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Volunteering | Mammals

Thursday, July 15, 2010


With frisbee in hand and a critter ready to catch it, Summer is the time for this volunteer to have some fun in the sun with a California sea lion.

If you’ve been to the Aquarium of the Pacific and visited the seal and sea lion exhibit recently you may have noticed that there is a lot of splashing about by the sea lions Parker, Milo and Harpo. These three, being young adults, have a lot of energy and the staff has been giving them some high energy behaviors to work off some of it during training sessions and presentations. Triple porpoises and high pillars into the air are some of the behaviors that the trainers use to keep the sessions interesting and fun for these naturally acrobatic animals.

One of the behaviors that I like to have Milo the sea lion do during one of these high energy session is a modified version of a retrieval. Normally I can ask Milo for a retrieval behavior and he goes out and finds me something in the exhibit to bring back to me. This can be anything from one of his toys like a ball to something as small as a feather or as large as a raft (which is hilarious to watch as he pushes it back to me.) He especially likes to chase after and bring back a frisbee thrown into the water. It’s just like what a dog would do when it responds to a ball or disk being thrown. Milo can also catch a disk thrown to him. Sometimes while working him on the beach in the middle of the exhibit I will send him to the window and have him wait in front of the audience until I throw the frisbee out there to see if he can catch it in his mouth. Its a pretty decent distance so Milo catches it about one out of three times. When he does catch it on the fly he’ll bring it triumphantly back to me on the beach while when he misses it he brings it back almost sheepishly. I can tell that Milo really enjoys these disk catching sessions. And I have to admit that for me it’s a fun way to spend part of a Saturday playing frisbee with a sea lion.

A more spectacular example of a sea lion catching a frisbee is Milo’s exhibit mate Harpo. Harpo can not only catch a frisbee on the fly but can do it while leaping high into the air. In addition, when Harpo brings the disk back he will flip the frisbee to the trainer when he gets close enough.

Lots of summer fun in the seal and sea lion exhibit going on right now for the critters, the trainers and visitors to the seal and sea lion exhibit.

Mammalogist Caitlin throws a disk to Harpo for him to catch while he is pillaring high into the air.  | Hugh Ryono
Behaviors like porpoising allow young adult sea lions to work off some energy. Here Harpo and Milo porpoise out of the water together.  | Hugh Ryono

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