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Sea Lions in the Rain

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Animal Updates | Mammals | Volunteering

Thursday, March 29, 2012


No matter how exhausting my work week may have been I always find myself revitalized by my Saturday volunteer shift at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Spending time with the critters there always fills me with energy and joy, even in the pouring rain.

On a recent Saturday a rare monsoonal-like downpour kept the audience down to just a few hardy souls and the trainers quite soaked during the day’s pinniped shows. Despite the deluge the animals still have to be fed and husbandry duties performed. Wearing a bright yellow rain slicker I worked with Harpo the sea lion in the rain during the first session of the day. During the session I noticed that Harpo seemed nervous and flighty. I attributed his nervousness to the fact that the raindrops were coming down a lot harder than during a normal Southern California storm. Whereas a typical storm might bring drops down at 5 miles per hour or less, these drops were coming down closer to 20 miles an hour, the high end of the terminal velocity of a large raindrop. In my mind I thought that the drops falling on top of Harpo’s head were being a distraction to him and making him nervous. I may have been wrong.

One of the neat things about working with a veteran crew on Saturdays is that we’re all very observant when it comes to the animals and we freely share those observations with others on the Saturday team. During the second session of the day while I was performing some husbandry observations using a stethoscope on Shelby the harbor seal, Robin who like myself has been volunteering with the marine mammals since the day the Aquarium opened to the public in 1998, was busy with Harpo. Working with the still-nervous sea lion during the show she noticed that Harpo was very distracted by the staff walking by who were wearing bright orange raincoats. Harpo may not have been nervous about the rain. He may have been nervous of the brightly colored slicker I was wearing. I made a mental note to ditched the yellow raincoat during my next session with him.

When it came time for the last sea lion show of the day I wore my regular blue staff jacket and went out into the exhibit to work with Harpo. What a difference the change in color made! Harpo was very focused all throughout the session and didn’t display any nervousness at all. It turns out that sea lions can be fashion critics. Harpo did not like my choice in outfits during the earlier session.

Just another Saturday at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Sea Lions in the Rain
Working with Shelby the harbor seal on a wet Saturday.
Sea Lions in the Rain
It takes a lot of trust between seal and trainer to perform husbandry behaviors, especially in the rain. Here I am examining Shelby the harbor seal using a stethoscope on a wet Saturday.

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