Thursday, July 16, 2009
Just like human kids, young sea lions have a lot of energy. Because of this, the trainers at the Aquarium of the Pacific are teaching our young sea lions high energy behaviors to keep them mentally and physically fit.
Senior Mammalogist Carolyn states that by working these behaviors with our sea lions it helps them use up a lot of their youthful energy. “Just like a two year old kid, the more you have them work out their energy on good behaviors, the less they’ll have left for bad behaviors”. Two of our young sea lions, Milo and Harpo are learning how to perform back-flips and high leaps out of the water. These are our two most active and curious animals so these behaviors give them a useful physical and mental outlet.
These high energy behaviors are also useful for keeping the critters physically fit. Parker, one of our adult sea lions, is learning how to do flipper stands on deck using his two front flippers to support himself as he hoists his rear flippers up above his body. “Just like how we humans have to build up our bodies to do some activities like sports, Parker has to build up his muscles to be able to perfect his flipper stand”, Senior Mammalogist Michele told me. Eventually Parker will be able to walk easily on his front flippers.
Harpo is currently working on what the trainers call a “pillar” behavior. This is where the sea lion shoots straight up into the air like a rocket. The behavior is first taught using “baby steps”. Harpo is already trained to place his nose on the end of a target pole when asked. This is called “targeting”. The training starts with the trainer asking the sea lion to target on the pole as it is held directly overhead in the water. The sea lion has to propel his body up a bit to touch it. The height of the target pole is gradually increased until the animal’s whole body has to come out of the water to reach the pole. To add height to the jump a second trainer may hold the pole while standing on a rock in the exhibit. Harpo seems to love the challenge of pillaring. Eventually the pole will be phased out and Harpo will perform the behavior simply with a word or hand command from his trainer.
Milo is working on perfecting his back-flip. The young sea lion currently is able to throw his entire body out of the water in a backward arch that is quite impressive to witness. For a peek at this and Parker’s front flipper stand, check out the Aquarium of the Pacific’s YouTube site and watch the “Aquarium in Slow Motion” video.
To check out these exciting behaviors in person be sure to attend one of the seal and sea lion presentations on your next visit to the Aquarium.
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