Thursday, May 06, 2010
So why teach a sea lion to stick it’s tongue out? One of the first husbandry behaviors that most of our sea lions are taught to do is to open their mouths when asked so that the staff can get a good look inside. This involves a lot of trust between the trainers and their animals. With this trust the trainers are even able to place their fingers on the tongues of the sea lions and gently lead it out of their mouths so that they can more closely inspect it. Well, of course the thought is that if you can get the animal to stick out its tongue without coaxing it out with your fingers the job becomes a lot easier. Thus some of our animals have been trained to do this behavior on cue. And its also a lot more fun as the animal with its tongue out looks for all the world like its blowing a raspberry at the trainer. One of our sea lions, Harpo, has taken it one step further as he will actually mimic the trainer when he or she stick their tongue out at him by sticking his tongue out right back at them. Its actually pretty hilarious to watch.
Many of the “fun” behaviors you see our animals doing during a presentation have their practical side. An animal retrieving a ring thrown by a trainer during a presentation can use that same behavior later on to help the staff pick up all the sea lion toys (balls, floats, Frisbee etc) out of the water when they need to be put away at the end of the day. A sea lion “kissing” a trainer or guest is cute but the behavior also allows the animal to get use to people being in close proximity when they need to be given a checkup by the vet staff.
Even a sea lion catching a Frisbee or doing a porpoise or pillar behavior has its practical side as it allows the trainer to see how much energy and coordination the animal has on a daily basis. The trainers keep regular records on not only the animal’s food intake but also their observations of the animal’s physical performances to get clues on the animal’s overall health.
In addition, learning and performing these behaviors keeps the animals mentally stimulated and the staff mentally engaged with the critter. Oh… and its also fun for both too!
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