Thursday, April 22, 2010
For the thousands of Long Beach Grand Prix race fans, Saturday was filled with celebrities, exciting car crashes, and every type of food you could possibly want. For me just next door in the Aquarium, the day was filled with tending to scuba divers and chaperoning sea lions.
The three days of the Long Beach Grand Prix is three of only four days out of the year that the Aquarium of the Pacific is closed to the public. The other being Christmas. The husbandry staff uses this time to get a little bit of spring cleaning done around the exhibits and back holding areas. During my shift on Saturday, I pulled topside tender for two scuba divers who were doing a deep scrubbing of the Seal and Sea Lion Exhibit. This not only entailed keeping an eye on the divers as they worked underwater but also keeping the sea lions entertained so as not to get in the diver’s way.
So how do you keep sea lions entertained? Well we use a lot of toys, treats, and activities. While the divers were getting their cleaning equipment into the front part of the exhibit, I used treats of ice, jello and fish to keep the sea lion’s attention in the back pool area. I would toss the treats high into the air and the sea lions would swim back and forth trying to get under it to catch the treat in their mouths. It was a lot like having a bunch of kids shagging fly balls at a baseball game. Our two youngest sea lions, Milo and Harpo really got into the game as they tried to time their jumps to catch the treats just above each other.
Since the divers were going to be underwater for a couple of hours (two scuba tanks worth), we didn’t want the sea lions to overdo the treats so we planned out other activities for their entertainment. I brought out the hose and let it run in the pool like a water wiggler so that the sea lions could chase it. They also had a variety of sea lion-proof toys floating in the water to play with such as balls and rings. I monitored the play in the exhibit just like my fifth grade teacher wife does with her students when doing yard duty on the playground. Just making sure they don’t get into mischief. I also had to keep track of the bubbles of the divers so that I always knew where they were.
Sea lions are very curious and intelligent animals. I caught Milo looking at me from across the pool as I placed the treat bucket on a high rock ledge while getting out some of their toys. When he dove in the water to swim towards me I had a hunch so I moved the bucket to another location and just stood back and watched. Sure enough Milo started to climb up the side of the rock face when he thought I wasn’t looking. It took a lot of effort for him to climb up far enough to see onto the ledge. Most people don’t realize that sea lions with their great coordination and strength are excellent climbers. Milo looked a bit disappointed when he discovered that the bucket wasn’t there. I was laughing at the sight of him clinging to the rock face like a Yosemite rock climber on Half Dome. It was even more entertaining to watch him wiggle his way back down the rock face.
Although I did catch a bit of the Grand Prix celebrity race, I found that for me the best entertainment of the day was watching the antics of our sea lions at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
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