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Training: Why Do We Train Our Marine Mammals?

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Conservation | Volunteering | Mammals

Friday, September 14, 2007

Staci

Have you ever seen a sea lion speeding through the water like a torpedo and then doing a dynamic leap into the air? A harbor seal gracefully twirling in her pool? How about a sea otter coming up on deck and standing up on its rear flippers? Chances are you have if you’ve observed any of our marine mammal training sessions here at the Aquarium. Animals have always amazed me with their abilities and adaptations, and its always exciting to see them in action. However, it’s not all about fun and entertainment. You may see our animals doing what may appear to be “tricks” but there’s a lot more to it that that! There’s a specific purpose behind each behavior asked. Though entertainment and teaching the public about environmental conservation are extremely important, there are some other very important reasons we train our animals. Reasons that directly benefit the animals themselves, and that’s what it’s all about.

Mental Stimulation We want our animals thinking and using their brains every single day! Our animals don’t face the challenges that their relatives in the ocean face, such as hunting for food or avoiding predators, so it’s up to us to keep them mentally stimulated. Each training session is different, with several different behaviors being asked. Also, additional enrichment is offered in the form of toys (which may or may not be filled with food for the animal to figure out how to get), ice treats with fish inside, tubs of fresh water, and a variety of other things to keep them thinking.

Physical Exercise Another reason for training is physical exercise. It’s just as important for our animals as it is for us! In addition to a healthy brain, we want them to have strong, healthy bodies. You’ll see our animals doing a variety of behaviors, such as Parker’s pillar behavior, to keep them moving and physically fit.

Husbandry Husbandry, or health care, may be the single most important reason we train our animals. It is our responsibility to provide the best care possible for our animals, and we want them to be able to participate and cooperate in their own health care. Cooperative behavior is essential, and it makes things much easier on the animals and our mammalogists! It allows us to examine the animals daily to make sure they’re in good health, as well as taking blood samples or even ultrasounds when necessary. Basically, anything you do with your doctor or dentist we have trained our animals to do with us. Did you know they even get their teeth brushed? Yep. Watch for that the next time you visit the Aquarium. We even use seafood flavored toothpaste! The animals aren’t so fond of mint. :-P

Daily healthcare. Personal chefs. Private doctor/dentist. The animals here have it pretty good! The animals out in the ocean have quite a few more challenges to face, one of the greatest being pollution. The amount of trash that we’re allowing to reach our oceans is staggering. Many seals, sea lions, sea turtles, birds, fish, whales, dolphins, and otters die each year because of marine debris, perhaps mistaking it for food or getting tangled in it. The good news is we can all do something to help! Make sure your trash goes into a trash can. Pick up some trash you may see on the street. Use re-usable cloth shopping bags instead of plastic bags when you shop. Recycle. Encourage smokers to use ashtrays. I could go on forever, but you get the idea. It just so happens that the 23rd Annual Coastal Cleanup is this Saturday, so why not start there? I was amazed at all the different types of trash we discovered last year! This is a statewide event, so check out a location close to you. Hopefully, I’ll see you there!

That’s all for now! Please ask away if you have any questions, and I’ll talk to you soon.

Training: Why Do We Train Our Marine Mammals?
Parker getting some physical exercise.  | © Staci Peters
Training: Why Do We Train Our Marine Mammals?
Parker up on a rock, making it easy for the mammalogists to check out his flippers, eyes, and mouth - all husbandry behaviors.  | © Staci Peters

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dannie

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 10:25 PM

Hello! I am very interested in animals; their behavior, their habitats, their biology and anatomy. But I’ve always wanted a career in working with marine mammals. Could you, perhaps, give me a few tips or words of advice on how I could get started building up to a career like yours, Staci?
  Please respond!! Thank You!
                      -Dannie C.
 
(I am only 14,and soon reaching high school)

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dannie

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 11:13 PM

Hello again! I mistakedly wrote “career” in my first comment to you. Sorry;} I meant volunteer job. It does sound really fun, and I would like to know how to do pretty much what your doing,(if I can at the age of fourteen).

Oh,yeah! I loved your article! It really makes me want to get out there and do something to make a difference in the world.We do try to attend the beach clean-ups, so, hope to see you there next time!
                      -dannie

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Staci

Monday, September 24, 2007 01:42 PM

Hi there, Dannie!

It’s great to hear from you, and I’m glad you enjoyed my post! It’s always wonderful to hear other people express their desire to get out there and help save the planet. I know it can seem a bit overwhelming since it seems we have so much to do to preserve the environment, but if we all do a little something it will make a huge difference. Beach clean-ups are a great way to participate! 

I think your interest in animals is fantastic! We do have some great volunteer opportunities here at the Aquarium.  In order to be a husbandry volunteer you do need to be 18 years old, but you should take a look at our VolunTEEN Program as well as our Family Volunteering option. Those are both perfect for your age bracket, and from what I hear, lots of fun!  Once you turn 16 there are even more opportunities to volunteer that you may be interested in, such as Exhibit Interpreter, which is what I used to do before I began volunteering in the husbandry department.  It is so much fun, and you learn so much!

If you for some reason can’t get to the Aquarium as frequently as those positions may require, maybe you could check out what volunteer opportunities are available in your area.  Experience working with animals is very important so volunteering at a local animal shelter would be great, maybe even an organization for larger animals like horses.  Definitely find out what’s available in your area! 

Well, Dannie, I hope this advice helps you out a bit, and I wish you the best of luck in your pursuits!  Thank you for coming by and sharing your comments.

All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.

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