTTER AND SEA LION RETRIEVAL BEHAVIORS

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Volunteering | Mammals

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hugh

What does a trainer do if they accidentally drop something into the otter exhibit? Or if it’s the end of the day and time to put the sea lion toys away? Does he or she don a wetsuit to retrieve the items personally from the water or find a long pole net to try to scoop them up? Well fortunately they don’t have to do either. One of the more practical behaviors that we train our sea lions and otters to do at the Aquarium of the Pacific is to retrieve objects from their exhibit.

One of the above scenarios actually happened to me recently when I accidentally dropped a shape target into the waters of the otter exhibit. Fortunately I was working with one of my favorite sea otters, Gidget aka “The Furball” who knows how to retrieve. I gave the signal to the Furball to retrieve and she immediately found and returned the shape to me. That sure beat having to have someone put a wetsuit on and go into the very cold water after it.

Another great use of the retrieval behavior is at the end of the day when its time to put away all the sea lion toys from the pinniped exhibit for the night. Frisbees, rubber balls and other miscellaneous toys are brought out of the water by the sea lions. The sea lions actually seem to enjoy hunting around the exhibit for items to bring back to us.

Occasionally when Parker the sea lion can’t find a toy right away to bring back he sometimes improvises with whatever he does find. I’ve watched Parker proudly bring back a tiny feather held daintily in his mouth during a retrieval. I’ve also laughed hysterically when during another toy retrieval session this large lovable sea lion, for lack of anything else to bring back, found and pushed a big heavy floating raft back to me from the middle of the exhibit. When he got it to me he laid his chin on top of the raft and gave me a “did I do good?” look. I gave Parker an extra helping of herring for being so creative.

With the sea lions doing their chores so enthusiastically it doesn’t take very long to clean up the exhibit and put all their toys away.

Don’t you wish your kids were as good at picking up their toys?

SEA OTTER AND SEA LION RETRIEVAL BEHAVIORS
Parker the sea lion retrieves a ring from the exhibit.  | Hugh Ryono
SEA OTTER AND SEA LION RETRIEVAL BEHAVIORS
Gidget, aka "the Furball" retrieves a ball from the cold waters of the otter exhibit.  | Hugh Ryono

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