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The Seal With Abilities Beyond Her Disabilities Still Having Fun

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Animal Updates | Mammals | Enrichment | Volunteering

Thursday, November 02, 2017


Ellie and Retrieval Ball - popup

Hugh's Aquarium Views Video Number 39

Ten years ago one of my first blogs for the Aquarium of the Pacific was titled “The Seal With Abilities Beyond Her Disabilities”. It was about how I brought back a vision impaired harbor seal’s favorite activity.

Ellie the harbor seal was there with me when the aquarium first opened its doors to the public in 1998. Back then one of Ellie’s favorite behaviors was retrieving objects thrown into the water by her trainers. You could tell she was having a lot of fun playing fetch.

A little over a decade ago her eyesight started failing due to her age so the staff decided to stop asking her to retrieve objects. They thought it would be too difficult and frustrating for her to do due to her visual difficulties.

Then one day I accidentally dropped a target pole into the water while working with her. I let out a “PG” rated exclamation which Ellie thought was her old command to retrieve. She surprised me when she immediately found and brought back the pole. She had used her sensitive whiskers to feel for the wavelets coming from the splash of the pole hitting the water.

I asked for and got permission to bring back her retrieval behavior by retraining her to use her whiskers instead of her eyesight to find objects thrown into the water. I also introduced using ice cube splashes to form trails of wavelets to help lead her to the object and using my voice to guide her back to me. Ellie being a smart little seal caught on fast.

Ten years later this seal with abilities beyond her disabilities is still having fun playing fetch with her trainers.

Check out the video of Ellie doing her favorite behavior.